Creature Feature – Brown Bear

I used to keep a blog featuring facts on a different animal each month, along with a photo of two that I had taken of the individuals living at the zoo. I have now decided to try and resurrect it on this blog, so any feedback would be lovely. To kick things off I’ve decide to feature the brown bears, in honor of the new Russia’s Grizzly Coast exhibit opening June 7th! No pictures to post yet, but check back in a week and I’m sure I’ll have plenty to share. 😉

Ursus arctos

Brown bears originated in Asia 1.25 million years ago and later migrated across the Bering Land Bridge, thus the brown bears found in the Russian Far East are the same species as those found in North America. Brown bears are very adaptable to a range from mountains to coast to forests. In North America they prefer tundra, alpine meadows and coastlines. They have the widest range of all the bear species in the world. Females have a range from 50-300 square miles and males 20-500 square miles.

To many Americans, a Grizzly is a large brown bear. Period. Scientifically the Grizzly is identified as the subspecies horribilis. This subspecies is a medium-sized brown bear found in the northern plains of North America (i.e. Montana). The popular name Grizzly came from Americans moving west in the 19th century, observing that the bears appeared grizzled. This appearance came from the fact that some individual brown bears, regardless of subspecies, develop grey hair-tips that give this impression from a distance.

Their weight can vary widely depending on the time of year. The average size is difficult to pinpoint exactly, as it depends on the food sources available. A large male may reach 1300 pounds and stand 10 feet tall. Coastal bears are larger than inland bears because their diet is rich in fatty salmon.

Brown bears are opportunistic omnivores. They eat whatever they find in season, which includes a wide variety of plants, salmon, small animals, carrion, insects and fungi. Most of a brown bear’s diet is made up of vegetation. They eat about 25 to 35 pounds of food each day, and a male brown bear can eat more than 30 salmon in a single day.

Medical scientists are trying to figure out how the bears are able to eat large amounts of rich food and store fat without suffering from heart disease or high cholesterol. If scientists can solve this problem, they could use this information to prevent human heart disease. Brown bears can put on up to 400 pounds of insulating fat each summer so they can survive the winter on a 6-inch layer of fat. A brown bear loses about 2 pounds of fat each day during winter sleep. Some bears are 50% lighter when they come out of their dens in the spring.

Interesting Facts

  • Brown bears are not true hibernators as there is not a great change in body temperature, heart rate, or metabolism. They also can be woken if they sense a threat.
  • If a newborn human gained weight at the same proportion as a brown bear cub, as adults we would weigh more than 6000 pounds.
  • Brown bears living near rivers where the salmon spawn will just stand in the river or on a rock and catch the leaping fish as they make their way up.
  • With one blow from its paw a bear can kill an adult bison.
  • A brown bear can outrun a horse at speeds up to 35 miles per hour.

Meet the Zoo’s Bears
In the spring and summer of 2006, the Minnesota Zoo acquired three orphaned bear cubs in Alaska. They stayed at the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center (AWCC) in Portage Glacier until April of 2008, when they came to the Minnesota Zoo.

Found near a landfill in Kotzebue, Alaska, Sadie was rescued by the local Department of Fish and Game in June, 2006. Officials named her after Sadie Creek, near where she was orphaned, and transferred her to the AWCC. Sadie is the smallest of the Zoo’s three bears with the lightest fur. She is also the most inquisitive of the group.

A second bear cub, “Haines,” was found in July, 2006 and is nearly the same age as Sadie. This orphan received his name after he was found roaming the porches and yards around the town of Haines, Alaska. Haines is a very large bear with a calm and easy-going disposition. He has the darkest fur of the three bears.

In September, 2006, “Kenai” was found orphaned along the coast near Seward, Alaska and joined Sadie and Haines shortly after he was found. Kenai is smaller than Haines and appears to have the “fluffiest” fur. He is the most submissive of the group, known as curious and shy, but enjoys joining his adopted brother in daily wrestling matches.

Information courtesy of

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