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The DAILY DIRT - The nitty and the gritty of outdoor news

Ask A Bear: Why Is Black Bear And Grizzy Behavior So Different?

Our resident bruin expert answers all in our weekly feature, 'Ask A Bear.'

Q: Genetically, it seems that grizzlies and black bears are pretty closely related. So why is your behavior so different? —Bear-Curious, via email

A: I'm glad you asked that, Bear-Curious—most people just want to know whether I'll eat their trail mix or not (the answer is yes, happily, if you let me). But to answer your question, it all boils down to evolution.

Grizzly or brown bears are relative newcomers to North America—we only showed up 50,000-13,000 years ago, around the time you people showed up. Black Bears, meanwhile, have been around for about a million years. They evolved in mixed forests and floodplains near trees, which helps explain their relative timidity. Adept tree climbers, they've learned to avoid confrontation and threats by scampering up trees or fleeing the scene with relative speed. A dense forest ensures plenty of options for escape and hiding.

Grizzlies, however, likely evolved on tundra, high plains, and open forests where they lack sufficient places to hide or escape. Their relatively large size also prevents them from effectively climbing trees as a regular strategy for survival (though we can do it). Because of this, some scientists theorize that we had to develop more aggressive behaviors to defend ourselves, our food sources, and our young. (Crazy fact: Some brown bears endemic to thick European forests behave much more like black bears than the grizzlies of North America).

Brown bears don't live on the plains (for the most part) anymore, but we drove them back to limited mountain enclaves in only about 70 years. This is much faster than any form of adjustment in evolution could keep up with, so we still exhibit the aggressive style learned out on the plains over millions of years.

You humans haven't always been the best neighbors, and widespread extirpation pushed grizzlies down to about 1 percent of their former range. On the other hand, much more adaptable black bears still inhabit much of their former range. In recent years, you've decided to be a little more neighborly, with mixed results. I know I'm not the type of neighbor to bring over a casserole, but let's keep trying to get along, shall we?

—BEAR

Got a question for the bear? Send it to askabear@backpacker.com.

ALL READERS COMMENTS

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dave
Jan 01, 2011

A couple of things:

1. Nowhere in the Bible does it say the earth is 4000 years old. The so-called "young earthers" believe it is around 6000 years old, a belief NOT held by close to 98% of believers (including me).

2. Not one believer thinks that the Bible is a science book; it is a story. Neither is is a fairy tale; there are indeed historical facts in the Bible that have been backed up by external sources.

My opinion has alway been that the Bible tells us what happened, and science tells us how. If you don't subscribe to that, not my problem. If you read the whole thing, rather than picking out the stuff you don't like, you may open your "open mind" and free up you "free-thinking" a little bit more.

Now, back to talking about bears!!

Peace.

Gary
Dec 26, 2010

Regardless of how you view the Bible, you have to admit it is NOT a book of science, it is a book of faith. Faith, by definition, is BELIEF not based on facts while science is factually based.

Jim Parker
Dec 25, 2010

Seems inconsistent that the Grizzly which "showed up (only) 50,000-13,000 years ago", "exhibit(s) the aggressive style learned out on the plains over millions of years". Whatcha say BEAR?

WildRanger
Dec 25, 2010

Very good Sierracanon!! Our view of this "tinder box" issue is finally moving to the forefront, albeit slowly. You get to move up the ladder of evolution.

sierracanon
Dec 24, 2010

I've always looked at evolution as the process of creation. They are not mutually exclusive of each other, as those on the extreme sides of both views might want one to believe.

billy the preacher
Dec 23, 2010

Hey man! Noah put the grizzly on the ark with the gazelle and the deer and the antelope and why didn't he kill them? After 40 days he would've been a miiiiiiighty hungry fellow! Well, the Bible doesn't say, but since the obvious FACT is that bears don't EAT when they hibernate this PROVES that GOD makes bears hibernate so they can RIDE on ARKS!! Case closed!! Now ask me about LIONS!

dragonarse
Dec 23, 2010

creationism-HA-HA-HA-HA!!!!!!! the earth is NOT just 4000 yrs old. Get real.

steve
Dec 23, 2010

Linda,

Evolution is the answer. There are NO facts in the bible. It is a fairy tale.
The age of the earth is told in the geological record. See the Grand Canyon for an obvious example and explanation.

