Kodiak bear (Ursus arctos middendorffi) is a subspecies of brown bears (Ursus arctos). They inhabit the islands of the Kodiak Archipelago in southwest Alaska. They look like grizzly bears, however, they are significantly larger. Here are 15 amazing Kodiak bear facts.

Kodiak Bear Facts

1. Kodiak bear is the largest brown bear in the world

Kodiak bear is the largest recognized subspecies or population of the brown bear. Furthermore, along with the mighty polar bear, it is one of the two largest bear species alive today.

The weight of females (sows) is between 181 and 318 kg (399 to 701 lb), and males (boars) can be from 272 to 635 kg (600 to 1,400 lb).

The largest recorded wild male Kodiak bear weighed 751 kg (1,656 lb) which is on display in Anchorage Airport, Alaska.

Captive bears can weigh even more: the largest verified size for a captive Kodiak bear was for a male specimen Nicknamed “Clyde” that lived at the Dakota Zoo in Bismarck, North Dakota. The giant bear weighed 966 kg (2,130 lb) when he died in June 1987 at the age of 22. He weighed close to 1,089 kg (2,400 lb) one year before his death.

When standing fully upright on its hind legs, a large male could reach a height of 3 meters (9.8 feet).

World record Kodiak bear
World record Kodiak bear – the famous 1700-pound (771 kg) world-record brown bear which is on display in Anchorage Airport, Alaska.

2. It is also the largest terrestrial carnivore on Earth

Polar bears are classified as marine mammals rather than terrestrial (land-living) mammals because of their dependency on sea ice. This classification makes the Kodiak bear the largest terrestrial carnivore in the world.

3. They are very close relatives of the Grizzly bears

Some experts do not accept them as different species – Kodiak bears are just grizzly bears living in Kodiak island, according to them.

Some scientists, on the other hand, think that Kodiak bears (Ursus arctos middendorffi) and grizzlies (Ursus arctos horribilis) are part of the same species of brown bear, though they are different enough to constitute two subspecies.

The main difference is where they live. The range of the Kodiak is limited to just the islands of the Kodiak archipelago of southwestern Alaska. Grizzly bears, on the other hand, are much more widespread; they’re generally found in inland areas of the Canadian provinces of the Northwest Territories, Yukon, British Columbia and Alberta, and the U.S. states of Alaska, Montana, Washington, Wyoming, and Idaho.

The geographic differences between these two subspecies have also led to differences in size. Generally, Kodiak bears live in a food-rich area, they have a larger bone structure, and therefore larger frames than grizzly bears, though both species can reach very large sizes.

There is also no interbreeding between the Kodiak bears and the inland grizzlies.

Kodiak Bear
The largest subspecies of brown bears, the Kodiak bear (Ursus arctos middendorffi) rivals the polar bear as the largest member of the bear family. Although Kodiak bears and Grizzly bears are closely related, they are different subspecies. Photo: Wikipedia

4. They are also relatives of the Asian brown bear

Genetic analyses show that the Kodiak bear is related to brown bears both on the Alaska Peninsula and Kamchatka peninsula in far eastern Russia. The Kamchatka brown bear is almost as big as the Kodiak bear.

However, the analysis also suggests that the Kodiak bears have been genetically isolated since the last ice age, which means for at least 10,000-12,000 years.

Kodiak island map
The map of the Kodiak archipelago, where Kodiak bears live. By USGS – USGS, CC BY-SA 2.5, Link
During the last ice age, Kodiak bears were less geographically isolated than they are now.

5. They can be in many different colors

Hair colors of Kodiak bear range from blonde to orange to dark brown. Cubs often retain a white “natal ring” around their neck for the first few years of life.

6. They live up to 25 years

In the wild, they live around 20-25. The oldest recorded male (boar) in the wild was 27 and the oldest female (sow) was 35.

They reach sexual maturity around age 5, but most females (sows) are over 9 years old when they successfully give birth.

Cubs leave their mothers when they are around 3-5 years old, but their survivability rate is not great: only 56% of males and 89% of females survive.

7. They are more social than other bears

They are generally solitary in nature, like other bears and predators. But, since they live in a relatively small and isolated area, they can create large dense groups in the areas that are rich in food. Because of this, they are more social than other bears and, according to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, they have developed a complex language and social structure to express their feelings and avoid fights.

8. They are usually diurnal (active during the day)

Kodiak bears are usually diurnal, which means they are active during the day. But, if they face competition for food or space, they can adopt a more nocturnal (active at night) lifestyle.

