5 Myths About Bears

from Wildlife Promise

We’re celebrating all things bear this week with Ranger Rick’s Bear-a-ThonWe were shocked to discover that there wasn’t already a day or week devoted to all the different kinds of bears, so we instituted Ranger Rick’s Bear-a-Thon to correct that and pay homage to those furry, majestic creatures.

There are a lot of myths and misconceptions out there about bears, especially when it comes to what you should do if you ever encounter one in the wild. Read on to discover five popular myths about bears and why they are false.

5 Myths about Bears

1. Myth: Bears have poor eyesight.

Some people think that bears’ amazing sense of smell must make up for a lack of vision. In fact, bears’ eyesight is at least as good as humans’. They also have excellent night vision due to a reflective membrane on the back of their eye.

2. Myth: Bears are carnivores.

bear eating berries

A black bear eats berries. Photo by cesareb / flickr

Most bears don’t eat just meat! Both grizzly bears and black bears are omnivores, with a diet of both plants and animals. They eat mostly plants such as grasses, leaves, roots, berries, and seeds. They will also eat fish, insects, and carrion, and will occasionally hunt for prey such as rodents, young deer, and elk. Their diet depends a lot on what foods are available in a particular season and in their habitat.

3. Myth: Bears can’t run downhill.

If you’re being chased by a bear, don’t run downhill! Bears can run as fast as a horse (35 mph), and they can do it uphill, downhill, and everything in between. A bear can outrun you no matter what, so if you see one in the wild do not try to run away from it. Instead, you should stand tall, wave your arms, and talk loudly but calmly. Back away slowly, but stop moving if the bear follows you.

4. Myth: Brown bears and grizzly bears are different species.

People used to think that there were many different species of brown bear because they can vary greatly in size and color. In fact, they are all the same species (Ursus arctos), with the grizzly bear being one subspecies (Ursus arctos horribilis). Many people in North America refer to the smaller, lighter-colored version of the brown bear as a “grizzly bear,” and call the larger, darker-colored version a “brown bear.” Again, they are the same species, but one is bigger because it lives where there is a lot of salmon to eat. The other is smaller because it eats mostly berries and roots and can’t grow as big on such a diet.

5. Myth: You should run away from an attacking bear.

bear standing on hind legs

When a bear stands upright, it doesn’t mean it’s about to charge. It’s just scoping out its surroundings and picking up scents. Photo by Amareta Kelly

Bears tend to avoid people and attack them very rarely. When bears do attack, it is usually because they were surprised or felt threatened, especially if they have cubs with them. If you do meet a bear, do not run away because they can always outrun and overpower you. Experts say to stand your ground and spray pepper spray well before the bear reaches you. If the bear starts to attack, let it know you are not a threat by assuming the fetal position and playing dead. (Note: Playing dead is more effective in a grizzly attack. If a black bear attacks, experts say to fight back with nearby objects, or by punching and kicking the bear.)

Of course, these myths only cover the “bear” necessities.

To become a true “grizz whiz,” you’ll have to download our new iPad app, Ranger Rick Jr. Appventures: Bears! The app is packed with fun bear-related activities and games, plus an interactive photo story that teaches kids all about bears. Download it today from the App Store!

And now that you’ve boned up on bears, test your bear knowledge with our Grizz Quiz! Find out if you are “beary” intelligent or if your head is stuffed with fluff, like Winnie the Pooh.