brown bear

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brown bear
Siberian brown bear

Siberian brown bear

Order : Predators (Carnivora)
Subordination : Canine-like (Caniformia)
Family : Bear (Ursidae)
Subfamily : Ursinae
Genus : Ursus
Type : brown bear
Scientific name
Ursus arctos
Linnaeus , 1758
Grizzly Bear in Bute Inlet

The brown bear ( Ursus arctos ) belongs to the mammals of the bear family (Ursidae). In Eurasia and North America it occurs in several subspecies , including the European brown bear ( U. a. Arctos ), grizzly bear ( U. a. Horribilis ) and Kodiak bear ( U. a. Middendorffi ).

As one of the largest land-based predators on earth, it plays an important role in numerous myths and legends. As a food competitor and a threat to humans, it has been decimated or exterminated in many places. In Western and Central Europe there are only relic populations. Within the German-speaking area, there is only a small group permanently living in Austria. Individual animals wander around in the Alps .


Big brown bear on the south coast of Alaska ( Katmai National Park )

Brown bears have the stocky, powerful build of all bears, but their skeletons are usually stronger than that of other members of their families. Features that they share with the rest of their family members are the penis bones (baculum) and the short, stubby tail . A species-specific feature is the muscular hump over the shoulders , which gives the front legs additional strength.

Head and senses

Skull ( Museum Wiesbaden Collection )

Like all bears, brown bears have a heavy, massive head with a protruding snout. In contrast to the American black bear , which is often similarly colored , the forehead is significantly higher and the snout is arched inwards (= concave). The ears are protruding and rounded, but the eyes are very small. Accordingly, the is sight underdeveloped, the sense of hearing is average, the sense of smell , however, very pronounced good. The cervical vertebrae are very rotatable, but the neck is shorter than that of the closely related polar bear .

Teeth and digestive tract

Brown bears have 42 teeth in their permanent set of teeth. The tooth formula is 3 / 3-1 / 1-4 / 4-2 / ​​3; So per half of the jaw they have three incisors , one corner , four front jaws and two (upper jaw) or three (lower jaw) molars . The animals have the enlarged canine teeth typical of many predators , the molars are provided with wide, flat crowns to adapt to the plant food.

As with all carnivores , the digestive tract of the brown bear is simple. The stomach is single, the appendix is absent. The intestine is 7 to 10 meters long and therefore longer than that of purely carnivorous carnivores.


Young brown bear. The front and rear feet are clearly visible here.
In the case of the European brown bear, the imprint of the forefoot is approx. 16 cm, that of the rear foot approx. 26 cm.

The limbs are long and strong, with the fore and hind limbs approximately the same length. The bones of the forearm ( ulna (ulna) and spoke (radius)) and lower leg ( tibia (tibia) and fibula (fibula)) are separated, resulting in a strong rotation. The feet are large with heavy, hairy pads on the underside. The front and rear feet each have five toes that end in up to eight centimeters long, non-retractable claws . When moving, the entire sole of the foot is placed on the foot, so like all bears, brown bears are sole walkers .


The fur of the Brown Bear is usually dark brown in color, but can take a variety of shades. The variations range from yellow and gray-brown to various shades of brown and almost black. Animals in the Rocky Mountains often have a white-gray speckled upper fur, this grayish ( English "grizzly") coloration the subspecies of grizzly bears owes its name. The coat of brown bears is generally characterized by a thick undercoat, the outer coat is long. The fur is exposed to seasonal changes, the winter fur, which is put on for the cold months, is thick and rough and gives a shaggy impression.

measures and weight

The head body length of these animals is between 100 and 280 centimeters, the shoulder height is around 90 to 150 centimeters. The tail is only around 6 to 21 centimeters long. The weight varies greatly depending on the distribution area, but in all populations the males are significantly heavier than the females.

The Kodiak bear is the largest subspecies of the brown bear

The heaviest brown bears are the Kodiak bears , which live on the southern coast of Alaska and on offshore islands such as Kodiak . They can weigh up to 780 kilograms, but the average weight of males is only 389 kilograms and females 207 kilograms. Brown bears in inland Alaska are significantly lighter, the average weight here is 243 kilograms for males and 117 kilograms for females. Further south in North America (in Canada and the northwestern core area of ​​the USA ) the weight of the males is 140 to 190 kilograms, that of the females 80 to 130 kilograms. In northern Europe and Siberia , brown bears weigh an average of 150 to 250 kilograms, in southern Europe they are significantly lighter, only around 70 kilograms. In Asia , their weight increases towards the east; the animals on the Kamchatka Peninsula again reach 140 to 320 kilograms.

distribution and habitat

Original spread

North America was only settled by brown bears at the end of the Pleistocene around 14,000 years ago over the Beringia land bridge . The distribution area of ​​the brown bears after the end of the most recent glacial period covered large parts of North America, Eurasia and North Africa . Brown bears lived throughout western and central North America up to the level of Hudson Bay and southward into northern Mexico . In Eurasia they came from Western Europe to the Siberian east coast and the Himalayas , they were only missing on the Indian subcontinent and in Southeast Asia . In Africa they were native to the Atlas Mountains .

Today's distribution and population development

Approximate original distribution of the brown bear ( Ursus arctos )
Today's distribution area

Hunting and the destruction of their habitat have severely restricted the range of brown bears. Brown bears have become extinct in many regions, for example in Great Britain as early as the 10th century, in Germany and the North African Atlas Mountains in the 19th century, in Mexico and large parts of the USA in the 20th century. In Western and Central Europe there are only relic populations, also in the heartland of the USA, where they only live in the northwestern part of the country. Their number has also decreased significantly in Southwest Asia and parts of Northern and Eastern Europe. Larger populations still exist in Alaska, western Canada, and northern Asia. By reintroducing bears from other areas, attempts are being made to replenish particularly endangered groups. The total global population of the brown bear is around 185,000 to 200,000 animals.


There are no more wild brown bears in Germany. As early as the Middle Ages , they were pushed back into wooded and inaccessible areas. The last bear in the Harz was shot at the end of the 17th century, in Thuringia in the middle of the 18th century and in Upper Silesia in 1770. In the Bavarian Forest near Zwiesel, the Forster brothers killed around 60 bears between 1760 and 1800. The brown bear hunted in Ruhpolding in 1835 is said to have been the last brown bear in Germany. The bear catch on the Großer Waldstein in the Fichtelgebirge is reminiscent of the hunt for the brown bear.