Linda,
Wake up and smell the coffee!
Have a Happy Holiday!

Linda
Dec 23, 2010

The answer to everything is NOT evolution! That is a huge fairy tale. Environment, yes...evolution, no. What a bunch of bunk!!! 50,000 - 13,000...if you actually had FACTS about this you could get a closer range than that. Try reading the Bible for the true facts on the age of the earth and all it contains.

Art Timm
Dec 23, 2010

Mr. Bear . . you need to remember that you are a grizzly in your reply. You said " ......WE drove them back to limited mountain enclaves in only about 70 years. This is much faster than any form of adjustment in evolution could keep up with, so WE still exhibit the aggressive style learned out on the plains over millions of years."

Does "we" mean people or does "we" mean grizzlies?

Scout Leader
Sep 23, 2010

Yes, I think snapping of sticks will scare bears if the sticks are very large, suggesting that the contact amimal is large, also. But hikers and campers should be more concerned about food security and strong-smelling attractants and maintaining a Leave No Trace ethic so as not to invite animals to dig around and mess up campsites. Avoid cooking very aromatic entrees!

Scout Leader
Sep 23, 2010

Yes, I think snapping of sticks will scare bears if the sticks are very large, suggesting that the contact amimal is large, also. But hikers and campers should be more concerned about food security and strong-smelling attractants and maintaining a Leave No Trace ethic so as not to invite animals to dig around and mess up campsites. Avoid cooking very aromatic entrees!

Pablo Escobar
Jul 16, 2010

Byron,

The article says they came to North America 50,000 - 13,000 years ago. So, it's understood that the plains that they learned on over millions of years were not in North America. Right?

Byron
Jul 16, 2010

I've read that black bears have been in North America several million years, over lapping with larger short-faced bears and Florida spectacled bears. I bet living with those larger, more aggressive cousins would teach them to flee and be a bit timid of confrontation.
By the way, at first you say grizzlies/brown bears showed up only 50,000 - 13,000 then you write, "learned out on the plains over millions of years." Which is it?

Byron
Jul 16, 2010

I've read that black bears have been in North America several million years, over lapping with larger short-faced bears and Florida spectacled bears. I bet living with those larger, more aggressive cousins would teach them to flee and be a bit timid of confrontation.
By the way, at first you say grizzlies/brown bears showed up only 50,000 - 13,000 then you write, "learned out on the plains over millions of years." Which is it?

Aaron Bagby
Jul 15, 2010

I love this series. Great job on this one in particular. Thanks for the report, bear.

So Cal 59
Jul 15, 2010

We are humans, the most dysfunctional of all species - if a comet were heading toward earth and armegedon were unavoidable and 30 minutes away, we would steal, rape and kill each other off with about 10 minutes to spare....

So Cal 59
Jul 15, 2010

We are humans, the most dysfunctional of all species - if a comet were heading toward earth and armegedon were unavoidable and 30 minutes away, we would steal, rape and kill each other off with about 10 minutes to spare....

So Cal 59
Jul 15, 2010

We are humans, the most dysfunctional of all species - if a comet were heading toward earth and armegedon were unavoidable and 30 minutes away, we would steal, rape and kill each other off with about 10 minutes to spare....

So Cal 59
Jul 15, 2010

We are humans, the most dysfunctional of all species - if a comet were heading toward earth and armegedon were unavoidable and 30 minutes away, we would steal, rape and kill each other off with about 10 minutes to spare....

Meg
Jul 15, 2010

Isn't the answer to everything evolution? Great write up Bear :-)

Daddio
Jul 14, 2010

Evolution! Hahahahahahahahahahahah.

brandon
Jul 14, 2010

i was watching something on tv the other day about brown bears in canada. this lazy "hunter" rode around in a boat until he found one relaxing by the water. then landed his boat, walked ten feet, and shot it from far far away. how the heck can a person pat themselves on the back for that grand kill?

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