Kermode Bear (Spirit Bear)

Ursus americanus kermodei

Last updated: November 14, 2022
Verified by: AZ Animals Staff
Image Credit NaturesMomentsuk/Shutterstock.com

The cubs are usually weaned after 6 to 8 months; however, they will remain with their mothers through their second winter until they reach 17 months old.

Kermode Bear (Spirit Bear) Scientific Classification

Kingdom
Animalia
Phylum
Chordata
Class
Mammalia
Order
Carnivora
Family
Ursidae
Genus
Ursus
Scientific Name
Ursus americanus kermodei

Read our Complete Guide to Classification of Animals.

Kermode Bear (Spirit Bear) Conservation Status

Kermode Bear (Spirit Bear) Locations

Kermode Bear (Spirit Bear) Locations

Kermode Bear (Spirit Bear) Facts

Prey
Salmon, insects
Main Prey
Salmon
Name Of Young
Cubs
Group Behavior
  • Solitary
Fun Fact
The cubs are usually weaned after 6 to 8 months; however, they will remain with their mothers through their second winter until they reach 17 months old.
Estimated Population Size
Around 250 individuals
Biggest Threat
Habitat loss
Most Distinctive Feature
White coloring
Other Name(s)
Spirit bear
Gestation Period
8 months
Temperament
Aggressive when defending their territory and young
Age Of Independence
17 months
Litter Size
1 to 5 cubs
Habitat
Forest
Predators
Wolves and cougars
Diet
Omnivore
Average Litter Size
2 to 3 cubs
Lifestyle
  • Diurnal/Nocturnal
Favorite Food
Berries
Common Name
Kermode bear
Origin
Canada
Location
British Columbia

Kermode Bear (Spirit Bear) Physical Characteristics

Color
  • White
  • Cream
Skin Type
Fur
Top Speed
30 mph
Lifespan
25 years
Weight
242 to 507 pounds
Length
70 inches to 6.5 feet
Age of Sexual Maturity
2 to 9 years
Age of Weaning
6 to 8 months
Aggression
High

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The Kermode, often referred to as the spirit bear, is native to the coastal regions of Canada in a province called British Colombia. These bears are subspecies of the American black bear, but what makes them so unique is a handful are born with a genetic mutation that renders their fur white or cream. Kermode bears generally have black coats, but those with the recessive gene have white coats, hence the name spirit bears.

The scientific name for spirit bears is Ursus americanus kermodei, and there are only around 100 – 500 of these bears in the wild. Thankfully, hunting spirit bears is illegal and punishable with a $100,000 fine.

Spirit bears are mystical creatures that have spiritual ties to Native American communities. They believe the creator made them white to remind people of the past when the earth was covered in ice. The creator wanted Native American tribes to remember the hardships of their ancestors who had to survive in the ice and snow. In addition, some tribes believe the Kermode bear stands for peace and harmony.

Kermode Bear Facts

  • The island of Princess Royal in British Columbia holds the largest population of spirit bears than any other region in Canada, where 1 out of 10 Kermode bears is born with white coats.
  • Kermode bears are omnivores and like to eat plants, berries, fruit, nuts, grasses, roots, insects, fawns, carrion, and salmon.
  • The Kermode bears in the Northern areas, where it gets really cold, can hibernate for up to 7 months without food.

Kermode Bear Scientific Name                                                                                 

The Kermode bear’s scientific name is Ursus americanus kermodei, and they belong to the order Carnivora. This order has a lot of diversity, with 15 families and 268 different species.

The order Carnivora might sound like a bunch of meat-eating animals, but this is not one of their defining characteristics, as many members eat plant matter too. Instead, their morphological characteristics group them together, like their specialized teeth.

However, while these species are omnivores and have easy access to plant matter, they prefer eating more meat, which is why they are considered one of the most significant groups of mammalian predators.

Members of Carnivora naturally occur on every continent except Australia. The dingo is not native to the land down under; they were introduced to the continent 4,000 years ago and originate from Asia.

Kermode bears are members of the Ursidae family, which contains 8 species of bears over 5 genera. These bears include:

Kermode Bear Appearance

Kermode Bear (Spirit Bear)
These bears are predominantly found in the Great Bear Rainforest, a protected area roughly around the size of Ireland, which spreads along the North and Central coastal regions of British Columbia.

