Brown bear (Ursus arctos)
The brown bear is the most widely distributed of all bears and is widespread in the forests and mountains of North America, Europe and Asia with a relatively large global population that is currently stable. There are a number of sub-species.
The bears’ principal range includes parts of Russia, the United States, Canada, the Carpathian region (especially in Romania), the Balkans, Sweden and Finland.
Brown bears are omnivorous and typically are solitary animals, except for females with cubs. However, at times certain populations do congregate; for example large gatherings occur during the Alaskan salmon spawning run (see photograph). Dozens of bears may gather to feed on the fish to rapidly build up energy stores for their winter hibernation. They may eat as much as 40 kilograms of food each day.
The bears build winter dens for their hibernation and may lose as much as fifty percent of their body weight whilst hibernating. Pregnant females give birth during hibernation, in the den, usually to a pair of cubs. The cubs will remain with their mother for about two and a half years, during which time she will not become pregnant again.
For an up to date and detailed map of the distribution of Ursus arctos click here to open the IUCN map viewer.
Status: Classified as of “least concern” on the IUCN Red List and listed in Appendix II of CITES. Specific populations in Bhutan, China and Mongolia are listed in Appendix I. Whilst the overall population of the brown bear is categorised as “stable” this is not true of each individual population or subspecies. Of particular concern is the subspecies Ursus arctos gobiensis, the Gobi bear, listed as very rare in the Red Book of Mongolia. Whilst not the most numerous bear species (that’s the American black bear) the brown bear is the most widespread
Kingdom: Animalia Phylum: Chordata Class: Mammalia Order: Carnivora Family: Ursidae
Genus and species: Ursus arctos (Linnaeus, 1758)
General description: A large bear with long, thick fur with a distinct mane at the back of the neck. They have large, curved claws. The pelage varies from almost white through to almost black although brown predominates. Indian brown bears can be reddish. The United States subspecies U. arctos horribilis takes its common name of the grizzly bear from the often grey or white tipped fur which gives them a grizzled appearance.
Size: At shoulder typically 0.9 to 1.5 metres, head-body length 1.5 to around 3.0 metres.
Weight: Male 135 to 635 kg, in excess of 775 kg recorded, female 80 to 250 kg.
Life expectancy: In the wild around 20 to 30 years, up to 50 in captivity.
Also known as: Grizzly bear, Mexican grizzly bear (extinct), Kodiak bear, Marsican brown bear, Gobi bear, Atlas bear (extinct) and various other subspecies names (see below).
BROWN BEAR SUBSPECIES
Click on the links below for more information on each subspecies.
*Many authorities recognise only two subspecies of brown bear in North America: the grizzly bear (U.a. horribilis) and the Kodiak bear (U.a. middendorffi). In 1918 Clinton Hart Merriam divided the North American brown bears into 86 subspecies based upon small physical differences, mainly relating to skull measurements. Today it is generally agreed that the bears of the Kodiak Archipelago form the subspecies, Ursus arctos middendorfi, and a number of experts believe that all other North American brown and grizzly bears can be included in the single subspecies Ursus arctos horribilis. However, some experts believe that there is still sufficient evidence to warrant classifying five further subspecies on the continent. To further complicate matters, recent research has questioned whether or not Kodiak bears are genetically different enough to warrant a separate subspecies classification (Talbot and Shields, 1996; Patekau et al., 1998; Paetkau et al., 1998). In this fact sheet we follow the theory that there is a total of seven subspecies in North America and, in addition to the grizzly and Kodiak bears, we have included the Alaskan (U.a. alascensis), Dall Island (U.a. dalli), Peninsular (U.a. gyas), Sitka (U.a. sitkensis) and Stickeen (U.a. stikeenensis) brown bears. These are marked in the above list with an asterisk.
MORE INFORMATION ON THE BROWN BEAR
Page updated 20 February 2021