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Black Bear vs. Grizzly Bear

Grizzly bears are stronger, larger, and more aggressive than black bears. A black bear will therefore usually show submissiveness to a grizzly. Both species share the same habitats and have a similar diet.

black bear
Black Bear
brown bear
Grizzly Bear

Although they’re part of the same family and share certain traits such as size, habitat, and diet, the black bear and the grizzly are different species.

Here’s a quick summary of the similarities and differences between black and grizzly bears:

Black BearGrizzly Bear
1. Strength980 PSI1200 PSI
2. SizeUp to 300lbs (136kg)Up to 600lbs (272kg)
3. DietOmnivorous Omnivorous
4. ColorVariesVaries
5. Distribution & RangeNorth America Including Alaska and CanadaNorth America including Mexico, Alaska, and Canada
6. HabitatForests, Wetlands, and LowlandsForests, Alpine Meadows, Woodlands
7. Population600,00055,000
8. IUCN Conservation StatusLeast Concern (Pop. Increasing)Least Concern (Pop. Stable)

This article explores the major differences between black bears and grizzlies in an effort to increase awareness about both species and see which one is dominant. 

Black Bear vs Grizzly Bear

grizzly bear vs black bear

1. Strength

Bears have some of the strongest bites of any animal. Both black bears and grizzly bears use their strong bite to eat their prey. Grizzlies have a stronger bite force at 1200 PSI, and black bears have a force of around 980 PSI.

The grizzly’s bite force is 1200 PSI and their claws are also longer and can grow up to 4 inches in length! Still, the black bear isn’t that far behind: its bite is potent and among the strongest in the world (980 PSI). 

Its front claws are shorter, usually no longer than 2 inches, and are curvier and sharper than that of the grizzly.

Both bears use their strong bites to kill prey. They usually inflict deadly bites onto the neck and head. They also use their paws, a single swipe is enough to crack a skull or a spine. 

Both are excellent swimmers and runners; however, the black bear is better at tree climbing.

Here’s a video showing how a bear hunts a bison in Yellowstone National Park:

2. Size

Grizzlies are bigger and stronger than black bears, but both bears can be very heavy. An average grizzly can weigh up to 600 pounds whereas the weight of black bears is around 300 pounds. 

But, there are exceptions. 

For example, the male black bears in Manitoba’s Riding Mountain National Park can reach a weight of 800 pounds in the autumn whereas the female grizzlies in Alberta’s Eastern Slopes can have a weight as small as 250 pounds during the spring.

Still, a grizzly is mightier because of its massive muscles and specific physiology. Its muscles allow it to easily lift 0.8 times its weight. 

black bear

A bear’s muscles are found lower on the bone than other mammals, which gives them a mechanical advantage. Their forelegs are also some of the strongest among predators. Adult grizzlies can lift 600 pounds of weight using only one paw!

In fact, their hit is so strong that a single one is enough to bring down large animals, for example, moose and bison. But, a grizzly may not be able to beat buffalo, bulls, elephants, and rhinos that are considerably bigger than it. 

Variations in black bear size are common, with their size being influenced by factors including diet, habitat, and time of year.

Although grizzlies are stronger than black bears, black bears must never be underestimated. The adult male black bear can reach a weight of up to 800 pounds. The females are smaller and usually grow up to 200 pounds.

Although it can’t lift as much as the grizzly can, a black bear can still lift 3 times its weight, i.e. a 600-pound black bear can easily lift an 1800-pound rock. Black bears are known for their dexterity and have been known to open jars and doors with ease.

3. Diet

bear with fish

Both the grizzly and the black bear are omnivorous, meaning they eat a varied diet comprised of both plants and meat. 

Read More: Do Bears Eat Nuts and Berries?

Grizzlies are very adaptable and eat everything from plants, roots, tubers, and grasses to animals, fish, and even human waste. They’re active and eat for six to eight months during the spring, summer, and fall so that they can survive in the winter hibernation.

Black bears also eat different things from roots, berries, and grass to insects, fish, and meat. 

Their hunt deer and other hoofed animals like elk and moose. They also like to eat sheep, pet food, livestock food, honey, and human food.

Read More: Do Humans Eat Bear Meat?

4. Color

Grizzly Bears

Black bears and grizzlies both vary in color considerably. It’s a common misconception to think that they can only be brown or black. Both bears vary from very dark brown to light blond color.

In fact, grizzlies’ color can range from black to blond and it’s conditioned by plenty of factors like genetics, habitat, age, etc. Similar, black bears have black fur east of the Great Plains, but they can also be dark brown, blue-black, brown, cinnamon, and even white. 

The brown black bears are usually seen in the forested states that border the Great Plains and 5 percent of them are in Minnesota. 

Over 50 percent of black bears in western states with mountain meadows and park-like forests are brown, cinnamon or blond. The light fur lowers the stress from heat and gives the bear freedom to feed longer. 

Read More: Are Bears Scavengers or Hunters?

5. Distribution and Range

Black and grizzly bears live in many of the same areas, especially in Montana, Western Canada, and Alaska. Where their range overlaps, conflicts can occur.

The black bear lives in North America, as well as in Alaska, Canada, and some parts of the contiguous US. 

Grizzlies live in Alaska, Canada, and Mexico, as well as in Wyoming, Montana, remote parts of Washington State, and Idaho.

Unfortunately, the grizzly population in some parts is declining, which isn’t the case with black bears whose population is on the rise.

black bear

6. Habitat 

According to Bear Smart, even though black bears and grizzlies favor different habitats, both often overlap.

Bears often sleep in trees, so it makes sense that they would live in wooded areas.

Grizzlies live in forests, alpine meadows, prairies, and woodlands. They also prefer living near streams and rivers. They evolved on the tundra south of Eurasia’s ice sheets and are also seen in the rainforests of Alaska and British Columbia. 

The black bears love the forest and wooded places with an abundance of fruits and nuts. They also live near wetlands and lowlands and drink water from streams and rivers. 

7. Population

Both the grizzly and the black bear are listed as least concern by the IUCN, with the population of the former being stable and that of the latter increasing. There are around 110,000 Grizzly bears in North America, and over 850,000 Black bears.

Bears are not usually friendly towards humans, and they can be dangerous when provoked. Unfortunately, as human settlements encroach into traditional bear habitat this puts a strain on the bear population.

However, the number of grizzlies in the lower 48 states in the US (only around 1,500) and in Alaska (around 30,000) is declining

In fact, a lot of bear species face threats to their population. According to Parks Canada, the population of black bears is reducing due to habitat destruction, trade, human ignorance, and over-hunting. 

The grizzly population is threatened in the lower 48 states by habitat loss and hunting. Hunters of black bears occasionally shoot grizzlies by mistake when they can’t tell them apart.

Related: Are Bears Endangered?

bear

Conclusion

Although grizzly and black bears can be hard to discern at times, it’s pivotal to learn the traits unique to both species.

In terms of strength, the crown goes to the grizzly. This isn’t just because of its bigger weight and height, but also because of its aggressive nature. Black bears are generally more fearful of humans, although they can be equally dangerous when provoked!

Both species are praised for their impressive swimming and running skills. These mighty predators may seem like nothing can disturb them; however, their number is declining in certain regions and the human factor is one of the major culprits.  

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