With the immigration or resettlement of bears in Austria, the question of the possible establishment of a population in Germany has become topical again. In 2005, the German Nature Conservation Union (NABU) declared the brown bear wild animal of the year .

Actually showed up in May and June of 2006, first time in about 170 years back by a brown bear in Germany: JJ1 , later in the press Bruno or problem bear Bruno called, wandered for weeks about in the German-Austrian border region. He killed some farm animals and was seen more often near human settlements. The animal was then temporarily released for shooting, but this was initially withdrawn due to public pressure. The subsequent attempts to catch the bear alive were discontinued after three unsuccessful weeks. On June 26th, the bear was shot near the Spitzingsee .

On October 1, 2019, the presence of a brown bear in the Allgäu was detected by a tourist on the basis of excrement . A week later, the bear was photographed using a photo trap in the Garmisch-Partenkirchen district . The young bear apparently made his way to Germany from Trentino in Italy via Austria, where he killed 3 sheep, among other things , in the early summer .


In Austria , the bears were also wiped out in the middle of the 19th century. In the 1950s and 1960s, there was isolated evidence of bears in Carinthia that had immigrated from what was then Yugoslavia . In 1972 a young male settled in the Ötscher region in south-western Lower Austria , in the area where the last specimens were shot in the 19th century. This animal became known under the name "Ötscherbär". In 1989, a female from Croatia was released in the region and three young were born in 1991. The reintroduction project continued with the release of two more animals in 1992 and 1993.

At that time there were the first major reports of damage such as ripped sheep and looted fish ponds, which caused skepticism and rejection of the project among the local population; Austrian media coined the term “ problem bear ”. A "reaction force" was set up to chase away the bears, which were often seen near human settlements, with warning shots.

Young animals have been sighted every year since 1998, and occasionally there have been immigration from Slovenia , so that until recently there was a small but stable population of 25 to 30 animals. Most of them lived in the Lower Austria - Styrian border area, mainly in the Ötscher-Tormäuer Nature Park - 35 individuals were found in the northern Limestone Alps in the last 18 years, in 1999 there was a maximum population of 12 animals - and a small group also in southern Carinthia, in the Carnic and Gailtal Alps and the Karawanken . In 2002 a specimen that immigrated from Trentino was also seen in Tyrol . Another brown bear in Tyrol was the aforementioned "JJ1" in 2006. In October 2008, the bear "MJ4" was spotted in the Stubai Valley - the last one to be found in the South Tyrolean Sarntal.

Despite occasional damage to pets and beehives , the presence of brown bears in Austria is now widely accepted by the population. Three specially commissioned "bear advocates" are supposed to promote the acceptance of the animals in bear regions and help with the clarification of damage cases.

In 2004 the LIFE Nature Co-op project was launched, which, with the support of the EU, tries to reintroduce brown bears in the Alpine region. The countries involved are Italy with the regions Trentino and Friuli , Austria with Carinthia, Northern Austria, Upper Austria and Styria, and Slovenia. As part of the project, the sub-populations of brown bears residing in the Alpine region are to be networked to form a so-called metapopulation , which is intended to enable the animals to multiply among themselves and to survive independently.

At the turn of the year 2007/2008, WWF Austria announced that only 4 of the slightly more than 30 brown bears born in Austria since 1991 can be found. Several illegal killings became known (most recently in December 2007 a young animal that was seized by the Federal Criminal Police Office), the whereabouts of the remaining animals is unclear. Without protective measures, the continued existence of the brown bear in Austria is at risk. This would not only give Austria the dubious reputation that an animal would have been exterminated twice, it would also call the reintroduction of the brown bear into question in the long term - at least in the Austrian Eastern Alps, there are now only two animals in the Limestone Alps International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) demands that "identification and elimination of the factors originally responsible for the decline" is necessary before a species can be sent out again - and the disappearance of the Austrian bears is generally unclear.

This population has been considered extinct in Austria since 2011, which means that there is currently no Austrian bear population. The animals that occur again and again in Austria are single individuals who immigrate from neighboring countries.

In 2012, two bear brothers who had immigrated from Italy, known as "M12" and " M13 ", were sighted several times in the Austrian-Swiss border area . "M12" was run over in June 2012 in South Tyrol. "M13" was shot in Graubünden at the end of February 2013 immediately after waking up from hibernation.

In May 2014, another brown bear, known as the "M25", came to Tyrol , wandering around the Swiss-Austrian border area. It was a two-year-old male from Trentino . The reporting was shaped very differently: While the daily newspaper Kurier published a rather positive article under “In Tirol is the bear going”, the ORF Tirol headlined “Bear 'M25' is hanging around at Nauders” and speculated “... but he should already Caused damage ". After a few days, the bear left Austria and returned to Italy via Switzerland.

In the report according to Article 17 of Directive 92/43 / EEC for the reporting period 2007–2012, Austria indicated a poor conservation status for this species, which must be strictly protected in the European Union, if it deteriorated further, after a poor conservation status had already been ascertained in the previous reporting period .


Bear hunt in the Tschachtlan Chronicle , 1470

The last bear shot in Switzerland until recently took place in 1904 in the Lower Engadine , on the southern flank of Piz Pisoc . In 1923 there was another sighting. A study following the Austrian reintroduction project from 1993 showed that there are also suitable habitats for bears in Switzerland.

In fact, in July 2005 a bear immigrated from the Italian Trentino to Val Müstair , it was "JJ2", called "Lumpaz". This sparked new discussions about the possibility of establishing a Swiss brown bear population. The Federal Office for the Environment (FOEN) has drawn up a “Bear Switzerland Concept”. This sets out a fundamentally positive attitude towards the reintroduction of brown bears, taking into account all possible consequences and risks. Bears that show dangerous behavior for humans can be classified as risk bears and shot down .

Another bear, the brother of JJ1 (alias Bruno) and "JJ2", called "JJ3", was shot in April 2008 due to his lack of fear of people in Graubünden. At the same time, another animal, the shy of people "MJ4", which like JJ3 also immigrated in the summer of 2007, was staying in Graubünden. However, it left Switzerland in the spring of 2008 for Italy. Another bear immigrated to Switzerland in June 2010.

