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The Bear Necessities Of Life

Black Bears Vs Brown Bears

May 13, 2020

Recently, as our bears have become more active and are featured more on our social media stream, we’ve been getting questions about the difference between black bears, like Koda G and Xena, and brown bears, like Huggy and Bam Bam. With 10 bears calling our Refuge home, we thought now would be a great time to help our supporters distinguish between these non-feline residents of Turpentine Creek.

There are eight species of bear across the world, but only the brown and black bear can be found in North America. Turpentine Creek is currently home to 10 bears who cannot be released into the wild: 2 brown bears and 8 black bears. When they are side-by-side, like roommates Thunder and Harley, they might look like two different species of bears, just because of their fur colors. But, they are actually both black bears.


Your first thought may have been to determine the species based on their color, but not all black bears are black in coloration. They can range from black to gray to cinnamon to white depending on the location! This means for brown bears and black bears who are brown in color, it makes it little harder to tell which species the bear is if they are living in the same area. But do not worry, there are many other characteristics to help you distinguish between the two!

Brown bears, like Turpentine Creek residents Bam Bam and Huggy, have very distinctive traits aiding in the identification of the species.

  • They have a large shoulder hump made of muscle to help make them powerful diggers.
  • Their claws are thick, long, and slightly curved.
  • Ears are short and round.
  • Their face is dish shaped
  • When looking at the bear from the side, their rear end is lower than their shoulders. 
  • They are larger than black bears, standing 3 to 5 feet at the shoulder when on all fours.

If you have seen Turpentine Creek’s resident black bears, you may notice that they look a little different than the brown bears. Black bears also have distinct characteristics for their species.

  • Black bears have no shoulder hump, they are level or flat with the rest of their back.
  • Their claws are short and curved.
  • Ears are tall and oval shaped. 
  • Their face is straight from between the eyes to the tip of the muzzle. 
  • If you were to look at a black bear from the side, their rear end is higher than their shoulders. 
  • They can stand 2 to 3.5 feet tall at the shoulders when on all fours. 

The National Park Service has an interactive image to see these characteristics side by side.

Although Tyson Foods donates a lot of meat for our animals, our bears are omnivores, meaning that much of their diet consists of fruits, vegetables, and grains. We have to purchase the food to feed our bears even during our closure. Could you help us feed our bears by setting up a recurring donation of $10 or $25?

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