How much do you really know about bears? See if you can pick out the ursine myths from the truth in this eight-question quiz.
Answer: False With long claws adapted for digging, grizzlies aren’t as adept climbers as black bears, it’s true. But they can climb if sufficiently motivated: In Bear Attacks: Their Causes & Avoidance—basically the bible on the subject—Dr. Stephen Herrero of the University of Calgary notes an observation of a sow grizzly protecting her cubs: She climbed 15 feet up a tree to drag down a trail worker who’d shouted at her in Banff National Park.
In any case, scrambling for the nearest trunk is rarely the best course of action for avoiding bruin ruin: Even if you’re able to out-climb a grizzly, there’s an excellent chance it’ll run you down (bears can run 30 mph) before you can get off the ground.
Answer: False Please. This is a downright silly notion, predicated on the idea that because bears have longer hindlegs than forelegs, they somehow can’t run downhill without toppling. Maybe the rumor stays afloat because it seems ludicrous enough to be one of those crazy-but-true tidbits. But it's not: Just ask BACKPACKER editor-in-chief Dennis Lewon, who almost collided with a barreling black bear while running in California
Answer: Mostly false We've all heard this old saw, but studies say it isn't true—with one exception. While black bears and grizzlies don't react at all to menstruating women or feminine hygiene products, one well-known experiment from the late 1970s suggested polar bears might key into the scent of used tampons (although that research is a bit controversial.) So we don’t exactly know what to tell you if that Arctic odyssey of yours happens to overlap with your period.
Answer: Partly true Grizzlies with cubs in tow are very aggressive indeed, but the same isn’t true for black bears. Statistically, the most dangerous black bears aren’t mothers but lone animals (especially males) with predatory, not defensive, motives.
For reasons that aren’t entirely clear, predatory attacks on human beings by grizzly bears are less common, though they have happened on rare occasions.
Answer: Partly true Not universally true by any means. This is the right response to a grizzly defending cubs (or a carcass), but dead-wrong in the case of most black-bear attacks, which are more likely to be predatory in nature.
A predatory black bear is usually quiet, whereas a defensive bear typically huffs, growls, clacks its jaws, and otherwise tries to make it clear that you’re freaking it out. Experts recommend shouting at and fighting back against a bear you suspect wants to eat you (as opposed to just teach you a lesson): Bear spray’s best, but otherwise use rocks or sticks—whatever’s available.
Answer: False Hikers have been arguing this point amongst themselves since the invention of bear spray, and will probably keep doing so until the Earth crashes into the sun. But when it comes to cold, hard data, the answer is clear. According to research by both the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and aforementioned bear-attacks guru Dr. Herrero, people using pepper spray on a threatening bear are significantly less likely to be injured than those packing heat (and you don’t hurt the bear, to boot).
Answer: False The grizzly bear is a North American subspecies of the brown bear, widespread in the Northern Hemisphere. Colloquially speaking, coastal grizzlies in British Columbia and Alaska are often called brown bears, and the Kodiak bear is classed as its own brown subspecies—the biggest of all.
Bonus: Not all black bears are black. They may also be blonde, cinnamon-colored, or chocolate-brown, with much rarer and more geographically restricted white (spirit bear!) or blue (glacier bear!) phases.
In a place like Yellowstone, where grizzlies share digs with brown and cinnamon black bears, tell the bruins apart by looking for the grizzly’s pronounced hump, prominent straight foreclaws, and blockier, dished-in face.
Answer: True While only a scarce few of have been recorded in the Canadian Arctic, polar bears and grizzly bears can reproduce when their ranges cross. The resulting hybrids are known as "pizzly bears" or "grolar bears."
Some scientists speculate that such crossbreeds may become more common as a warming climate increasingly brings grizzlies and polar bears into contact. But the phenomenon may not be new: The genetic record suggests these close relatives have interbred in the past.