In 2012, another bear in the Poschiavo , "M13", came too close to the human settlements. He was classified as a "risky bear" and was killed in February 2013, barely awakening from his hibernation.

With “M25” , another brown bear migrated to Graubünden in May 2014 and subsequently stayed in the Swiss-Austrian border area. The two-year-old male with a transmitter came from Trentino . The bear only stayed in Switzerland for a short time and migrated back to Italy at the end of May 2014. Within a month, WWF Switzerland collected 22,509 signatures for its "Viva M25" petition, which called on the authorities not to have the brown bear killed like its predecessors. In August 2014 he tore in Poschiavo two donkeys in the pasture. On May 26, 2017, a brown bear was sighted and photographed in Eriz BE ; the brown bear has returned to the canton of Bern after 190 years. It is probably the animal that was already seen in the canton of Uri . In 2017, a brown bear was spotted two more times in the canton of Bern, both times in the area of ​​the municipality of Innertkirchen : in July near the Sustenhorn , in early September near the Engstlensee , namely in the Gental .

Rest of Europe

Free roaming brown bear in the Southern Carpathians
Brown bear in the French Pyrenees

Note: Since brown bears love to wander and do not stick to national borders, the following figures are rough estimates (as of 2006).

  • In Romania , the largest European population lives outside of Russia. There are still a four-digit number of brown bears , especially in the forest areas of the Carpathian Mountains : in 1988 there were around 7,000 animals. Since the hunt has been intensified since 1989, the population has decreased; in 2010 it was estimated at 6,600 animals. Other sources speak of a more dramatic decrease of up to 60 percent since the late 1980s.
  • There are two small groups in Italy . The population in the Adamello-Brenta Nature Park in Trentino had increased again to 43 to 48 animals by 2012. The population there had shrunk to 3 animals before 1999. Therefore, ten animals from Slovenia were relocated there between 1999 and 2002. The second group in the Abruzzo National Park includes around 30 to 50 animals. This population differs from other brown bears in its skull structure and could therefore represent its own subspecies, Ursus arctos marsicanus .
  • In France , around 10 to 20 brown bears live in the Pyrenees, but the population there is entirely derived from animals released into the wild; the last autochthonous French bear was hunted in 2004 . There used to be a population in the French Alps, but it died out in the 1930s.
  • There are around 160 animals in three populations in Spain . An estimated 140 animals live in the Parque Natural de Somiedo in Asturias , part of the Cantabrian Mountains not far from the city of Oviedo . A smaller population (approx. 25 animals) exists in the same mountain range in the Saja-Besaya nature park around 200 km further east between Reinosa and Torrelavega in the province of Cantabria . The animal population in these two regions is considered stable because they are uninhabited mountain regions with no through roads. The smallest population (around a dozen animals) lives in the Pyrenees in a border region between Spain and France. (see also under France) It is assumed that this population will become extinct, as there has been no offspring here for a long time. Since this region is also not completely uninhabited by humans, there is a requirement here to relocate or even exterminate the animals. For more details see under Cantabrian brown bear .
  • In Slovakia (mainly in the High Tatras , Low Tatras , Little Fatra , Big Fatra and the Slovak Ore Mountains ) there are 700–900 bears.
  • In Poland 80.
  • In Northern Europe there are even larger populations, for example 450 to 600 animals live in Finland and a maximum of 3,000 animals in Sweden , in Norway there are 30 bears in isolated areas.
  • There are even larger populations in the Western Balkans: 500 to 800 animals live in Slovenia , between 600 and 800 brown bears in Croatia, and there mainly in Gorski Kotar and Lika . On the slopes of Velebit - mountain range is the bear refuge Kuterevo . There are currently around 100 brown bears in Bosnia and Herzegovina as well. Small groups are also known from Albania (250) and North Macedonia (90). Little is known about the current situation of brown bears in Serbia and Montenegro , according to statistics, around 500 of them live in Serbia.
  • Around 600 to 800 brown bears live free in the mountains in Bulgaria .
  • In Greece , around 250 animals were able to keep in the Rhodope Mountains and the Epirus Mountains .
  • In Estonia , too , where populations of 700 animals reside today, the brown bear is still or is now at home again.
  • In Latvia , on the other hand, there are only about twelve animals.

Russia and Asia

Brown bear in the water at Guangzhou Zoo (China)

The population in the countries of the former Soviet Union was estimated at 130,000 animals in 1989, and it has probably decreased due to illegal hunting and the search for mineral resources. An estimated 4,000 to 8,000 animals live in China , and there are also small populations in Mongolia and on the Japanese island of Hokkaidō . There are no precise data for many Southwest Asian countries (such as Turkey or Iran ), but the populations here are also presumably in decline.

The Syrian brown bear ( Ursus arctos syriacus ), a subspecies of the brown bear, occurs from the Caucasus to the Middle East , where it is acutely threatened with extinction in its natural environment.


The Atlas bear , the population in the Atlas Mountains became extinct in the 19th century, probably in the 1870s, more precise data are not available.

North America

Brown bear from Alaska eating a fish

In Mexico , originally their southernmost range, the brown bears likely became extinct in the 1960s. In the heartland of the USA, brown bears were originally distributed over large areas, bone finds are even known from Ohio and Kentucky . The decline in populations may already have started when the Indians honed their hunting techniques thanks to horses introduced by the Spaniards . The large-scale colonization of the country by Europeans was accompanied by a drastic decline in the population. In the 1920s and 1930s they disappeared from the southwest of the country ( California , Arizona , Utah ). Today around 1100 to 1200 animals live in six isolated populations in the northwestern part of the country, in Glacier National Park , Yellowstone National Park and occasionally in the states of Montana , Idaho and Washington .

In Canada, brown bears were widespread in large parts of the country until the 19th century, their occurrence extended to the Great Plains region and even as far as the Labrador peninsula . Today they are restricted to the northern and western parts of the country and only occur in British Columbia , western Alberta and the northern territories. Brown bears are still relatively common in sparsely populated Alaska . The brown bear population in Canada and Alaska is estimated at around 55,000 animals.


Brown bears inhabit a wide variety of habitats . In America they prefer open terrain such as tundra , mountain meadows and coastal regions; they used to be found in the Great Plains region. The remaining animals in Europe live mainly in forested mountain regions, and in Siberia they are more likely to be found in forests than in open terrain. As long as there is enough food and places to hibernate, they are not overly picky about their habitat. However, they need areas that are sufficiently dense with vegetation as resting places, even in open terrain.

