Difference between Brown Bear and Grizzly Bear

Updated on October 29, 2016

Why is it that brown bears and grizzly bears look almost exactly alike? Is this the main reason these terms are used interchangeably? Read on to find out.


Brown Bear
A Kodiak bear, a subspecies of the brown bear

The brown bear is one of the largest living land carnivores today, second only to its cousin the polar bear. It is one of eight bear species, and the most widely distributed in the world. Brown bears live in North America, Europe, and Asia. The classification of brown bears is still a point of confusion for experts, but they all agree there are 2 existing subspecies at the very least – the grizzly bear and the Kodiak bear. The brown bear is such a majestic and strong animal that some European countries consider it as a state and national animal.

Brown bears are not entirely brown in color. They have thick, long fur with a rather long mane growing at the back of its neck which depending on the species. Brown bears in India can grow silver-tipped, reddish fur. Grizzlies from North America have dark brown (almost black) to creamy white or yellowish brown coats of fur.

The claws of a brown bear are large and curved, measuring from 2 to 2.4 inches or 5 to 6 centimeters in length. The claws on a brown bear’s forelimbs are longer than the ones on its hind limbs. The structure of the brown bear’s claws (and its excessive body weight) makes climbing trees almost impossible, though some full-grown females have been seen doing so in rare instances.

Brown bears have muscular humps at the top of their shoulders, a characteristic no other living bear possesses. It is presumed this feature was developed through forceful digging when foraging or building a den before hibernation.

Grizzly Bear
A large grizzly bear

The grizzly bear, sometimes called the silvertip bear, refers to a subspecies of brown bears found in North America. It is different from the black grizzly, another giant brown bear found in Russia, Korea and Northern China.

A grizzly bear’s fur color is usually brown with white to blond tips on the sides and back. Some grizzly fur color variations may include blond to almost black.

Grizzly bears are often confused with black bears. One way to tell them apart is by checking the back of their shoulders for a hump. Grizzlies, just like any brown bear species, have that prominent, muscular hump at the top of their shoulders. Grizzly bears also have that brown bear, “dished in” facial profile with round, short ears. Black bears have longer ears and a straight face profile.

Grizzlies are known carnivores, as they possess a digestive system of a meat eater. However, their diet also consists of plants and various kinds of berries. They feed on animals as small as squirrels, or large animals such as elk, deer, and moose. They feed in groups when food is abundant, but separate again when supply grows short.

Brown Bear vs Grizzly Bear

So, what’s the difference between a brown bear and a grizzly bear? Keep in mind that a grizzly bear is a subspecies of the brown bear. All grizzly bears are brown bears, but not all brown bears are grizzly bears. Think of their differences similar to those of siblings. Both animals even have identical genetic makeup.

A brown bear is one of eight species of ursids (bears), while a grizzly is one of just two subspecies of brown bear. The brown bear species are widely distributed in North America, Europe, and Asia, while grizzlies are some of the brown bears living in North America.

Comparison Chart

Brown BearGrizzly Bear
One of 8 species of bears.One of 2 subspecies of brown bear
Found in North America, Asia, and Europe.Found in North America.