Glacier bear (US National Park Service)

Accepted scientific name: Ursus americanus emmonsii, (Dall, 1895)

Description:  The rarest colour (dark grey) phase of black bears, the fur has a silvery grey appearance with a blue lustre.  The undercoat is a rich blue-black with long white or light yellow outer guard hairs with silver tips.  The variation probably evolved when the population was isolated during the last ice age and provides excellent camouflage against a background of ice.

Range:  Extreme northwest of British Columbia, primarily in Tatshenshini-Alsek Provincial Park, and the southeast of Alaska along the seaward front of the Mount St. Elias Range, about Yakutat Bay, and  southeast to Glacier Bay and a short distance beyond the coast into the interior.  Glacier bears have also been recorded in the extreme southwest of  the Yukon.

  Map showing the approximate range of Ursus americanus emmonsii oulined in red (Map: UNESCO / Data: Bear Conservation)

Habitat:  Within their range, glacier bears are found in the coastal mountains, the glacier-carved valleys and on the coast itself.  The varied geology and great elevation changes of the area have created a diverse range of habitat conditions.

Status:  It seems likely that the colour phase of glacier bears will ultimately disappear.  200 years ago this area was still largely ice-covered and the population remained isolated,  With the melting of the ice other black bears now mingle and mate with the glacier bears and the more dominant, darker phases are slowly eliminating the lighter colouring.  Mixed litters of the lighter and darker phases have been observed.  At present the population seems healthy but see “Threats” below.

Life span:  No specific study data is available but, along with other black bears, life expectancy in the wild is probably between 20 and 30 years.

Food:  These omnivorous bears take mice, ground squirrels, and marmots from their burrows and also consume shellfish, berries, herbs and other plants.  They take salmon during the spawning run.

Behaviour:  The hibernation period is long, sometimes exceeding six months.  Pregnant females give birth in the winter den.  The cubs will remain with their mother for about one and a half years, during which time she will not become pregnant again.

Threats:  Increasing presence of humans within the bears’ range and an accompanying risk of increased numbers of bears being killed by hunters.  Accordingly it would seem sensible to introduce enhanced protection for the glacier bear in the near future.


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Page created 17 August 2017