10 Incredible Brown Bear Facts

Written by Jeremiah Wright
Published: June 22, 2022
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The awe-inspiring brown bear (Ursus arctos) is one of the most prominent living terrestrial members of the order Carnivora. They inhabit the mountains and forests of northern North America, Asia, and Europe. Several European countries recognize the brown bear as a national and state animal.

Brown bears vary in size depending on which type of population they belong to. Their standard length ranges from 5 ft-9.2 ft (1.5 m-2.8 m). Male brown bears weigh about 400 to 1,200 pounds. On average, females weigh approximately 300 to 800 pounds. Both species are sizable when standing.

Brown bears have long captured our attention in ways that few other wild animals have– they dig cozy caves using their claws, pack lean-body mass while hibernating, are omnivores, and love hibernation. Read on to get more intriguing facts about one of the world’s largest predators.

1. Brown bears have a strong sense of smell

Kamchatka Brown Bear
Brown bears have the keenest sense of smell in the animal kingdom.

Marie Dirgova/Shutterstock.com

Brown bears have the keenest sense of smell in the animal kingdom. While dogs can sniff out delicious food and other disgusting things about 300 times better than humans, brown bears can smell 100 times better than dogs. The smell helps brown bears find food and mates, avoid danger, and keep track of their young ones.

Their olfactory bulbs, the areas that manage the sense of smell, are about five times larger than those of humans. This is why brown bears can smell prey or animal carcasses from 20 miles away. So you should assume they can also smell the food in your bag.

2. Brown bear cubs are born the size of a tiny chipmunk

One would expect the cubs to weigh at least 5-10 pounds at birth because their mothers are enormous, but they are born extremely small, averaging about one pound. They only start weighing more than five pounds when they leave the den. Cubs are born between January and March and are usually delivered in two. They are born blind and without fur. The mother bear weans the cubs at about five months old but remains with their mother for approximately two to three years.

3. More than 2,000 brown bears live in Katmai National Park

Favorite and Most Popular Animals: Bear
The Katmai National Park in Alaska is home to more than 2,000 brown bears.

WildMedia/Shutterstock.com

When most people envision Katmai, they only think of brown bears. The Katmai National Park in Alaska is home to more than 2,000 brown bears, making the place one of the perfect bear viewing destinations worldwide. Katmai provides an unaltered habitat for brown bears, as many bear populations worldwide continue to decline. Visitors from throughout the globe visit the park to enjoy the view of these magnificent animals in their natural habitats.

4. Brown bears are generally loners

Brown bears are typically loners who only seek a mate for short periods. They always roam their natural habitats individually and live alone unless they have cubs. Long-distance communication would be required to inform other brown bears of gender, occupant age, and territory borders.

5. Brown bears are active at dusk and dawn

Do Bears Have Tails
Brown bears forage for food at night in areas inhabited by humans to avoid coming across people during the day.

Brown bears are usually active at dusk and dawn, though they can still be seen throughout the day. They come out at night, not because they are nocturnal animals, but because they want to avoid the summer heat and cold winter weather. Brown bears also forage for food at night in areas inhabited by humans to avoid coming across people during the day.

6. There are three main subspecies of brown bear

The California grizzly (Ursus californicus), the Kodiak bear (Ursus arctos middendorffi), and the grizzly bear (Ursus arctos horribilis) are the three main subspecies of brown bear that are native to North America. Unfortunately, the California Grizzly was driven to extinction less than 75 years ago after discovering gold. 

The last California Grizzly was shot in Tulare County in 1922. It was then declared the official state land mammal of California thirty years later. Check out the California state flag, and you will see brown bears. Brown bears became the largest taxidermy specimen at the Pacific Grove Museum of Natural History.

7. Brown bears can cover short distances at a speed of up to 30 mph

Although they look like lumbering giants, brown bears can cover short distances at speeds up to 30 mph. This is considerably faster than the speed of a human runner, which is generally around 16 mph. Their muscle-topped shoulders power their forelimbs to sprint or run over short distances. 

8. Hundreds of brown bears descend on Brook Falls to feast on sockeye salmons each year

Eurasian Brown Bear
Brown bears lead relatively solitary lives.

Giedriius/Shutterstock.com

Brown bears lead relatively solitary lives and can only be found together at Brook Falls yearly, feasting on the migrating sockeye salmon. One bear stands neck-deep in the water to grab a salmon; another waits for a fish to jump, then plucks it from the air. It’s one of the most awe-inspiring scenes to watch brown bears trying to catch food, though sometimes their dinner slides.

9. The brown bear’s lifespan ranges between 20 and 30 years

Brown bears can live up to 20 to 30 years in the wild and up to 40 years in captivity. Despite their long life expectancy, most brown bears die very early. They have almost no predators but are constantly threatened by starvation, humans, drought, accidents, internal parasites, and other bears.

10. Brown bears communicate through sound and smell

Brown bears twist their feet on the ground to release the scent from glands in their feet. The scent has about 20 different compounds, acting like sticky notes for other brown bears, relaying information such as gender. Cubs learn the smell of their mother when they’re young.

Brown bears also use amiable sounds like tongue clicks and grunts to show concern for the cubs or when a bear is approaching another to mate. They growl or bark when angry, agitated, or annoyed. A whimper, squeal, bellow, or bawl sound indicates pain. A purr, hum, or mumble portrays contentment. In many cases, brown bears accompany vocalizations with different body postures. 

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