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What Is a Brown Bear?

By Angie Pollock
Updated Jun 04, 2024
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A brown bear is a classification of bears from the Ursus arctos species. Different subspecies of bears within the brown bear family include the grizzly bear and Kodiak bear, among others. There are more than a dozen subspecies of brown bears that inhabit parts of Asia, Europe and North America, with one of the largest concentrations of brown bears inhabiting Russia. Some of these other subspecies include the Cantabrian brown bear, Gobi bear and Atlas bear.

Despite their name, the color of brown bears is not always brown. Coat colors can vary from brown to a shade of reddish-brown. One of the largest brown bears, the grizzly, might display fur that appears to have a yellow tint, or it might be so dark that the fur appears black. Grizzlies living in the Rocky Mountains of the United States are known to have hairs extending from the back and shoulders that are silver frosted.

The Kodiak ranks alongside the polar bear as being one of the world’s largest land-dwelling meat eaters. A large grizzly bear averages 1,000 pounds (453 kg) and the even larger Kodiak can weigh more than 1,500 pounds (680 kg). One of the smaller subspecies of brown bear, the Gobi bear, averages only 200 pounds (90 kg) at adulthood.

The length of a large male brown bear can reach 9 feet (3 m), and although females are generally smaller, they still can reach 8 feet (2.4 m) in length. Despite their large size when fully grown, these bears can weigh less than 2 pounds (907 g) at birth. The blind and hairless cubs are generally born during the mother brown bear’s inactive period often referred to as hibernation. This period varies depending on the bear’s climate and surrounding habitat.

The preferred diet of brown bears is meat; but these bears are classified as omnivorous. They will consume what is available during the current season, including berries, insects and larger mammals such as moose and elk. The Alaskan brown bear will feed primarily on fish during the salmon upstream spawn that occurs yearly in Alaska. When brown bears are preparing for their annual inactivity or hibernation, they will consume as much protein as possible to build up their fat layers.

Contact with bears has become more common because of human expansion and deforestation. All bears, including brown bears, should be considered dangerous and avoided whenever possible. Brown bears can be extremely aggressive, especially those that are startled and mother bears with cubs. Most wild brown bears will avoid human contact, but their behaviors can be unpredictable.

In the wild, there are no bears found in Africa, Antarctica or Australia. The Atlas bear, which was native to Africa, is believed to have gone extinct in the late 1800s. Only one species of bear, the South American spectacled bear, lives south of the equator. Although the spectacled bear is not a brown bear, it does share many unique characteristics with its brown cousins.

All Things Nature is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
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