Lynn A/Shutterstock.com

While Kermode bears usually have black coats, around 10% are born with white or cream fur. Adults can reach 70 inches to 6.5 feet in length, and males can weigh between 440 to 507 pounds. Female Kermode bears are smaller and weigh around 242 to 397 pounds.

Their white fur results from a recessive gene; Kermode bears with black fur can carry this gene, but both parents need to have white coats for the offspring to come out with white fur.

Kermode Bear Behavior

During fall, spirit bears will build a den to hibernate in during the winter months between November and March. These bears have a massive impact on the coastal ecosystems they inhabit because they catch salmon from the rivers and eat them in the forest, where their remains sustain scavengers and fertilize the flora.

These bears are predominantly found in the Great Bear Rainforest, a protected area roughly around the size of Ireland, which spreads along the North and Central coastal regions of British Columbia. The natives believe that the Creator Raven concocted the spirit bear to remind them to be thankful for the abundant landscape.

Kermode Bear Habitat

The spirit bear inhabits isolated areas in the Canadian rain forests of British Columbia, which is around 7.2 million hectares of thick vegetation. Females typically occupy territories of 1 to 15 square miles and can become quite aggressive when defending their homes. Males ensure that their home ranges overlap several female territories.

While juvenile males are kicked out of these territories, young females are allowed to establish a home within their mother’s domain.

The Kermode population on Gribbell island has the highest number of spirit bears, around 30 to 50% of the population. However, this area is not protected; sadly, poachers and deforestation still threaten these bears.

Luckily, the Princess Royal island and the mainland are separated by narrow waterways called the Graham Reach. This permits the Kermode bears to intermingle with various populations, creating more genetic diversity. In fact, this narrow river is one of the reasons why the spirit gene is so apparent in this area.

Kermode Bear Diet

Kermode bears are solitary and spend most of their lives hunting for food. Their diet is almost identical to the Grizzly bears diet, as they eat almost anything but tend to prefer plants, fruit, and berries. They stuff themselves as much as possible before hibernating, and once these bears wake from their winter sleep, they start the process all over again.

Plants generally make up 80 to 95% of the spirit bear’s diet, depending on the season and environment. However, Kermodes that predominately eat protein-rich foods display significant weight gain and enhanced fertility.

These bears rely on the bounties of the rainforest and survive by eating:

  • Verdant plants
  • Gleaming berries
  • Leaping salmon
  • Huckleberries
  • Skunk cabbage

When summer finally arrives, berry-laden bushes will start to appear, as well as numerous succulent foods. This helps the spirit bears recover from the long winter and spring months, replenishing their energy levels.

Catching salmon throughout the summer is very beneficial to these bears because they accumulate significant fat reserves. This is especially important for expectant mothers who need extra nutrition for their cubs.

Kermode Bear Predators and Threats

While adult Kermode bears do not have any predators (besides humans), their cubs are vulnerable to wolves and cougars.

It’s been illegal to hunt spirit bears since 1950, but there are still several threats that can harm these majestic creatures, like habitat loss due to logging, the decline in salmon populations, and hunting. While it’s illegal to hunt a spirit bear, people can still legally shoot a black bear, and there is no way of determining if that bear carries the recessive gene.

Kermode Bear Reproduction, Babies, and Lifespan

Female Kermode bears reach sexual maturity between the ages of 2 and 9, while males sexually mature at three to four years of age. However, they keep developing until 10 to 12 years and continue growing until they can dominate juvenile males without fighting.

The males do not participate in caring for the young, but they do indirectly help by warding off new males and eliminating competition for food and space. The only time male and female spirit bears cohabitate is during breeding season from June to mid-July.

Female Kermode bears stay in estrus throughout the mating season until copulation. Pregnant females typically give birth every two years but sometimes have a 3 to 4-year gap between litters. Their gestation is very unique as the fertilized egg begins to divide until the save is spherical, known as a blastocyst.

However, this phenomenon is so special that the embryo’s implantation into the uterus wall does not occur just yet. Instead, the embryo’s development ceases, which is called delayed implantation or embryonic diapause.

