Ask a Bear

Ask a Bear: Why Do You Rub Your Back on Trees?

Our resident bruin answers all your questions in 'Ask A Bear.'

Andy Rogers

Q: I saw a video of a bear rubbing its back on a tree. I mean, I understand getting a little itchy, but it seemed excessive. What’s the deal? – Kevin Corrigan

A: Hey, nothing embarrassing about getting in a good massage. Think all this rippling muscle takes care of itself?

Kidding, kidding. Really, it’s not about scratching an unbearable (pardon the pun) itch, or about shedding fur or any of the stuff you might expect. It’s more of a communication thing, like cats rubbing their faces on the furniture, or dogs, uh, using the fire hydrant.

The evidence? Camera tracking has revealed that not only do multiple bears use the same trees year after year, but that males make the rounds between these trees when they’re looking for some female attention (and other males to fight off to gain that privilege).

Me, I like to show up, take a whiff, see who’s in the area, and move right along if I see the neighborhood bully’s in town (Not that I couldn’t take him, of course; I just don’t have time for that sort of thing.) Cubs have also been spotted rubbing on trees when fleeing from predatory male bears, apparently in the hopes that they’ll start to smell like a pursuer’s relative and get off easy.

Whatever the reason, you can’t deny—it does feel pretty damn good.