Way of life

Activity times and locomotion

Bears can reach speeds of 50 kilometers per hour.

The activity time of the brown bears depends on the environmental conditions, the time of year or the proximity of people. They are considered to be predominantly crepuscular or nocturnal, especially in areas populated by humans. At the time of greatest need for food, in spring and autumn, they are also looking for food during the day, in summer, however, mostly at night.

Bears walk on soles and move in the passageway , which means that both legs on one side of the body are moved at the same time. Usually their movements are slow and sluggish, but if necessary they can run very quickly and reach speeds of 50 kilometers per hour. They are also very good at swimming. While young animals still often climb trees, this is usually no longer possible for adult animals due to their weight.


Since they cannot find enough food during the winter months, they go into hibernation . This hibernation is not a real hibernation because it is relatively easy to wake them up again. The heartbeat and breathing rate decrease significantly, but the body temperature only drops slightly - from the normal 36.5 to 38.5 ° C it only drops by 4 to 5 ° C. During this time they do not ingest food or fluids, or urinate or defecate. In order to avoid urine poisoning , amino acids are converted into reusable amino acids instead of urea . The beginning and the duration of the hibernation depend on the environmental conditions. It usually begins between October and December and ends between March and May, but in the southern parts of their range they do not have any or only a shortened winter dormancy.

In autumn, brown bears have an increased need for food, they build up fatty tissue so as not to starve to death during the winter rest. Interestingly, fats are not deposited on the vessel walls, which allows them to eat a supply without health risks, so brown bears do not develop atherosclerosis . When it comes to winter dormancy, the degree of satiety also plays a role: well-fed animals go to rest earlier, while hungry animals stay longer in search of food until they are driven to their winter quarters by the cold. The weight loss during the winter months is significantly higher in females (40%) than in males (22%), which is due to the higher energy expenditure during the gestation and suckling period.

To hibernate, they retreat to a burrow that is often dug themselves and lined with dry plants. Sometimes they also use natural caves or crevices. These burrows are built in sheltered places and are often used for several years in a row, but they do not defend them against other brown bears.

Social behavior and communication

Brown bears usually live solitary . During the mating season from April to August, there are brief connections, the males want to prevent the females from reproducing with other animals. The only more permanent bond is that between the mother and her offspring. Brown bears do not show any pronounced territorial behavior, the roaming areas can overlap, and they also do not defend their territory from conspecifics. With abundant food sources such as fish-rich waters, berry-lined areas or garbage cans, dozens of animals sometimes gather.

Brown bear in the
Katowice Zoo
Brown bear in Bardu Zoo (Norway)

The size of the territory is variable, it depends, among other things, on the food supply, on the topography, on the age, state of health or sex of the animal. The territories of the females are significantly smaller than those of the males, presumably to reduce the opportunities for encounters with aggressive animals and thus to protect the young. The average area on the Kodia Island is 24 km² for males and 12 km² for females, but in northern Alaska this value increases to 700 to 800 km² for males and 300 km² for females. The territory of one male usually overlaps that of several females, which increases the chances of getting a chance to reproduce.

Brown bears are not true to their location, they undertake seasonal migrations to places with great abundance of food. In pristine areas, these hikes can sometimes be hundreds of kilometers long.

In addition to sounds and postures, the sense of smell in particular plays the most important role in animal communication . Individuals facing each other communicate using postures: Dominance is expressed through direct approach with the neck extended, ears laid back and canine teeth presented, submission by lowering or turning the head and by sitting down, lying down or running away. Fights between conspecifics are fought with paws on the chest or shoulders or with bites in the head or neck.

Brown bears make little sound except when they are wounded or attacked. Cubs howl when they are hungry, when they are separated from their mother, or when they are cold. There are no known sounds with which the mother calls her children. Humming and growling noises are a sign of aggression. Puffing sounds, which are generated by intense, repeated exhalation, serve to establish friendly contact between animals, for example when mating.

To give visual or olfactory cues, they rub against trees, roll over the ground, bite or scrape out parts of the tree bark, or urinate and defecate on the ground. These signs are used to identify the area, to signal readiness for mating or to mark hiking trails.


Brown bears fishing
Fresh bear droppings photographed in Pârâul Rece , Brasov County , Romania

Brown bears are omnivores , but they usually eat primarily plant-based foods. So are grasses , herbs , shoots , flowers , roots , tubers , nuts and mushrooms on the menu, in summer and autumn make berries an important part of their food from. Honey is also eaten.

In terms of carnal food, they eat insects and their larvae, birds and their eggs as well as rodents such as ground squirrels (such as ground squirrels and marmots ), lemmings , pocket rats and voles . With the help of their claws they dig this prey out of their burrows. Especially in the Rocky Mountains they also eat larger mammals such as moose , reindeer , elk , bison , white-tailed deer and pronghorn . Of these animals, however, hardly any healthy adult animals fall victim to them; they usually kill and eat sick or old specimens and young animals. The carrion of these animals is also eaten, especially specimens that perished in winter after the bears have hibernated. They rarely attack black bears or even their own species. Wherever they are kept close by, brown bears also eat grazing animals such as sheep , goats or young cattle .

Brown bears are not specialized hunters of larger mammals, but they have considerable powers. Hoofed animals are usually killed by lashes on the head or neck, which is why the skull or the spine of the prey is often broken. Bites in the neck or shoulder area are also common. Bears then usually open the abdominal or chest cavity and eat the innards , and also like the udder . This characteristic processing of the prey animals is used in damage cases with domestic animals for the identification of the causer.

Sometimes bears bury their food to hide it from food competitors or to keep it from rotting. Often they then lie down on or next to the mound of earth to guard their prey. However, this behavior can only be observed when there is a lack of food and does not occur in areas or periods with abundant supply. Animals that guard their food in this way are considered to be particularly aggressive and attack every intruder, including humans.

In the coastal regions, especially on the Pacific , salmon are the preferred food of brown bears during their spawning migrations in the summer months. The fishing techniques vary, for example the fish are fished straight out of the water or caught in the air while jumping over small waterfalls. Presumably, the large size of the bears in Alaska and Kamchatka can be traced back to a particularly fish-rich diet. The bears on the coasts and fjords also like to feed on mussels , which they dig out of the sand with their big paws with their big paws at low tide. The extinct California brown bear is known to eat the carcasses of stranded whales .


grizzly bear with cubs

Brown bears are characterized by a high life expectancy, a comparatively slow reproductive rate and late onset of sexual maturity.