Finally, in November, the blastocyst implants itself in the uterus wall; this is around the time that the female will enter her den to hibernate. If she is able to build up a good supply of fat deposits during the summer, the embryo will develop to completion, and cubs will be born in late January or early February in the warmth of the female’s lair.

Unfortunately, if she is not able to build up enough fat reserves, she will not be able to sustain her offspring until spring, and the pregnancy is terminated.

Babies

The litter size ranges from 1 to 5 cubs, though they give birth to 2 to 3 cubs on average. Like black bear cubs, Kermode bears typically weigh 0.5 to 1 pound at birth. They are born blind and inhabit the den with their mother throughout the winter. When they emerge in the spring, the cubs weigh between 4 and 11 pounds.

The female spirit bear is quite protective of her cubs while she teaches them how to survive. Cubs mimic their moms in every way, learning from her every move, including how and where to find food and escaping danger. Cubs take pleasure in wreaking havoc in any situation, although it appears they are motivated more by hunger than mischievousness.

The cubs are usually weaned after 6 to 8 months; however, they will remain with their mothers through their second winter until they reach 17 months old. After that, cubs will gradually add solid food to their milk diet. When the mother bear’s offspring no longer relies on her for sustenance, she will chase her cubs out of her territory.

Depending on the abundance of food, they may weigh anywhere from 15 to 100 pounds.

Lifespan

Kermode bears have a relatively long lifespan of 25 years.

Kermode Bear Population

The estimated Kermode bear population varies between 400 to 1200 bears. Unfortunately, interbreeding with other subspecies of North American black bears suggests that the spirit bear will cease to exist in time.

Although these bears are not explicitly protected, some parts of their habitat fall into protection zones. Until recently, researchers believed that there were only 100 to 500 individuals in the wild. However, now they estimate that these bears are much rarer, with a maximum population of no more than 250 bears.

Kermode Bears In the Zoo

The first Kermode bear to live in captivity was introduced to the British Columbia Wildlife Park in Kamloops in October 2012. Sadly, this spirit cub was found abandoned on the side of Terrace Mountain in the northwestern region of British Columbia.

The bear’s carers tried twice to rehabilitate and release him back into the wild but failed, and now this cute cub (who they’ve named Clover) lives in the park after conservationists decided he is not suitable for relocation. The park had to create a custom enclosure for Clover as he escaped from his temporary enclosure once.

However, the animal –rights group called Lifeforce has voiced its disapproval and states that the cub was healthy enough to survive in the wild and should’ve been released back into its natural habitat. But provincial government wildlife officials have stated that a long-distance relocation was too dangerous and outweighed the possible benefits, so as of 2019, Clover remains in captivity.

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About the Author

I am a 33-year-old creative and professional writer from South Africa. Wildlife is one of my greatest passions and led me to become the writer I am today. I was very blessed to work with an abundance of wildlife (mainly big cats) and captured my unique experiences in writing. But I wanted to take it further, and I ventured into the freelancing world. Now, I get to spend my days writing about animals; what could be better?

Kermode Bear (Spirit Bear) FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) 

How many Kermode bears are left?

The estimated Kermode bear population varies between 400 to 1200 bears. Unfortunately, interbreeding with other subspecies of North American black bears suggests that the spirit bear will cease to exist in time.

How rare is a Kermode bear?

Kermode bears are rare, there are only around 250 individuals in the wild.

Why is the Kermode bear white?

Their white fur results from a recessive gene; Kermode bears with black fur can carry this gene, but both parents need to have white coats for the offspring to come out with white fur.

Thank you for reading! Have some feedback for us? Contact the AZ Animals editorial team.

Sources
  1. Natural Habitat Adventures, Available here: https://www.nathab.com/know-before-you-go/alaska-northern-adventures/spirit-bears/wildlife-guide/spirit-bear/
  2. Canadian Geographic, Available here: https://canadiangeographic.ca/articles/animal-facts-spirit-kermode-bear/
  3. Bear Conservation, Available here: http://www.bearconservation.org.uk/kermode-bear-or-spirit-bear/
  4. Wikipedia, Available here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kermode_bear

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