As a guide in Yellowstone National Park, itâ€™s very important for myself as well as my guests to be able to tell the differences between a black bear and a grizzly bear. Why? In a bear encounter on a trail, you handle a grizzly bear differently than a black bear, and this handling can be the difference between a peaceful encounter and a more unpleasant experience. Read on to see if you came up with the same major differences between blacks and grizzlies that I didâ€¦
First of all, did you think that you could tell the difference between a black and a grizzly by the color and size? Well, maybe â€“ but this doesnâ€™t always work. Despite the â€œblackâ€ bearâ€™s given name, it can actually range in color from blonde to black and everything in between. The same goes for a grizzly, which most people think of as beingÂ a brown bear. The size is also a good indicator of the speciesâ€¦sometimes. Grizzlies are usually bigger than black bears in their full grown state, but this isnâ€™t always the case. Iâ€™ve seen some pretty huge black bears in my time in the Park! Letâ€™s move on to discover the physical differences between a black and a grizzly.
The number one thing I look for first and foremost is the telltale hump between a grizzly bearâ€™s shoulders. A black bear will not have that hump, but in comparison to a grizzly bear, it will appear to slump. And a black bearâ€™s back end, or rump, will appear to be higher than its front end. When it comes down to it, I think to myself â€œGrizzly Bear = Hump, Black Bear = Rumpâ€. You can imagine how the kids on our Yellowstone Family Adventure have fun with this word play!
Secondly, I look at the face/head of the bear. When looking at the bear from the side, you will notice that a black bear has a straight face profile while a grizzly has a dished face profile. Also, a grizzly has short, round ears while a black bear has taller, longer ears.
Last but not least, you can tell by a bearâ€™s claws as to whether itâ€™s a grizzly or a black. A grizzlyâ€™s long, light-colored claws are good for digging while a black bearâ€™s short, dark claws are perfect for climbing trees. However, if you can tell which kind of bear youâ€™re looking at by its claws, you are FAR too close to that bear for comfort! Always stay at least 100 yards (the length of a football field) away from any bear if you can help it. I always use â€œThe Thumb Ruleâ€ with the kids on my trips. With a bear (or any wildlife) if you stick your arm straight out in front of you with your thumb up, your thumb should cover the entire bear which means youâ€™re far enough away for safety. If the bear appears around the edges of your thumb, itâ€™s time to slowly back up to get to a safer distance.
There you have it, a full list of physical characteristics for when you head out on your next Austin-Lehman Montana or Wyoming Adventure. Remember, you canâ€™t always tell a grizzly and a black bear apart from their size and color, but you should be able to see the differences in the â€œhumpâ€ and â€œrump,â€ face profile, ears, and claws.
Your friendly bear-lover,