Facts: All About Bears

All About Bears

There are 8 different kinds of bears — American black bears, polar bears, giant panda bears, Asiatic black bears, sloth bears, spectacled bears, sun bears, and brown bears (also known as grizzly bears).


Where Do Bears Live?


Black bears or their relatives live on all continents except Africa, Australia, and Antarctica. Approximately 630,000 – 725,000 American black bears live in 42 states. They also inhabit 11 Canadian provinces. Grizzly bears (also known as brown bears) and polar bears also inhabit North America. The most common bear in Idaho is the Ursus Americanus, otherwise known as the American black bear. Baby bears are called cubs; female bears are called sows; and male bears are called boars.

Bear Senses


In the forest, bears rely on their acute hearing and super sense of smell. Their noses perceive smells much fainter than humans can detect. With this super sense of smell, they can detect other animals that are nearby, and they can find fruit, insect larvae, and their other foods.

Bears can probably see as well as humans can. They can recognize shapes but not details at a distance, and they observe moving objects better than stationary objects. When you've got to find lots of food on the ground, sharp eyes that see color can come in handy. And that's exactly what the black bear has. Although their night vision is also excellent, bears forage for fruit during the day when they can perceive colors.

Bears in Idaho

People who live in Idaho are lucky to share their forests with a few grizzlies and a lot of black bears. As many as 20,000 black bears inhabit Idaho, but if you go looking for truly black bears, you might be surprised!

In Idaho, you are as likely to see a black bear that is brown as you are to see a black bear that is black. Black bears that live in the western states are often various shades of brown similar to grizzly bears.

Eastern bears are usually black. Black bears also come in white (the Kermode bear of coastal British Columbia) and blue (the glacier bear of west-central British Columbia and southeastern Alaska) color phases.

In Idaho, black bear habitat spreads over 30,000 square miles of forest, mostly north of the Snake River Plain. Less than one fourth of bear habitat is on private lands. The rest is managed by a variety of state and federal agencies, including the United States Forest Service which oversees three-fourths of the bear habitat in Idaho. Idaho's forests can support 20,000 – 25,000 bears, but the actual population is probably lower than that.

Idaho's black bears are creatures of the forest. Camouflaged by its dark fur, a black bear easily fades into the shadows. It can move quietly on its soft, broad foot pads.

Being able to navigate the forest quietly and unseen helps a bear avoid other bears as it searches for food. If a young bear accidentally encounters a large adult male, who could consider the youngster a competitor, the younger animal needs to retreat before being detected. If necessary, it can run 30 miles (48 km) per hour or paddle across a lake!

How big is a bear?

Brown bears and polar bears are the biggest bears. They can be over 6 feet long and can weigh from 100 to 600 pounds. Sun bears which live in southeast Asia are the smallest bears. They weigh about 100 pounds or 45 kg.

Massiveness isn't the only myth about bears. We see them everywhere depicted as cuddly stuffed toys, as humanlike characters in fairy tales and cartoons, and as ferocious beasts. But few people ever see the real thing as a beautiful, shy animal that is far from both its cute toy image and its man-killing myth. Nearly everyone has a bear story to tell. In almost all cases, the bear was huge!

Bear Standing

Bear weight estimates of more than 400 pounds are common. Even bear researchers have a tough time judging the size of a bear.

According to John Beecham, bear researchers often have contests to see who could come closest to guessing a bear's weight, and they often over-guessed the weight by 50 pounds.

  • Newborns
    Eight ounces (0.22 kg)
  • One-year-old females
    30-50 pounds (13.5-22.5 kg)
  • One-year-old males
    50-70 pounds (22.5-31.5 kg)
  • Mature females
    120-140 pounds (54-63 kg)
    51-54 inches (127.5-135 cm)
  • Mature males
    240-280 pounds (108-126 kg)
    56-61 inches (140-152.5 cm)

Bear Feet

Bears walk on their feet as humans do, with their soles flat on the ground. If you look at other mammals, such as cats or dogs, you'll see that they walk on their toes. Look for tracks like these:

Bear Tracks

Also look for scat deposited in piles of thick cords that resemble horse manure except that it is full of insect parts and, in late summer, berry pieces.

The Bear Truth

  • Bears can see very well and in color.
  • A bear sometimes stands upright to see or smell scents carried by the wind, but rarely walks on its hind legs.
  • Black bears can run faster than most humans.
  • They seldom visit campgrounds unless careless campers leave food or garbage out.
  • Bears that live far from humans are active in the morning and early evening, but rarely at night.
  • Bears that live near humans prefer to avoid humans and so are more active at night.
  • Black bears are beautiful creatures, but they are not lovable, friendly animals that we should approach in the wild.
  • Bears rarely attack people. People who enjoy the outdoors are far more likely to have fatal encounters with lightning, snakes, or spiders.

What Kind of Bear is it?

   Black Bear

  • 98% of diet is plants
  • eats lots of insects
  • captures elk & moose calves & deer fawns in spring; does not kill larger ungulates
  • profile of face is straight
  • no hump between its shoulders
  • average male weighs 250 pounds (113.4 kg)
  • average height is 3 feet (0.9 m)
  • average length is 4-6 feet (1.6-2.7 m)
  • adults easily climb trees
  • lives about 18-20 years; has been known to live to 30


  • eats insects; captures elk & moose calves & deer fawns in spring
  • capable of bringing down bull elk
  • dished-in face with high brow
  • hump between its shoulders
  • average male weighs 490 pounds (222.3 kg); average height is 3-5 feet (0.9-1.5 m)
  • average length is 7-10 feet (2-3 m)
  • adults seldom able to climb trees
  • lives about 25 years
  • 90% of diet is plants

Did you know?

  • The teddy bear was named after President Theodore Roosevelt after he was the subject of a newspaper cartoon. The cartoon, drawn by Clifford Berryman and titled "Drawing the Line in Mississippi," showed President Roosevelt refusing to shoot a baby bear.
  • Smokey Bear was an actual baby black bear who was the victim of a forest fire in 1950. He was rescued from his injuries, and because he was orphaned by the fire, became the spokesman, or spokes-bear, for fire prevention.
  • The koala bear is not a bear at all. It is, in fact, a marsupial. Koala bears live in Australia, and although they look cuddly, they have a reputation for being rather not cuddly.
Thanks to Idaho Fish and Game and Project WILD for all of their help and information. All information in these sites from "Wild About Bears" is copyrighted by the Idaho Department of Fish and Game and Idaho Project WILD. Permission obtained and granted to use this material for educational purposes. Photographic images were provided by the Department of Fish and Game and various other sources.
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