Marsican Brown Bear

Ursus arctos

Last updated: October 19, 2022
Verified by: AZ Animals Staff
Image Credit iStock.com/Paolino Massimiliano Manuel

They do not fall completely asleep during hibernation but wake up from time to time during the winter to walk around.

Marsican Brown Bear Scientific Classification

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

Read our Complete Guide to Classification of Animals.

Marsican Brown Bear Conservation Status

Marsican Brown Bear Locations

Marsican Brown Bear Locations

Marsican Brown Bear Facts

Prey
Vegetation, insects, small-to-medium sized animals.
Main Prey
Berries, honey, fruit, nuts.
Name Of Young
Cubs
Group Behavior
  • Solitary
Fun Fact
They do not fall completely asleep during hibernation but wake up from time to time during the winter to walk around.
Estimated Population Size
50
Biggest Threat
Poaching, disease, loss of habitat
Most Distinctive Feature
Bigger than Eurasian brown bears.
Distinctive Feature
Brown to golden-beige fur
Other Name(s)
Apennine brown bear
Gestation Period
6 months
Temperament
Mild. Not aggressive.
Age Of Independence
6-12 months
Litter Size
2 cubs
Habitat
Mountainous, mixed deciduous-coniferous forest
Predators
Humans
Diet
Omnivore
Average Litter Size
2
Lifestyle
  • Nocturnal
Favorite Food
Buckthorn berries
Location
South-central Italy

Marsican Brown Bear Physical Characteristics

Color
  • Brown
  • Beige
  • Golden
Skin Type
Fur
Lifespan
20-25 years in the wild; 35 years in captivity
Weight
478 pounds
Height
6.5 feet, standing
Age of Sexual Maturity
3 years
Age of Weaning
6-12 months
Venomous
No
Aggression
Low

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Interesting Fact

“While other bears hibernate all winter, this bear likes to get up and stroll around.”

Marsican Brown Bear Summary

The Marsican brown bear is a critically endangered subspecies of the Eurasian brown bear. It is larger than typical brown bears and has the unique habit of staying semi-conscious and wandering around during winter hibernation. Most of the remaining wild population is found in the Abruzzo, Lazio, and Molise National Park in south-central Italy. Although it can be a nuisance by stealing livestock and honey from local farmers, it draws ecotourists to the region and is the target of vigorous conservation efforts. Unfortunately, these may not be enough to save the species, as only about 50 specimens remain in the wild, which is considered below the critical threshold for conservation.

Marsican Brown Bear Facts

  • Marsican brown bears are a critically endangered species, with only about 50 surviving in the wild.
  • They are larger than their most closely related species, the Eurasian brown bear.
  • Rather than sleeping all winter, they stay semi-conscious and get up and walk around on sunny days.
  • Sometimes they raid farms for chickens, sheep, or other livestock. This makes them a target for poaching.
  • The Italian government and conservation agencies are working vigorously to save the species from extinction.

Marsican Brown Bear Scientific Name

The scientific name of the Marsican brown bear is Ursus arctos arctos. It is a subspecies of the Eurasian brown bear. Its common name comes from Marsica, an area in Abruzzo, Italy where its population is centered. It is also sometimes called the Apennine brown bear, after the Apennine Mountains of central Italy.

Marsican Brown Bear Appearance

Because they have been isolated in a remote area for a long time, Marsican brown bears have developed some unique characteristics different from the Eurasian brown bears from which they are descended. They are larger than most other brown bears, with males weighing up to 478 pounds and females 310. An adult male standing on his hind legs can by 6.5 feet tall. They have short rounded ears and fur that ranges from dark brown to golden beige. Researchers can distinguish their signs from other bears by the size of their footprints, their claw marks, hair residue, and even the color of their feces.

Marsican Brown Bear Behavior

A female Marsican brown bear walking through the forest
Marsican brown bears are significantly smaller than grizzlies.

Claudio Bottoni/Shutterstock.com

Like other brown bears, Marsican brown bears are mainly nocturnal except when with their cubs or mating. They have poor eyesight but great sense of smell and hearing. This helps them seek out berries, honey and small animals to eat.

In the summer they migrate to high altitude mountain meadows where temperatures are cooler. In fall they wander back down to the warmer foothills and mountain valleys. Sometimes they wander into farms and towns in search of food but have a calm temperament and are generally not aggressive toward humans. In 2022, a male was captured in an Italian mountain town after making news for two years wandering around, drinking from water fountains, and even raiding a bakery for cookies!

Marsican brown bears have different hibernation habits from most other bears, staying more wakeful and emerging from their dens throughout the winter to walk around on sunny days. They will take the opportunity to eat something if they can find it, but their winter nutritional needs come from the fat they store up through the year before hibernation.

Marsican Brown Bear Habitat

The range of this bear once covered a large area of the central Italian Apennine mountains, but over-hunting for the past two centuries reduced their habitat to one small area. In 1923 the Italian government created the Abruzzo, Lazio, and Molise National Park in south-central Italy specifically to protect these bears.