9. They are omnivores

Despite its massive size and reputation as a fierce predator, the Kodiak bear is generally an opportunist and will eat a large variety of plant and animal species.

But, like pandas, they have the digestive system of a carnivore, so they are classified as Carnivora, despite plants make up a large portion of their diet.

10. They are not as territorial as grizzly bears

Despite their huge size, Kodiak bears are not very territorial and they usually do not defend their territories as aggressively as grizzly bears. This is probably due to two main reasons:

  1. They live in a small area, so their territory overlaps, and
  2. Food is abundant where they live.

11. Kodiak bear populations are healthy and productive

They enjoy a relatively pristine habitat and food is abundant. They are not listed as an endangered species by the Endangered Species Act of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife service.

Today, their estimated population exceeds 3,500 individuals and the population seems to be slowly increasing.

There are still possible threats, though: effects of global warming upon salmon populations which are the main protein and fat resources of the bears, energy development projects and associated road-building, and increasing human activity in the area which increase the likelihood of human-bear conflicts, are the main threats.

Furthermore, although the current population is healthy and productive, and has shown no overt adverse signs of inbreeding, there are very little genetic diversity exists within the Kodiak bear population. This may be making their population more susceptible to new diseases or parasites than other, more diverse brown bear populations.

A mother Kodiak bear with her three cubs
A mother Kodiak bear with her three cubs. By Aumiller, Larry – U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, National Digital Library 05373.jpg, Public Domain, Link

12. They do hibernate

Kodiak bears begin entering their dens in late October. Pregnant sows are usually the first to go to dens; males are the last. Males begin emerging from their dens in early April, while sows with new cubs may stay in dens until late June.

Individuals living on the north end of Kodiak Island tend to have longer denning periods. Most Kodiak bears dig their dens in hills or mountainsides. Almost 25 percent of the adult bears, almost always males, forgo denning, staying somewhat active throughout the winter.

Between the spring-summer time when they leave hibernation and the fall, their weight can increase by more than 50 percent.

13. Their paws are huge!

A 700 pound (318 kg) Kodiak bear, which is an average-sized individual could have a front paw that is 13” (33 cm) across.

14. There was a famous Kodiak bear named “Bart the Bear”

Bart the Bear was a huge male Kodiak bear. He is best known for his appearances in Hollywood films, including The Bear (for which he received widespread acclaim), White Fang, Legends of the Fall, and The Edge.

Bart was trained by animal trainers Doug and Lynne Seus of Wasatch Rocky Mountain Wildlife, Inc., in Heber City, Utah.

He was born on January 19, 1977, and died on May 10, 2000, at age 23. He was 9′ 6″ (2.90 meters) tall and weighed 1,500 pounds (680 kg).

Bart the bear
Bart the bear with his trainer Doug Seus. Image: Wikimedia
The Legacy of Bart the Bear
Bart the Bear™ was a huge Kodiak bear born in a zoo in 1977 and adopted by Doug and Lynne Seus and trained to be in films. The Seuses grand adventures with Bart took them from the Austrian Alps to the bejeweled backstage of the Academy Awards. Bart appeared in hundreds of films, including “The Bear”, “The Great Outdoors”, “Legends of the Fall”, “Clan of the Cave Bear”, and “The Edge”, among others. He passed away in 2000. This video is a tribute to Bart, the Seuses, and the conservation nonprofit they created to protect habitat for wild grizzlies, The Vital Ground Foundation. Since its founding in 1990, Vital Ground has helped enhance, restore and conserve 600,000 acres of wildlife habitat in Montana, Wyoming, Idaho, Alaska, and British Columbia. For more information or to make a donation to Vital Ground, visit: www.vitalground.org.

15. Usually they do not attack people

Kodiak bears usually attempt to avoid encounters with people. In the past 100 years, only one person has been killed by a bear on Kodiak Island – the incident has occurred in 1999 and he was a bear hunter. Prior to that, the last fatality was in 1921, also a bear hunter. On average, once every other year a bear injures a person.

16. Bear-viewing is a popular tourist activity

In recent years, bear-viewing has become increasingly popular on Kodiak island and other parts of Alaska. It can have serious impacts on bear populations if it is not conducted properly, though. According to Wikipedia, “most viewing occurs at places where bears congregate because of feeding opportunities that are critical to their survival. If some bears avoid these areas because people are there, those bears may not get the fat and protein they need to make it through the upcoming winter. Consequently, unmanaged bear viewing could affect several bears, especially productive sows with cubs”.

Sources

M. Özgür Nevres

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