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What’s the Difference Between Black Bears and Grizzly Bears?

Knowing the difference between a black bear and a grizzly bear might seem a little tricky since both bears bear (no pun intended) some similarities. Visiting Yellowstone, you will see many Yellowstone animals on your drive or when you reach Yellowstone Bear World. Seeing a bear in the distance, you might be unsure which bear you are looking at. By educating yourself on the differences, you can avoid confusion.

Colors and size

Despite its name, black bears are not always black. They range in color from a cinnamon to black and all shades of brown in between, sometimes they are even white. The same goes for grizzly bears whose colors can range from blonde to black. Typically grizzly bears are larger than black bears but when one is suddenly close, you are not going to know the difference based on size. When standing, a black bear is generally 5 feet tall while a male grizzly can be around 6.5 feet tall. Only when standing next to each other is the size apparent. So if color and size are changing variables, what are the telltale signs?

Body shape

Grizzly bears have one dead giveaway and that is the hump between their shoulder blades. This hump is quite exaggerated and is immediately noticeable. In contrast, a black bear has a slight slump just below the neck. In addition, a black bear’s backside is also higher than the rest of its body. You can remember it easily this way, grizzly bear = raised hump and black bear = raised rump. If you remember these two apparent differences, you can tell the difference instantly.


Black bears and grizzly bears have a drastic difference in their claws. Black bear’s claws  short and only a little more than an inch long. They are barely noticeable from a distance while the claws of a grizzly bear have a formidable reputation. They are much longer, around 2-4 inches long and can be seen easily jutting out from its paws.

Facial features

The last obvious difference between these two bears is their face shape. A black bear has a straight profile, from the nose to the top of the head being a straight and steady slope. A grizzly bear on the other hand has a visible distinction, an indent from the snout to the forehead. The ears of a grizzly bear are also different. They are rounded and small while black bears have larger, almost pointed ears.

Remember the differences

In a moment if you are educated on the differences, you can identify what kind of bear you are seeing. When you visit Yellowstone Bear World, now you will feel like the expert since you will be able to easily distinguish the two bears without any confusion.

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