It's USA TODAY Network's Bear Week! We've partnered with Explore.org to bring you live video streams of bears in the wild at Alaska's Katmai National Park.
Think you know all there is to know about bears? USA TODAY Network asked Don Moore, a senior scientist with Smithsonian's National Zoo, and Dave Garshelis, a bear biologist with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, about five common misconceptions people have about bears.
There are eight kinds of bears in the world, but this list focuses on the two North American bear species humans are most likely to encounter: brown bears and black bears.
BEAR WEEK: What you need to know
1. Are grizzly bears different from brown bears?
Grizzly bears and brown bears are the same species, but they are different subspecies.
Grizzly bears are brown bears that live in the interior regions of the country. Their fur gets white tips, and the result is a more 'grizzled' appearance, according to Garshells. Brown bears that live on the coast are a little bigger than grizzlies, thanks to their largely fish diet. Kodiak bears are brown bears that live on Kodiak Island in the Gulf of Alaska. (The bears on the Explore.org camera of Katmai are brown bears.)
2. Do bears have bad vision?
It's commonly said that bears have poor vision, but that's not the case. "They have color vision. Their vision is not as good as ours, but it's still quite good," Garshelis said.
However, a bear's sense of smell is their primary input, he said, meaning they rely on it the most. "They can forage in the dark, smell insects underground, they can smell berry patches from a long way away," Garshelis said, adding, though, that bears still use their vision when they're in close enough proximity.
3. Will a mother bear automatically attack you if you get between her and her cubs?
It depends on the type of bear and the situation, but both brown and black bears would be aggressive. A brown bear, or grizzly, might attack an individual who gets too close to her cubs. However, a black bear is more likely to bluff charge, or pretend to attack but stop before making contact.
"It chomps its teeth together, and it makes this loud blowing noise, and they will rush towards you and slap the ground," Garshelis said of the black bear, but the bear likely has no intention of actually attacking the person.
In either situation, if you come across a mother bear and her cubs, you should back off, according to Moore. "If the bear knows that you are a human and are backing off, they probably don't want to initiate contact either," he said.
It's best to avoid the situation all together by making noise as you are hiking to let bears know that you are coming. If they hear you, they will likely move out of your way to avoid you.
"Don't piss off a mother of any species. That's my mantra," Moore said.
This time lapse speeds up the action at Brooks Falls in Katmai National Park, where thousands of bears feast on migrating sockeye salmon. For more bear cam live streams visit Explore.org/bears.
Meet Tahoe, an orphaned bear cub rescued by Lake Tahoe Wildlife Care. She may have had a rough start in life, but you can tell she's happy now. Just listen to her chortle! For more information on Tahoe or to offer her support, visit www.ltwc.org. VPC
Heavenly the Bear, who was rescued after he turned up on the slopes of a California Ski Resort in March, is being sent to a wildlife sanctuary. VPC
Two abandoned bear cubs are getting nursed back to health at Lake Tahoe Wildlife Care center in South Lake Tahoe, California. The Center plans to rehabilitate the bears and release them back into the wild early next year. VPC
These Alaskan baseball players were shocked to see this unnanounced spectator at their game. A bear, which apparently is also a baseball fan, wandered close to the field, temporarily halting play. VPC
A playful bear found his way to a store parking lot. The bear roamed around for a short while before eventually wandering off a few moments later. VPC
Watch this tiny bear cub play with camera equipment and waddle around as it learns to walk. VPC
How to keep yourself safe from bears in America's National Parks, plus, what to do if a bear attacks.
A sloth bear cub plays the harmonica, which encourages her to use the natural behavior that sloth bears in the wild use to suck insects out of their nests. VPC
Surveillance video captures black bear using trail camera post as a back scratcher, stealing doughnut from trap. (May 8) Video provided by AP Newslook
- Watch thousands of bears feast on salmon
- How you know a baby bear is happy
- 'Heavenly' the Bear rescued on ski slopes gets new home
- Two abandoned bear cubs get second chance at life
- Wandering bear surprises players at baseball game
- Curious bear roams store parking lot
- Adorable bear cub plays with camera, learns to walk
- Be Bear Aware
- Bear cub gets bluesy on harmonica
- Raw: sneaky bear gets back rub, snags doughnut
4. Do bears hibernate?
Bears do hibernate, despite a recent misconception that they do not, and go for three to seven months without food or water, he said. However, bears are not "classic hibernators" like ground squirrels, for example, because their body temperature remains higher and it's easier for them to wake up.
"If you dig up a hibernating ground squirrel, it doesn't even move," Garshelis said. "You can pick it up and it looks like a dead animal. It takes a while for them to warm up."
That's not the case with a bear.
"A bear can get up and immediately bolt," he said. "That's because their body temperature doesn't drop very much."
5. Is it safe to approach a bear in a national park?
"I've seen some of the stupidest behavior ever by humans when they've seen brown bears or grizzly bears," Moore said. "They think it's OK to approach them, or have their kids stand between them and the bear while they take a picture."
While bears are often featured in movies, cartoons and children's books as cute creatures, bears in the wild are not tame and can be unpredictable, he said. "They look like they are big and slow, but they are big and fast," Moore said.
If you want to view bears in the wild, Moore suggests doing that from your car or from a viewing deck at a park where there's a ranger interpreting and telling the public how to act and how to behave.
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