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Explainer: is it a grizzly bear or a black bear?

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Posted at 10:36 AM, Sep 23, 2022
and last updated 2022-09-23 12:42:26-04

The recent spike in bear sightings across Western Montana has prompted MTN News to provide some tips about how to tell the difference between grizzly bears and black bears.

Our Wildlife Correspondent Tanner Saul breaks down what you need to know. Watch the video to learn more:

Explainer: Know the difference between grizzly and black bears

Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Parks provides this overview:

Despite the names grizzly and black, coat color is the least reliable characteristic for identifying bears. For instance, grizzlies may be pale—almost luminous—blond, or reddish blond, light brown, darker brown, or even almost black. And black bears, despite their name, are not always black. They can also be brown, cinnamon, blond, or a combination of light and dark hair.

Grizzly bears have well-developed shoulder muscles for digging and turning over rocks. These muscles appear as a prominent shoulder hump between the front shoulders, which is visible in profile. Black bears have no shoulder hump. A black bear’s highest point, when it’s on all fours, is the middle of the back or the rear, depending on how the bear is standing.

A grizzly typically has a concave or dishshaped profile that extends from between its eyes to the end of its nose. A black bear normally has a long, fairly straight profile from forehead to nose tip. The dished-face profile of the grizzly makes the face appear broader (when seen full front) than that of the black bear; the face and forehead of the black bear appears more round.

Grizzly bears have smaller, more rounded ears, whereas the ears of a black bear appear larger, longer, more erect, and pointed.

For more information, click here (PDF).