The region has high mountain peaks rising up to about 5,500 feet, lush woodlands covering the lower slopes and foothills, abundant water, and scattered villages, particularly in the valleys. The forest is mixed broadleaf and coniferous, with oak woods and orchards at lower altitudes. Beechwood is particularly abundant and a favorite habitat for the bears.

Marsican Brown Bear Diet

Marsican brown bears are omnivorous. 80% of their diet comes from vegetation, such as grass, fruit, tubers, roots, and fungi. Their favorite food is buckthorn berry, which is in season in late summer. They also like honey and insects and will turn over rocks and claw at rotting tree trunks to find tasty crawly treats. They will eat carrion and small-to-medium sized animals, including rodents, chickens, turkeys, sheep, and calves.

Marsican Brown Bear Predators, Threats, and Conservation Status

Brown bears in general are not endangered, but Marsican brown bears specifically are critically endangered, which means they are on the brink of becoming extinct in the wild. In prehistoric times, hundreds of bears may have lived in Italy, but due to overhunting and loss of habitat, today only 50 remain in a protected conservation area.

Marsican brown bears do not have any natural predators in their environment, though packs of wolves might try to pick off a young, sick, or injured bear if the opportunity presented itself. Humans are the real threat to the species. Bears are seen as a nuisance by farmers for raiding livestock and honey sources. Illegal hunting and deliberate efforts to poison the surviving bears by unknown criminals may be related to these concerns. Cars are another human threat, as some bears have been killed crossing busy roads.

In the past two decades the governments of Italy and the European Union along with private conservation groups have accelerated conservation efforts to save this species. Some of these efforts include:

  • Education, awareness to build support for best practices in conservation.
  • Vaccinating livestock and domestic dogs against diseases that may spread to wildlife.
  • Planting trees in the hills to increase habitat away from human settlements.
  • Putting electric fences around vegetable gardens to push the bears away from humans.
  • Advocating for wildlife corridors to allow the bears to spread to other areas in the Apennines.

Marsican Brown Bear Reproduction, Babies, and Lifespan

The mating season for Marsican brown bears is between May and July. Females are sexually mature at around 3 years. They may mate with more than one male in the same season. Gestation takes 6 months and cubs are born in the winter, during the mother’s hibernation. Cubs are usually born as twins and weigh about 17 ounces at birth, about the weight of a soccer ball. The mother’s milk is rich in fat and nutrients so the cubs put on weight quickly. They can be fully independent when they are only a few months old, but they tend to stay with their mothers a little over a year. Cubs have a 50% mortality rate. Those that survive can live 20-25 years in the wild, or up to 35 years in captivity.

Marsican Brown Bear Population

Researchers estimate there are about 50 Marsican brown bears remaining in the wild, with only 10-12 females that are able to reproduce. This is a decline in population of 50% over the past 40 years. The small size and limited habitat of this species puts them below the threshold for survival, so extinction may be only a matter of time unless conservationists can implement more effective interventions.

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About the Author

I'm a freelance writer and a lifelong animal lover. I've traveled the world, but the high point for me was riding an elephant in Nepal. Currently I'm an "Emotional Support Human" to 2 dogs, 1 cat, and 3 guinea pigs. My favorite wild animal is the quokka. If you've never heard of it look it up . . . and smile!

Marsican Brown Bear FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) 

Is the Marsican brown bear dangerous?

No. They keep to themselves in an isolated mountain habitat. They do wander into farms and villages in search of food and may kill livestock, but they are not aggressive toward people.

How many Marsican brown bears are left?

Approximately 50 are left in the wild. They are critically endangered, which means they are close to extinction.

Why is the Marsican brown bear endangered?

They have been over-hunted for centuries mainly because they are seen as a threat to livestock. Human development has limited their habitat to one small region of the Apennine Mountains. They are susceptible to some diseases carried by livestock and domestic dogs.

What do Marsican brown bears eat?

Marsican brown bears are omnivorous. 80% of their diet comes from vegetation, such as grass, fruit, tubers, roots, and fungi. Their favorite food is buckthorn berry, which is in season in late summer. They also like honey and insects and will turn over rocks and claw at rotting tree trunks to find tasty crawly treats. They will eat carrion and small-to-medium sized animals, including rodents, chickens, turkeys, sheep, and calves.

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

Sources
  1. Wikipedia, Available here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marsican_brown_bear
  2. National Forest Foundation, Available here: https://www.nationalforests.org/blog/do-bears-really-hibernate
  3. Rewilding Europe, Available here: https://rewildingeurope.com/news/rewilding-efforts-in-the-central-apennines-support-upward-trend-in-marsican-bear-numbers/
  4. The Guardian, Available here: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2022/mar/07/rare-italian-bear-famous-for-bakery-break-in-captured
  5. Mongabay, Available here: https://news.mongabay.com/2013/09/not-far-from-rome-italys-distinct-bear-faces-down-extinction/
  6. Bear Conservation, Available here: http://www.bearconservation.org.uk/marsican-or-appenine-brown-bear/

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