People often wonder how you can tell the difference between a black (“brown”) bear and a grizzly bear. We see both of these types of bears on Buffalo Roam Tours in both Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks. Here are the major distinguishing features:
Although they are called black bears, these animals are not always black! They are sometimes dark brown, brown, cinnamon, and can even be white. Black bears have a flat nose, large ears and lack the shoulder hump that is typical of grizzlies. Their claws are smaller and curved, and better suited to climbing trees than digging (see left side of the photo for an example of black bear claws).
The color of grizzly bears ranges from black to blonde. Grizzlies have a “dished” profile of the nose, small ears and longer, less curved claws and a larger shoulder muscle mass that is better suited to digging than climbing (see right side of the photo for an example of grizzly bear claws). Grizzlies may be larger than black bears, but age and individual variance make it difficult to determine a black bear vs. a grizzly on size alone. The characteristic shoulder hump is one of the most distinguishing features of a grizzly bear.
The charts below sum of the differences between black bears and grizzlies.
Bears are wild animals, and dangerous. While it’s a amazing to see bears in their natural environment, be sure to view them from a safe and respectful distance!
For more information about Grizzlies and Black Bears, see the National Park Service website.
Matt Fagan, Buffalo Roam Tours Guide