Grizzlies have an amazing digestive system

Grizzlies are always hungry. It’s no wonder, because of a five month hibernation fast, they must go into the den at least 150 pounds over the weight from which they emerge. This large, aggressive omnivore (meat and vegetation eater) is in reality a very poor predator. Meat is preferred, but not often an option. As a result, the animal consumes a wide variety of food stuffs.

Their favorite food is ground squirrels, which they vigorously dig for. Other meat sources may include fish, newborn mammals, and carrion from winter kill. However, 70% of their diet is grass. It needs to be moist and at least 4 inches long because they graze with a sideways motion of the head. It’s interesting to watch them grazing on a hillside like cattle. Other foods are insects, buds, berries, nuts, and roots.

That hump between the shoulders is a massive muscle for digging, which they are masters at. They require a massive 24,000 calories a day, and their digestive tract is 80 feet long (10 feet for each foot of body length – humans have 4 feet for every foot of height). This great length of gut enables the digestion of a truly great variety of food stuffs. The bear is most aggressive when guarding a carcass, or when a sow is guarding her cubs. The bear is also very fast. Grizzlies can cover 50 yards in 3 seconds. My wife and I watched one ambling along, when suddenly the bear became alert and was off. It was amazing how fast that beast covered the ground and was gone!

Once, in a Canadian campground, I was sitting and reading to my wife. Our backs were toward the woods. A man came up the trail, on his way to the restroom. He asked if we had enjoyed our visitor. Evidently, a Grizzly had come out of the woods and sat behind us, unbeknown to us. It then, when seeing the man approaching, had returned into the trees.


Animals Tend to be Opportunistic

Many things that have been held to be fact, are not true at all. In my first year of school teaching I depended heavily on the text book, only to learn at a later date that some of the facts were not really facts. In our travels, we are constantly regaled to not feed birds, and other forms of animal life because it will hinder their survival in the wild. I just don’t believe this anymore. I have been around animals and observed their behavior all of my long life, and have learned that they will do whatever is necessary to survive or make their existence easier. In short, animals are opportunistic!

We have observed Western Tanagers, with their insectivore beaks, eating seeds. Now that just isn’t supposed to be. Meat eaters, such as Fox or Coyote, will often consume non-meat items. Great Blue Herons are supposed to eat small fish, frogs, and other small aquatic organisms. Much to my surprise, I once watched for some minutes a heron, on a park lawn, carefully creeping up on a ground squirrel hole. What, I wondered, was it doing? Suddenly its head shot out and into the hole. Out it came with a large ground squirrel in its beak, which it swallowed in one mighty gulp.

Little kids will all say that bears eat honey and that may be so, but in reality (and this is shocking to some) they eat a large quantity of grass. It is interesting to watch them on a hillside grazing like cattle.

But of course, we all know that Grizzlies are opportunistic and will consume almost anything. Meat is a big favorite – their “Ice Cream food” so to speak. However, other than squirrels and such, and the new born, they are poor predators. Scavenging on the larger winter-killed beasts is common after emerging from hibernation. The Grizzly pictured is feeding on carrion at the side of a pond. When I saw the bear moving to it, I ran and hurriedly walked for about a mile (packing a heavy camera and tripod) to witness the spectacle that was to occur. Now, that is hard on a 75 year old man, but it was well worth the effort!

Grizzly Bear Gorging upon a carcass

Gorging upon the carcass

Grizzles and an Indian Myth

The following is a story told to me in a Grizzly Bear seminar I took some years ago. It involves a Flathead Indian tale about the great bear.

Once upon a time, the Great Spirit had his tepee on the top of a tall mountain. He, also, had a daughter who was very winsome and desirable. This daughter loved the beautiful wildflowers that grew on the mountain side. One day, as she was skipping along – singing and picking flowers – the Grizzlies saw her and desired to have her for their own. So, they kidnapped her and married her to one of the bears. After a time, knowing that the Great Spirit would be concerned and worried, they told him what they had done. The Great Spirit quelled his anger upon receiving this knowledge and tempered his justice.

In those days the great bear walked on hind legs and was master of all things wild. But the consequences of the bear’s actions resulted in the Great Spirit requiring the bear to walk on all fours. It could only stand on two legs in order to survey its surroundings, to satisfy its curiosity, or to look for danger.

The result of the daughter’s marriage was a baby that was hairless, like the mother, but brown like the father. It was the first Flathead Indian. The Grizzly now had to share its role as master equally with the Indian – each giving the other mutual respect and space.

The Grizzly, having evolved in more open areas where cover is sparse, grew larger than its cousin the Black Bear. That, also, necessitated the development of a very aggressive disposition to accompany the extra size. There is nothing on the North American continent to challenge this beast except Man – who, also, has a healthy fear and respect for the bear.

It is difficult for the two species to live side by side, but the Indians in past times have accomplished this task. This is, perhaps, because of knowing each others ways and having a mutual respect for each other – to live and let live.

(On the move amid the sage)