Grizzly or black bear?

So you’re hiking along in the woods, enjoying nature, and you spot a brown-colored bear. That would be a brown bear, right? While hiking in Grand Teton National Park, Cindy Landham spotted a cinnamon-colored bear, originally identifying it as a young grizzly. But, as several commenters point out, and as she later admits, it was more than likely just a cinnamon colored black bear.

So if black bears can be brown, blonde, cinnamon, white, or even a blue-gray color, and if grizzly bears can be blond, reddish blond, several shades of brown, or even quite close to black, how are you supposed to tell the difference?

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Well, according to Montana Fish, Wildlife, & Parks, the number one way to identify the difference from a distance is by searching for a shoulder hump. Grizzlies have large, well-developed muscles over their shoulders, creating a visible hump between the front shoulders. Black bears don’t have this hump, so the highest point of their body when on all fours is typically in the middle of their back or rear.

Grizzly bears have a hump between their front shoulders that black bears lack. Credit: Pradeep Nayak on Unsplash

Additionally, grizzlies have a dish-shaped facial profile, appearing as a broader face when seen from the front. Black bears, on the other hand, typically have a straight facial profile from their forehead to their nose. A black bear’s ears are also longer, taller, and sharper than a grizzly’s smaller, round ears, and black bears’ claws are typically less than two inches and curved sharply, while a grizzly will have gently curved, 2-4 inch long claws.

There are a few other ways to identify the differences as well, but the #1 thing to keep in mind is the hump identification.

Look for a hump. If you see a hump in profile, it’s a grizzly bear. Never use hair color and body size as methods for identifying bears. The most important thing to remember is the hump!” – Mike Madel, bear biologist with Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks.

Black bears have a flat facial profile and no hump between their front shoulders, while black bears have a more dish-shaped facial profile. Credit: Geoff Brooks on Unsplash

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