Black Bear Color Variations

Early settlers arrived on the east coast of North America, saw a bear with black fur and creatively dubbed it […]

Early settlers arrived on the east coast of North America, saw a bear with black fur and creatively dubbed it with the name “black bear.” This name has stuck, and even today, we still don’t have another name for the grizzly bear’s slightly smaller cousin. Black bears are found all over North America, and they have a wide range of habitats they reside in – which leads to the strange realization that black bears come in more colors than just black. They appear in shades of brown, blonde, white, “blue,” gray, cinnamon, and, of course, black. All these colors can get pretty confusing, so we’ll break them down into rough categories instead.

Black bear range

Kermode Bear, or Spirit Bear

Ursus americanus kermodei 

The Kermode bear is a blonde, cream, or white variation of the black bear found in the Great Bear Rainforest, an area along the northern and central coast of British Columbia. In this area they are primarily found on a few secluded islands just off the coast, like Princess Royal and Gribbell. They appear alongside the typical black bear, and it’s said that only 20% of the bears in this area are qualified under the subspecies that titles them as a Kermode bear, so they are renowned for their rarity and the legends that surround them. 

The way the all white Spirit bear comes about in such frequency is surprisingly natural. While looking for a mate, the Kermode bears tend to favor others that look similar to them. They are also, surprisingly, not at a disadvantage while hunting – the salmon in the rivers are used to avoiding darker shapes above the water, so they are able to creep up on the fish with much more ease. We still aren’t sure why or how they came about, but they are a beautiful sight to see.

Cinnamon Bear

Ursus americanus cinnamomum

By far the most wide spread of the discussed color morphs for the black bear, the cinnamon colored black bear lives in just about every region the literal black bear does. Unlike the Kermode bear, cinnamon bears will often mate with black bears, resulting in a wide distribution of this cinnamon coloration.

Their coloration tends to be described as a red-brown shade, reminiscent of their namesake, cinnamon. Some researchers proposed that the cinnamon bear evolved to have this coat color to mimic grizzly bears, but there are no concrete results on that.

Glacier Bear

Ursus americanus emmonsii

Possibly the most impressive color morph of the black bear, is the blue-gray shades adopted by that of the glacier bears. Native to southeast Alaska and the very northwestern corner of British Columbia, they are known for how well they camouflage into their environment of rocky frozen terrain.

There is not much known about the glacier bear – in fact, the only thing that distinguishes them as a subspecies of the black bear is the color of their fur. There are plenty of theories about them, one of the top ones saying they are a hybridization of grizzlies and black bears, but this is not well supported. This does not change the beauty of their coat, described as lighter on their stomach and shoulder and often times darker on the bottom of the stomach and legs, sometimes even black. 

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