Mating and pregnancy

Brown bears are polygamous , which means that a male can mate with several females. During the mating season, several males often follow a female, and the males can also fight over the right to mate. To prevent a fertilized female from mating again, the males stay with her for one to three weeks. From the point of view of the female animals, on the other hand, it makes sense to mate with different partners.

The mating season falls from May to July. After the sexual act, however, the fertilized egg does not implant itself immediately, but remains free in the uterus . This stage of dormancy may last five months until the beginning of winter dormancy that occurs preimplantation period and thus the real beginning of gestation. For this reason, the period between reproduction and birth is 180 to 270 days, while the actual pregnancy is relatively short at six to eight weeks.

Birth and rearing of young

Young animal with clearly visible whitish neck pattern
Playing young bears

The birth falls during the winter dormancy period, from January to March. The litter size is one to four, but mostly two or three young animals. Like all bears, the brown bears are among the placentates with the greatest difference in weight between the female and her litter. Newborns are eight to ten inches long and weigh 340 to 680 grams, their eyes are closed and they appear bare, despite being covered with short gray hair. Young animals are characterized by a rounded skull, which only assumes the elongated shape of the adult skull as it grows, a process that can extend over their entire life.

Females have one pair of teats on their breasts and two more on their belly. Their milk is high in protein (6 to 17%) and fat (20%). That is why the young grow very quickly, at three months they already weigh 15 kilograms, at 6 months they weigh 25 kilograms. In the first summer, the young brown bears often have a whitish, V-shaped neck pattern that fades by the second year of life.

The young brown bears eat solid food for the first time at around five months and are finally weaned at 1.5 to 2.5 years of age. At least until the second spring, but mostly until the third or fourth, the cubs stay with their mother until she drives them away to produce new offspring. Afterwards, siblings sometimes stay together for two to four years, they play with each other and go looking for food together.

Males reach sexual maturity at around 4.5 years of age, females usually a little later, at around four to six years, and in exceptional cases only at seven or eight. However, their growth continues afterwards, brown bears are only fully grown when they are 10 or 11 years old.

Life expectancy and natural threats

Brown bear from Alaska

A study in Yellowstone National Park calculated the average life expectancy of brown bears to be six years. The maximum possible age of animals in the wild is estimated at 20 to 30 years, but like many other animals, brown bears can reach a significantly higher age in human care. The oldest known specimen died at the age of 47, the potential maximum age of animals in captivity is estimated at 50 years.

Many animals die from malnutrition or disease. Infanticide occurs particularly during the mating season when young animals are attacked by adult males. Cases of cannibalism , which means that brown bears eat conspecifics, are also known. Injuries inflicted on them by the horns of prey can also lead to death. In areas where the distribution areas overlap, cougars , lynxes , wolves or wolverines are food competitors of the brown bears. However, adult animals hardly have any natural enemies, only from Siberia there are reports that they sometimes fall prey to the Siberian tiger . However, some parasites are known: The ectoparasites of brown bears include fleas of the genus Chaetopsylla and ticks of the genus Dermacenter. As internal parasites include roundworms ( Baylisascaris transfuga ) and Trichinella common.


External system

The polar bear is considered to be the closest relative of the brown bear, the delimitation of the two species is controversial

The brown bear is one of the four to six living representatives of the genus Ursus , which also includes the polar bear , the American black bear , the Asiatic black bear , mostly the sun bear and sometimes the sloth bear . The oldest known representative of this genus is Ursus minimus , a relatively small bear that lived in the Pliocene . The ancestor of the brown bear is considered to be Ursus etruscus, who resembled today's animals except for a somewhat more primitive shape of the teeth. The oldest fossil finds of the brown bear itself are around 500,000 years old and come from the Zhoukoudian cave system in China . The species came to Europe around 250,000 years ago, where it coexisted with the cave bear (Ursus spelaeus) in several areas . During the Vistula Ice Age , the species migrated to North America via the then dry Bering Strait and, before being pushed back by humans, reached areas up to the heights of Ontario , Kentucky or northern Mexico . It is possible that the extinction of the giant short-faced bears was favored by the food competition of the brown bear.

The polar bear is considered to be the closest relative of the brown bear and evolved from it only relatively recently, probably in the middle Pleistocene . Recent research has even shown that some brown bear populations are genetically more closely related to the polar bear than to other brown bears. From a cladistic point of view, the brown bear is thus a " paraphyletic species" and is used as a prime example to question the current concept of species . In the traditional view, however, the two are listed as separate species.

This view is underpinned by the fact that brown and polar bears are crossable and can even produce fertile offspring. Until recently, there were no corresponding reports from nature, but in April 2006 a hunter killed an alleged polar bear on Banks Island ( Northwest Territories , Canada ). Its fur was not really white or yellowish, but rather a very light brown. A DNA analysis by experts from the Ministry of the Environment of the Northwest Territories revealed that the hunted animal was surprisingly a hybrid of a polar bear and a grizzly bear.

Earlier assumptions that the polar bear was just a comparatively young, special line of the brown bear (which would be paraphyletic as a result) are based, according to more recent findings, on the misinterpretation of an undetected hybridization (with introgression ).

Hybrids between brown and American black bears have also been bred in human care, but the young died within a few weeks.

Internal system

Syrian brown bear in the Nuremberg zoo

Within the large distribution area of ​​the brown bears there are considerable differences in terms of size and weight, the shape of the skull , the color of the fur and other morphological features. For this reason, numerous subspecies have been described, the number of which there are great differences of opinion. Dozens of subspecies have been described over the course of the history of research, a number that has now been revised downwards. In modern systematics, the following subspecies are usually distinguished:

However, genetic studies do not support this classification. By comparing mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA), several lineages ( clades ) of brown bears were identified, with some amazing results: There are two lineages in Europe - one includes the animals in Scandinavia and southern Europe , the second the animals in Eastern Europe and Siberia . The Kodiak bears belong to the same lineage as the much smaller specimens in the interior of Alaska , and the population in the Alexander Archipelago off the southeast coast of Alaska represents an entirely separate lineage that is genetically closer to polar bears than to animals on the mainland.

