Difference between a Grizzly and a Black Bear

January 19, 2017 by Editorial Team

Bears are fairly common in America. They are loved, respected, and protected by the government. However, not everyone can identify the different kinds of bears. The most commonly confused are grizzly bears and black bears. Are they the same breed only with different colors? In this article, the difference between the two species will be discussed.


Grizzly bears, scientifically known as Ursus arctos, are named “grizzly” bears because of their “grizzled” look which is caused by the silvery white tips on their brown fur (they are also called “silvertip bears” in some areas). They are a subspecies of brown bears in North America.

They are generally large bears and can be as tall as 8 ft and can weigh up to 1,700 pounds for males and 800 pounds for females. Their faces are dished or slightly convex and their ears are round. Although they are “brown bears,” their color may range from light tan to almost black. They can be easily identified because of the large hump between their shoulders, which is a mass of muscles that allow them to dig. The claws on their front feet are long, usually 2-4 inches, making them great for digging as well.

Grizzly bears are omnivorous mammals. Their diet includes root crops, fruits, berries, fish, squirrels, elk, deer, and even farm animals like cows and sheep. During the summer and fall, they gather food and eat as much as they can to prepare for winter. During winter, they hibernate in dens to stay warm and save energy.

Grizzly bears are vigorous but not sociable. They are very aggressive when it comes to protecting their young. Their mating season begins in the spring. They are the least reproductive of all bears since they are not sexually mature until 5 years old. They can live up to 30 years. They prefer to dwell in woodlands, meadows, prairies, and forests and you can usually find them near water sources like lakes, rivers, and streams.

Grizzlies communicate through growls and moans, especially during the mating season. They also send signals to other bears by rubbing their bodies on trees. They are dexterous and intelligent animals. They can swim and can run fast.

Black bears are the smallest bear species in North America. They are scientifically known as Ursus americanus and are also called American black bears. They can weigh up to 700 pounds and stand up to 6 feet tall.

Black bears have brown claws that are perfect for climbing trees. Their claws are non-retractable, short (1-2 inches long), and curved. They have small but prominent ears. Although they are called “black bears,” their colors vary from blond, light brown, medium brown, to black. Their faces are straight. Most black bears live up to 25 years.

Their diet includes honey, berries, nuts, fish, grass, and insects. Sometimes, they hunt for deer and other farm animals. They are territorial and solitary, except for mothers and cubs. However, they usually gather in groups around food sources. Black bears move from one place to another to hunt for food, but they usually dwell in forests, woodlands, and mountainous areas with heavy vegetation. They are commonly seen around places where humans frequent because of food.

Black bears communicate with other bears by marking tree branches with their teeth and claws and rubbing their backs on them. They also moan, sigh, grunt, and click their tongue to send messages to other black bears. They mate during the summer. Black bears are known to be smart, strong, and dexterous. They can run and swim fast.


The most obvious difference between the two species is their appearance. Grizzly bears can weigh up to 1,700 pounds and reach up to 7 feet, but black bears weigh up to 700 pounds and can grow up to 6 feet tall. Grizzly bears have a dished face and tiny, rounded ears, while black bears have a straight profile and prominent ears. Grizzly bears have a noticeable hump between their shoulders, which is not present in black bears. Grizzly bears have long, light claws while black bears have short, dark claws.

Grizzly bears are, in general, more aggressive than black bears in protecting their offspring. Both species are omnivorous, but grizzly bears dig for food, while black bears climb to look for food and to protect themselves from danger. Grizzly bears mate during the spring, while black bears mate during the summer.

Comparison Chart

Grizzly BearBlack Bear
Large bearsSmallest bear specie in North America
Convex faceStraight face
Has a hump between the shouldersDoes not have a hump between the shoulders
Small, round earsSmall but prominent ears
Claws are long and lightClaws are short and dark
Does not climb trees; digs for foodClimbs trees; does not usually dig for food
Mates during the springMates during the summer
AggressiveNot as aggressive