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Bear Biology

Characteristics

Body length 170-220 cm, weight 100-340 kg, fur colour from light brown to almost black. Young animals have a light coloured ruff. They have powerful canine teeth but in contrast with other predators, their molars feature wide, flat crowns, in keeping with their mostly plant based diet. They have stocky legs, their feet each have five claws, but they cannot sheath them as cats do. Bears walk on their soles and are good climbers and swimmers.

Distribution

Brown bears originally colonised most of Europe as well as northern America, north and central Asia. These days the few remaining European brown bears can be found in Abruzzi, in the Austrian-Slovenian Alps and in the Balkans. Larger communities live in the Carpathian mountains, Scandinavia and western Russia.

Habitat

In our part of the world, bears live mostly in forests, right up to the forest borders. Had it not been for human interference, central areas of Switzerland (Schweizer Mittelland) would have been dominated by mixed beechwood forests, the perfect habitat for the brown bear, for over 3000 years. In the forest's glades and borders, where rich layers of herbs and berry bushes thrive, and where oak trees push their way through beside the dominant beeches, the bear gathers beechnuts, acorns and berries.

Daily and seasonal cycle of activities

The brown bear is diurnal and nocturnal, more nocturnal when there is an increased level of danger. Adjusting to the reduced availability of food during the winter months, they often hibernate from October through to March, but hibernation can be interrupted if it is particularly mild. Hibernation is triggered by food shortages and when temperatures fall to below 0°C.
Animals in captivity only hibernate if they are fed intensively during late summer and autumn, so they can build up their fat reserves.

Food

Brown bears are typical omnivores but are in essence vegetarians. They eat berries, roots, fruit, buds, seeds and grass. They also feed on insects and their larvae, and love honey produced by wild bees. Occasionally they prey on other animals; rarely they attack unprotected livestock, such as sheep and cows, and would not turn down carcasses of animals that have died in the woods.

Reproduction, social behaviour

Outside the mating season (May to June), brown bears are solitary and live in fixed areas, not necessarily for their exclusive use. After a gestation period of 7-8 months, bear mothers dig out a hollow and give birth to litters of 2-3 cubs, weighing about 300 grams each. The cubs are born blind and only open their eyes after about 4 weeks. They suckle their mothers for 4 months.
The mother guides her cubs until the end of their second year; during this period she strictly avoids any contact with males. The mother teaches her young many food-finding skills. After this period, the cubs ramble around until they reach reproductive age, at around 3 to 4. A female can bear up to 10 litters. In captivity, brown bears can live for up to 30 years.