Human and brown bear

Brown bear in Bjørneparken, Norway

Brown bears in culture

The brown bear plays an important role in cultural history, presumably due to its size and strength. It has found its way into numerous myths , is a frequent motif in heraldry and also recurs in many fairy tales , literary works and films. Some first names are also derived from him. However, almost everywhere there is no explicit mention of the brown bear, but only of the "bear". However, since it was the only bear species living in historical times in Europe , at least on this continent the references can be regarded as referring to the brown bear.

Etymology and naming

The actual word for “(brown) bear” in Urindo-European had the root * ṛktos, as can be deduced from words like Greek arktos and Latin ursus (<* urcsus <* urctus ). Also, in some Celtic languages the root is obtained, in Old Irish (art), in Welsh (arth) and Breton (arz). The root also appears in the names of the Celtic deities Artaios and Artio and among the Greeks in the names of the mythological figures Artemis and Arkas . This root can also be found in ancient Indian .

The root word bear occurs only in Germanic languages ( Old High German bero , English bear, Dutch beer, Scandinavian björn ) and is derived by some linguists from an old word for brown . Due to this special position of the Germanic languages, it is assumed that the Germanic word originated as a kind of taboo word ("brown" instead of "bear"), with the help of which, for magical reasons, the use of the actual bear word should be avoided to denote the powerful Not conjuring predator to " summon ".

The Germanic hero name Beowulf (New High German: "Bienenwolf") is a paraphrase ( kenning ) for the bear.

A similar effect can be observed in the Slavic languages , where the bear is regularly named with a word for honey eater ( Russian медведь, Polish niedźwiedź, Czech medvěd, Slovenian medved ).

The scientific name of the brown bear, Ursus arctos, goes back to Carl von Linné and combines the Latin name of the bear, ursus, as a generic name and the Greek name arktos as a species name .

Mythology and cult

Cave paintings of bears and references to a possible “ bear cult ” can already be found in the Upper Paleolithic , but it is unclear to what extent these were more the extinct cave bears and not the brown bears.

The constellation Ursa major

In Greek mythology , the nymph Callisto , a companion of Artemis , with whom she is sometimes equated, is seduced by Zeus . After the birth of her son Arkas , she is transformed into a bear either by Zeus 'jealous wife Hera or by Artemis, who was appalled at the loss of Callistus' virginity. Years later, Arkas nearly killed his mother while he was out hunting and mistook her for an ordinary bear. But Zeus stopped him, turned him into a bear and set both of them as Big Bear and Little Bear in the starry sky. Both were hurled into the sky by their tails, which gave them their atypical tails. The name Arctic is derived from it and means land under the (constellation of) the Great Bear.

The Celts knew bear deities. The bear goddess Artio was worshiped by the Helvetians , although this is possibly the origin of the Bernese heraldic animal . Other Celtic bear deities were Artaios and Matunus . In Celtic tales, the bear as the “king of the animals” takes on a role similar to that of the lion later . The relationship between the name of the legendary King Arthur and the Celtic word for bear -  art  - is controversial.

From the Norse mythology the idea comes, certain people can transform into bears or accept their properties. The berserkers , who are considered the epitome of the unleashed fighter, are known. The name Beowulf from the well - known Anglo-Saxon epic is a kenning for bear and is possibly in this tradition. The motif of people who can assume the shape of a bear also appears, for example, in the figure of Beorn in Tolkien's novel The Hobbit . The bear also plays an important role in the Latvian national epic Lacplēsis, as a mythical hero, half bear, half human, becomes the savior of the Latvian people.

Mythical or cultic ideas have also come down to us from other Eurasian peoples. In the Finnish national epic Kalevala there is evidence of a bear worship. It was forbidden to pronounce the actual name of the bear, karhu, so that parallels such as otso or metsän kuningas (king of the forest) were used. After a bear was killed, ceremonies were held to appease the bear's spirit. The Sami also knew a bear cult, a separate hunting ceremony for bears. A bear sacrifice is attested among the Ainu until the 20th century: a young bear was caught, fed for months and sacrificed in a ritual.

Some tengristic peoples of Central and North Asia such as the Evenks see the bear as a sacred ancestor. He is considered the ruler of the wilderness in Siberia. Pronouncing his name is taboo , so it is described in other words.

There are also numerous references to the bear in Indian myths and cults: there were bear clans , bear dances, the bear was used as a totem animal and also in naming it, for example Big Bear or Sun Bear . It should be noted, however, that in North America there are not only brown bears but also black bears , which are sometimes difficult to distinguish externally and are usually not separated in the mythical-cultic area.


In heraldry , the bear is a common motif that reflects power and strength. It often appears in so-called “talking coats of arms”, in coats of arms for people or places in whose names a component that sounds like “bear” occurs, regardless of the etymology. A well-known example is the " Berlin Bear " in Berlin's coat of arms . In the Alpine region, the coat of arms of the Swiss capital and the canton of Bern as well as that of the Austrian towns of Petzenkirchen and the two towns of Berndorf in Salzburg and Berndorf in Lower Austria are further examples.

Coat of arms of Pope Benedict XVI.

In various legends of saints from late antiquity and the early Middle Ages - also here mainly from the Alpine region - encounters between Christian missionaries and bears are described, in which the saint shows that he can exercise power over the strongest predator, which is a demonstration of the power of God was used. These stories are attributed to St. Gall and St. Korbinian . So it happens that places that were founded by these saints or named after them later adopted the bear as a heraldic animal. In the case of St. Gall, for example, this is the case in the coat of arms of the abbey and the city of St. Gallen . The Korbinian bear can be seen in the coat of arms of the city of Freising and in the coat of arms of the Archdiocese of Munich-Freising . Pope Benedict XVI was archbishop here for a while and has adopted the motif in his papal coat of arms .

In general, the Alpine region is considered a retreat for bears, so that even at the time the coat of arms was created, bears were still often to be found here, which were then adopted as heraldic animals. This is the case in the two half-cantons of Appenzell Ausserrhoden and Innerrhoden as well as in the village of Mannenbach .

The Prince Bernhard III. von Anhalt-Bernburg had a heraldic bear motif in his equestrian seal in 1323 . This bear motif became the coat of arms of the Anhalt-Bernburg line of the Ascanian dynasty, the most famous representative of which was the later so-called Albrecht the Bear . From 1252 to 1468 there were six dukes named Bernhard in this line . The coat of arms with the bear became the coat of arms of the duchy and later Free State of Anhalt and is represented today in the coat of arms of the federal state of Saxony-Anhalt : In the white field a black, striding bear on a black grooved, red battlement wall with an open gate.

