Brown Bear

Grizzly bear with cubs laying on tundra.

NPS Photo

Iñupiaq Name: Akłaq

Scientific Name: Ursus arctos

Brown bears and grizzly bears are often used interchangeably. However, there are some differences to help distinguish when to use each term. Grizzly bears tend to live in the northern and interior part of the state and are smaller in size, while brown brown bears are found in the souther and coastal part of Alaska and larger in size. Kodiak bears, which are a type of brown bear, have been geographically isolated since the ice age that they are their own subspecies (Ursus arctos middendorffi). The bears on the mainland of Alaska, Canada, and small pockets in the Lower 48 are classified as Ursus arctos horribilis.

Identifying brown bears is not to be done by color alone. Brown bears have many color phases, where they can be quite blonde, or very dark brown to look almost black. Polar bears can have stained fir and look similar to brown bears from a distance, and black bears can be black, white, grey, or even reddish/cinnamon. Brown bears do have a noticeable hump on their shoulder and smaller ears, while polar bears tend to be larger than brown bears and are more streamlined in their body shape.

Brown and grizzly bears are found throughout most of Alaska, with far out islands being the exceptions.

They can be found in many habitats, but prefer open areas like alpine tundra, high mountains, subalpine forests, meadows, and coastliness.

Life History:
Typically, brown bears become sexually mature at around 5 years of age, but females will often be unsuccessful for their first few seasons after maturity. Mating season is May through July. Females practice serial monogamy, having only one mate at a time, but that time is short and they may find another mate within the same breeding season. Once impregnated, the female will delay implantation until hibernation, where after 8 weeks 1-4 cubs are born (typically in January or February). Cubs stay with their mother for 2-3 years, learning survival skills, and will then be chased off when she is ready for mating again.

Brown bears can weigh anywhere from 220-1500 pounds, run up to 40 mph, and live for quite a long time, 20-25 year, but in some cases up to 50 years. They have an amazing sense of smell, better than that of dogs, with vision and hearing similar to humans.

These bears are omnivorous, but vegetation can make of most of the diet of brown bears. They will eat new grasses and sedges, roots, fruits and berries, fungi and moss. They will also prey upon salmon, caribou, and moose (especially calves).

Humans and other bears (though killings are usually territorial).

Iñupiaq Cultural Use:
Used as a source of food. Pelt can be used as a kaatchiak-skins to lay down and sleep on.


Last updated: September 18, 2023

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