What Color Is a Black Bear? (Can They Be Brown?) 

Black bears can be black, but they can be in several other colors too. Black bears can be black, brown, cinnamon, blue-gray, blonde, or white.

In fact, bears can have more fur colors than any other mammal in North America and can be brown, among other colors.

No one knows exactly why, but some experts point out that it’s part of the bears’ adaption to their habitat.

For example, black bears in open landscapes have lighter fur while those that live in wooded and denser areas have darker shades of fur.

What Color Is a Black Bear

In the east of North America, most black bears have a black color and around a quarter have a white chest. The further west you go, the more varied black bears colors become. They can be brown, cinnamon, and even blond. 

There’s also a black bear subspecies with entirely white fur as well as ones that are grey and silver. This article explores all of the fur colors among the black bear and the possible reasons for their color variations.

What Is the Most Common Color of a Black Bear?

The most common color of a black bear varies and it’s believed to depend on where the black bear lives. Black bears are mostly black, but also brown, cinnamon, blue-gray, blonde, and even white. 

As noted on Wise About Bears, black bears are most commonly black east of the Great Plains. The melanin in black fur strengthens the animal’s resistance to abrasions from the jagged undergrowth of the eastern forests. 

In states with forests that border the Great Plains, between 5 and 25 percent of black bears are brown and 5 percent of the Minnesota black bears are brown. 

The blonde and white black bears are a rarity in Minnesota and a young white male was last spotted in 1997 and 1988 near Orr. 

In the west where there are more open meadows and park-like forests, more than 50 percent of the black bears are brown, cinnamon, or blonde.

It’s believed that their lighter fur decreases the stress from the heat that is common in the open sunlight and gives the bears the opportunity to feed longer.

There are cases of non-black black bears that bleach in the sun. For example, dark brown fur can go entirely blond by the time by the time they shed the following summer.

This interesting video shows the behavior of a 20-year-old Kermode bear in Canada:

Read Also: Do Brown Bears Eat Beaver?

Which Are the Other Colors of a Black Bear?

In addition to being black-furred, the black bear can have other fur colors, including brown, cinnamon, blue-gray, blonde, and white. The black ones live east of the Great Plains whereas the brown, cinnamon, and blonde black bears are more commonly found in the west of the US.

Interestingly, although most of the Kermode bears whose habitats are several islands are black, in some places, up to 20 percent of them have creamy white fur and are known as Spirit Bears. 

Read More: Are There Bears on Long Island?

According to Spirit Bear, this is one of the rarest animals on the planet.  

Their unique color is a result of an uncommon recessive genetic trait. Their whole coat is white, but they’re not albinos due to their dark eyes and noses. 

There are also black bears with white to grey fur and silver-tipped hairs known as the Glacier or blue bears. These bears live in northwestern British Columbia and in the southeast of Alaska. This bear’s fur color morphs in order to blend in with the environment where they live.

The Alaskan native name for these bears is ‘siknoon’ or the ‘disappearing bear’. It refers to their elusive nature and capacity to morph and blend in with their habitat.

This video shows the exceptional and elusive beauty of the glacier bear:

Why Does Fur Color Differ among Black Bears?

The fur color among black bears differs and the reasons for it are several, ranging from the environment to genetics. Although the exact reason behind their fur color isn’t known, the major contributing factors include climate, environment, and genetics.

Here are some of the reasons black bears’ fur varies in color…

1. Heat

In the west of the US, where there are park-like forests and plenty of open meadows and higher exposure to the sun, more than 50 percent of the black bears are lighter in fur, including brown, cinnamon, and blonde. 

According to bear researchers, their fur is lighter and helps them lower the stress associated with exposure to heat. Namely, as these bears spend a longer time in the open sunlight to feed, their fur has adjusted to reduce the stress. 

On the other hand, black-colored black bears absorb the sunlight 90 percent more than light-colored fur bears, and therefore, they tend to avoid long exposure to sunlight prefer to spend more time in the shade among trees and plants.

Related Article: Do Black Bears Stay in the Same Area?

2. Environment/habitat 

Scientists note that black bears have various fur colors to survive and adapt better in their habitats and climates. For example, in the deciduous and dense Appalachian forests, the black bear is commonly black. 

Read More: Can Bears Climb Trees?

This is the ideal camouflage for the underbrush and dense thicket. On the other hand, in the west where it’s drier, black bears are mostly brown or cinnamon and reflective of the rocky, less densely vegetated areas. 

There is data pointing out that only one percent of the Pennsylvanian black bears are brown whereas 90 percent of the black bears that live in Yosemite National Park are light brown and cinnamon.

3. Genetics 

Genetics plays its role in the black bear’s fur color, although more research is necessary in some cases to determine the connection between genes and fur color in some bear species. 

According to some scientists, bears’ fur color is a natural genetic phenomenon that allows them to optimize their survival throughout different environments and climates. 

Gene recessiveness is also a factor and some small pocket populations have it. For example, the white-furred spirit bear that lives in British Columbia. They’re the rarest color phase among black bears but aren’t albinos.

4. Other factors

According to researchers who track black bears, there are documents of bears changing colors throughout the year. Moreover, it’s also not uncommon for mom bears to have cubs in various colors.

Conclusion 

The American black bear is commonly black, but it’s not exclusively black-furred. In fact, this bear has the most fur color variants than any other mammal in North America. Their furs can be brown, cinnamon, blond, grey, and even white. 

Although scientists don’t know the exact reason why, there are certain factors that are found to play a role, including genetics, habitat, and sun exposure. The lightly colored black bears are more common in the west whereas most black bears have black fur in the east. 

There are also rarer fur colors like the white one of the spirit bear that lives in British Columbia and the grey and silver ones known as the glacier bears in the northwest of British Columbia and southeast Alaska.

The spirit bear isn’t albino and it’s white-furred due to a recessive gene whereas the genes of the glacier bears are believed to help them adjust their fur color to their habitat with snowfields and glaciers.

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