Coat of arms of the county of Hoya

Through the marriage of an heir, the bear coat of arms of the Westphalian Counts of Rietberg was incorporated into the coat of arms of East Friesland, which is still used today .

Particularly original is the coat of arms of the historical County Hoya , which is still used today by the municipality of County Hoya ; it shows two bear paws turned away and connected by a piece of skin. Individual chopped off bear paws form a comparatively common motif in the coats of arms of German aristocratic families. This is probably due to the fact that the paws are the only parts of a hunted bear that are suitable for human consumption and were therefore brought home as hunted prey.

Bears also bear the coat of arms of the Russian Republic of Karelia and the flag and seal of the US state of California . The latter show the extinct subspecies California brown bear (Ursus arctos californicus).

Usually the brown bears are not shown in their natural color, but in black, red or gold. This is due to the fact that brown is not a heraldic color and therefore the closest colors were often used.

Further images of the coat of arms: Bears in heraldry on Commons

Fairy tales, literature and film

In fairy tales and fables , the brown bear, known as "Meister Petz" or "Braun", plays a generally good-natured, sometimes a bit clumsy character. In literature , especially in children's literature and in cartoons, there are numerous offshoots of this motif, including "Balou the Bear" from the jungle book , Captain Bluebear , Pooh , Petzi and many others. Finally, with Snow White and Rose Red , the helpful bear turns out to be a transformed person.

The film The Bear (L'ours) by Jean-Jacques Annaud tells the story of an orphaned bear cub who is "adopted" by a male bear in the Canadian wilderness. The film is told from the bears' point of view and contains hardly any conventional dialogue.


Bull and Bear in front of the Frankfurt Stock Exchange

In the stock market, the term “ bear market ” stands in contrast to the “bull market” for falling prices (bear market). This name goes back to animal fights that were held in the United States in the 19th century.

A number of first names are derived from the bear, including the German names Bernhard and Bernward , Björn from North Germanic , Artur from Celtic , or the names Urs and Ursula, which can be traced back to the Latin term Ursus . Sports teams and other clubs also have “bears” in their names, for example the Bergkamen bears or the Chicago bears . At this point, numerous brand names based on the bears should be mentioned, such as the liqueur Bärenfang , the coffee cream Bärenmarke and the Bärenpils from Berliner Kindl .

The brown bear was also the godfather of the teddy bear. Richard Steiff was inspired by the brown bears in the Stuttgart Zoo , even if the legendary tale of the origin of the name was a baby black bear that was spared by Theodore "Teddy" Roosevelt .

A bad service rendered to someone is literally called disservice .

Dealing with real brown bears

Fight with a bear, Roman vessel
Dancing Bear (school book illustration from 1810)
Bärenhatz, Augustin Hirschvogel
Ludwig Pietzsch (1824–1911): Russian bear hunt

Brown bears in captivity

The use of brown bears as objects of entertainment has a long history. Bears caught with nets and pitfalls - there were specially trained "ursarii" in the legions of the Roman Empire - were used from around 169 BC onwards. Chr. Transported in large numbers to Rome.

Thousands of bears have been killed in circus games since Caesar's reign . Bear hunt, i.e. the public killing of bears, remained a popular amusement event until the early modern era. Bear fights, in which bears are made to fight each other or dogs, were also common in the past. Today, such performances still take place in parts of Asia, but with Asiatic black bears .

Captured and trained bears were a fairground attraction in Europe as dancing bears well into the 20th century. Bears also played an important role in circus training . For the animal tamer they are considered to be the most dangerous predators. With the rise of animal welfare in the public consciousness, these phenomena have been in decline for about half a century. Brown bears are still kept in many places today. While zoos are increasingly trying to keep animals in a species-appropriate manner , housing the animals in bear pits or cages generally does not meet the modern requirements of animal welfare.

Coexistence with brown bears

Because of its great strength, a single bite or swipe from a bear can cause serious injury or even death to humans. Usually, however, they rarely attack humans; they flee when they hear people approaching. However, there are situations in which they can be dangerous. This includes encounters with injured animals, with mothers who have young animals with them, with animals that eat carcasses or when humans have a dog with them.

There are a number of rules of conduct that are issued, for example, by the national park administrations in North America. Noise from speaking, singing or putting a bell on the boot should prevent a bear from being surprised and frightened. Provocative or threatening behavior should be avoided, including attempts to scare the animal away. In the event of an attack one should not run away, but pretend to be dead.

Nevertheless, there are isolated deaths almost every year in North America and Asia, and rarely in Europe, which can be attributed to provocative or careless behavior on the part of people.

In 2006, the brown bear " Bruno ", correct name " JJ1 ", became known in Europe. It was shot because of suspected threat ("problem bear" ) after several activities near human settlements in the Spitzingsee area . The process and accompanying circumstances were controversially discussed.

Brown bear hunting

Gaston Phébus, the Count of Foix , wrote his frequently copied and quoted Livre de Chasse (German: "Jagdbuch") in the 1380s , in which he also gave details about the way of life of the bears and made recommendations for hunting the bears. So you should take bow and crossbow shooters with you when hunting the bears . When the dogs had found the bear at least be two men to catch the bears with spears (bear spear or bear pen, similar to the Saufeder necessary), one hurt the bear, and should draw up, the second one could catch the bear specifically from behind . A sword , as is often used with wild boars, is not suitable for intercepting the bear, presumably because the hunter then comes within range of the bear's deadly paws. The meat is not very tasty, but the bear paws are a delicacy .

In addition to the entertainment aspect, brown bears were also often hunted to use their body parts. This hunt is known by many peoples of Eurasia and North America and was often associated with ritual ceremonies. The meat of the bears was eaten, the fur was used for clothing or blankets, and claws and teeth were made into pieces of jewelry. Also (supposedly) medical or superstitious reasons were decisive: In Roman times, for example, fat , bile , blood and testicles were used partly against various diseases , partly in agriculture against caterpillars , lice and frost damage. In traditional Chinese medicine the bile of bear plays an important role today. Asiatic black bears are primarily hunted or even kept for this, but this species is becoming increasingly rare. The extraction of the bile is one of the reasons why numerous brown bears, especially in Asia, are poached today.

