How to Tell Black Bears from Brown/Grizzly Bears

Color is not reliable for differentiating brown bears from black bears because both species have many color phases. Black bears occur in many hues of brown, and even shades of blue and white. Brown bears range from dark brown through light blond.

Compared to black bears (Ursus americanus), brown bears (Ursus arctos) usually are larger, have a more prominent shoulder hump, shorter fuzzier ears, and longer, straighter claws. They have a more prominent ridge across the forehead between the eyes.

The prominent hump and long claws of brown bears are adaptations for obtaining food in their more open habitat. The musculature and bone structure of the hump add strength for digging and bursts of speed to catch moose calves or caribou calves for food. The long claws are useful for digging up roots or excavating burrows of small mammals.

Black bear claws are shorter and more curved for climbing trees and tearing apart stumps and logs in their forest habitat.

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