Yellowstone National Park Wildlife

Black bear seen just off the road between the Roosevelt-Tower area and Canyon Village during a light mid-September snow.

Both grizzly bears and black bears make their homes in Yellowstone National Park, although their preferences of terrain and physical characteristics are quite different. The grizzly (ursus arctos horribilis; also known as the brown bear), owes its name to its silver flecked or "grizzled" appearance. It has a tawny brown, blonde or black coat and a distinctive shoulder hump just behind the head. Its broad head and snout is said to be "span like" in contrast to the black bear's long and narrow snout. The grizzly's long, fairly straight claws are made for digging and foraging food from the earth. Grizzlies are most often found in open meadows.

The black bear (ursus americanus) has shorter, curved claws that are made for climbing trees. Contrary to its name, the black bear can be cinnamon-brown or brown-black in appearance. It is smaller in size than the grizzly, but both are extremely fast, agile predators.

Bears are omnivores. Grizzlies thrive on the elk and bison that frequent Yellowstone's open meadows. They also eat roots, berries, white bark pine seeds and insects, all of which can be foraged from the soil or low-lying bushes. Grizzlies can often be seen in the Hayden and Lamar Valleys of the Roosevelt-Tower area and near Fishing Bridge. They have occasionally been spotted at the southwestern tip of the park, near Bechler River.

Black bears have a similar diet to grizzlies, but do not generally forage for tubers. They frequent the northeastern section of the park and can be seen near West Thumb and Fishing Bridge.

Both species of bear can be dangerous if approached. Visitors who plan to hike in Yellowstone's back country should familiarize themselves with the National Park Service's advisories for bear safety.

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