Another reason for the hunt for brown bears was the view as a food competitor who kills grazing animals such as sheep , goats and cattle , loots fish ponds and breaks open beehives . While it is undisputed that such incidents happen, the extent of the actual damage is uncertain and can often be exaggerated. Often humans were also the main cause of this, by massively interfering with the natural habitat of the bears and forcing them to find new sources of food.

The hunt for brown bears is still widespread today. In contrast to the earlier economic use, it is carried out purely as a trophy hunt and is also offered by local tour operators. A bear is tied to one place by regular feeding. As soon as the bear appears regularly at Luderplatz , a hunting guest can be invited who can shoot the bear without much effort.


  • Bernd Brunner: A Brief History of the Bears. Claassen, Berlin 2005, ISBN 3-546-00395-0 .
  • Igor Chestin: The Brown Bear. (= The New Brehm Library. Volume 633). Westarp, Magdeburg 1996, ISBN 3-89432-494-5 .
  • Ronald M. Nowak: Walker's Mammals of the World . 6th edition. Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore 1999, ISBN 0-8018-5789-9 (English).
  • Maria Pasitschniak-Arts: Ursus arctos. In: Mammalian Species . No. 439, American Society of Mammalogists, Washington DC 1993, ISSN  0076-3519 , pp. 1-10.
  • LP Waits, SL Talbot, RH Ward, GF Shields: Mitochondrial DNA phylogeography of the North American brown bear and implications for conservation. In: Conservation Biology. Volume 12, No. 2, Blackwell, Boston Mass 1998, ISSN  0888-8892 , pp. 408-417.


Web links

Commons : Brown Bear ( Ursus arctos )  - Collection of images, videos and audio files
Wiktionary: Braunbär  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. Bjèorn Kurtâen: Pleistocene Mammals of North America, Columbia University Press, p. 183 ff.
  2. ^ Bavaria and the bear hunt, Die Welt , article from June 27, 2006
  3. Bear spotted in the Garmisch-Partenkirchen district , in: Spiegel online, October 23, 2019.
  4. Nature conservation and habitat: first brown bear in Germany since Bruno. Retrieved November 2, 2019 .
  5. a b Bears in Austria before extinction . In: Salzburger Nachrichten . August 13, 2008, p.  4 .
  6. Is Bruno's brother visiting Bavaria?
  7. Bears in the Alps ( Memento from December 31, 2006 in the Internet Archive )
  8. Christof Walder, project manager at the WWF Bear Project, quoted from Salzburger Nachrichten , August 13, 2008.
  9. WWF Austria: Distribution of brown bears in Austria and Europe. Retrieved June 3, 2020 .
  10. ORF Tirol (2012): Article “Teams should scare bears”, May 3, 2012
  11. Tagesanzeiger (2012): Article “The second bear that was killed was the brother of M13”, July 4, 2012
  12. Swiss Radio and Television (2013): Article “Bear M13 shot down - although he was never aggressive”, February 20, 2013
  13. Swiss Radio and Television (2013): Article "" The bear died unnecessarily "", February 20, 2013
  14. a b ORF Tirol (2014): Article “Bear 'M25' is hanging around Nauders”, May 14, 2014 on
  15. a b Kurier (2014): Article "In Tirol the bear is going on", May 14, 2014 on
  16. a b online portal Sü (2014): Article “Graubünden is bear-free again”, June 4, 2014
  17. Federal Environment Agency: Austrian report in accordance with Article 17 of the Habitats Directive for the reporting period 2007–2012, short version, 2013, p. 31.
  18. a b
  19. ^ Reports: Bears in the Swiss Alps, Swiss National Park. ( Memento from June 11, 2008 in the Internet Archive )
  20. Bear sighted in Val Müstair ( Memento from March 5, 2016 in the Internet Archive ) (PDF)
  21. Report of the Tagesschau of Swiss television ( memento of July 24, 2014 in the Internet Archive )
  22. WWF Switzerland (2014): Article "Switzerland stands behind M25", June 11, 2014 ( Memento from June 17, 2014 in the Internet Archive )
  23. Despite the electric fence: M25 kills donkey from WWF bear friend 20min August 5, 2014.
  24. Graubünden. M25 has an appetite for donkey meat , sda / wildlife , August 5, 2014.
  25. (accessed on May 29, 2017)
  27. Numbers unless otherwise stated according to: Euronatur - population numbers and situation of brown bears in European countries ( Memento from January 20, 2010 in the Internet Archive )
  28. ( Memento from February 26, 2010 in the Internet Archive )
  29. Bear expectation country Germany . taz article from April 27, 2013.
  30. WWF Italy ( Memento from November 21, 2008 in the Internet Archive )
  31. A. Loy, P. Genov; M. Galfo; MG Jacobone and A. Vigna Taglianti: Cranial morphometrics of the Apennine brown bear (Ursus arctos marsicanus) and preliminary notes on the relationships with other southern European populations. In: Italian Journal of Zoology, 75 (1), 2008, pp. 67-75.
  35. Mrki medvjed u BiH ( Memento from October 30, 2016 in the Internet Archive )
  36. Diana Zlatanova: Habitat network for the brown bear in Bulgaria Basis for the creation of Trans-European Wildlife Networks (TEWN) in the Balkans
  37. United States Fish and Wildlife Service: Successful Recovery Efforts Bring Yellowstone Grizzly Bears Off The Endangered List, March 22, 2007.
  38. Wolf Wünnenberg: Physiology of winter sleep. Paul Parey Publishing House, Hamburg and Berlin 1990, ISBN 3-490-12118-X , p. 27.
  39. Bär plunderte Bienenstock, July 12, 2015. (Pictures)
  40. ↑ Wildlife Biological Society Munich e. V. (Ed.): Who was it? Recognize and document predatory cracks. Brochure, Munich 1997.
  41. Frank Hailer, Verena E. Kutschera, Björn M. Hallström, Denise Klassert, Steven R. Fain, Jennifer A. Leonard, Ulfur Arnason, Axel Janke (2012): Nuclear Genomic Sequences Reveal meets Polar Bears Are an Old and Distinct Bear Lineage , Science Vol. 336 no. 3079: 334-347 doi: 10.1126 / science.1216424
This article was added to the list of excellent articles on May 12, 2006 in this version .