By: Abigail Vandenberg
This map of North America shows the overlapping ranges of three species of bears that inhabit North America. There are only eight species of bears living in the world, most of which reside in the Northern Hemisphere.
The black bear is found in all provinces and territories of Canada (aside from Prince Edward Island) and in 40 of the 50 U.S. states. With the largest geographic range, this is the most commonly seen bear in North America. They have been spotted as far south as central Mexico and as far north as northern Alaska. These bears are the most timid and least dangerous of the three North American bear species. Interestingly enough, not all black bears have black fur. Their coats range in color from black to light brown, so don’t be alarmed if you see a brown bear south of the grizzly’s range shown in the map above, it is still likely a light-colored black bear. One giveaway between the grizzly and the black bear is their ear size and shoulders. Black bears have larger ears than their more fearsome counterparts. Additionally, the grizzly has a distinctive hump on their back between their shoulder blades.
Perhaps the most interesting geographical aspect of these bears’ ranges is the variation in size based on the bears’ location and habitat. The average male black bear can range from 150 to 550 pounds depending on the geographic variations in the abundance of food. The same goes for the grizzly bear; coastal grizzly bears (referred to as brown bears in the coastal regions of Alaska and Canada) are generally larger than the inland grizzly because of the protein rich food found along the coast.
The bear with the northernmost range and least amount of human contact is the polar bear. These are the largest bears, ranging from 700 pounds up to 1,500 pounds. Polar bears are easily recognizable with their white fur, and their shoulder hump resembles that of a grizzly. They are more carnivorous than the latter two bears who often feed on berries and plants. Their geographic range has limited vegetation, so their main diet is seals. Due to low human activity in the arctic, the polar bear preserves more of its original locality, but degradation in their arctic habitat due to climate change has pushed these bears closer to human civilizations as they struggle to find adequate food sources.
Do you reside in an area where one of these bear species roams? With knowledge of bear activities and education on good practices while in bear country, encounters with bears and humans should not be an issue. This guide gives instructions on what to do if you encounter a bear, and how to avoid an encounter altogether.