Eurasian brown bear

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Eurasian brown bear
Brown bear (Ursus arctos arctos) running.jpg
Conservation status
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Mammalia
Order: Carnivora
Family: Ursidae
Genus: Ursus
Species: U. arctos
Subspecies: U. arctos arctos
Trinomial name
Ursus arctos arctos
Linnaeus, 1758

The Eurasian brown bear (Ursus arctos arctos) is a subspecies of brown bear, found across northern Eurasia. The Eurasian brown bear is also known as the common brown bear, European brown bear, European bear and colloquially by many other names.


Eurasian brown bear

The Eurasian brown bear has brown fur, which can range from yellow-brownish to dark brown, red brown, and almost black in some cases; albinism has also been recorded.[2] The fur is dense to varying degree and the hair can grow up to 10 cm in length. The shape of the head is normally quite round with relatively small and round ears, a wide skull and a mouth equipped with 42 teeth, including predatory teeth. It has a powerful bone structure, large paws, equipped with big claws, which can grow up to 10 cm in length. The weight varies depending on habitat and time of the year. A full grown male weighs on average no more than 250 and 300 kilograms (550 and 660 lb).[3] The largest Eurasian brown bear recorded was 481 kg (1,058 lb) and was nearly 2.5 m (8.2 ft) long. Females typically range between 150–250 kg (330–550 lb).[4]


Brown bears were present in Britain until no later than 1000 AD, when they were exterminated through overhunting.[5]

Eurasian brown bears were used in Ancient Rome for fighting in arenas. The strongest bears apparently came from Caledonia and Dalmatia.[6]

In antiquity, the Eurasian brown bear was largely carnivorous, with 80% of its diet consisting of animal matter. However, as its habitat increasingly disappeared, meat consisted of only 40% of its dietary intake in the late Middle Ages, till modern times where meat now amounts to little more than 10–15% of its diet.[6]

Unlike in America, where an average of two people a year are killed by bears, Scandinavia only has records of three fatal bear attacks in the last century.[7]

Species origin[edit]

Eurasian brown bear resting

Modern research[8] has made it possible to track the origin of the subspecies. It is difficult to tell anything about the Eurasian brown bear, but the species to which it belongs might have developed about 5 million years ago. Researchers have also found that the Eurasian brown bear was separated about 850,000 years ago, one branch based in Western Europe and the other branch in Russia, Eastern Europe and Asia. Through research of mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) researchers have found that the European family has been divided into two subgroups, one in the Iberian Peninsula and the other in the Balkans.

There are four major populations in Scandinavia, all with their core area in Sweden. By analyzing the mtDNA of the southern population researchers have found that they probably have come from populations in the Pyrenees in Southern France and Spain and the Cantabrian Mountains (Spain). Bears from these populations spread to southern Scandinavia after the last ice age. The northern bear populations originate from the Finnish/Russian population. Their ancestors probably survived the ice age in the ice-free areas, west of the Ural Mountains, and thereafter spread to Northern Europe.


Although their inclusion as of Least Concern on the 2006 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species refers to the global species, not to the Eurasian brown bear specifically, local populations are becoming increasingly scarce. And as the IUCN itself adds:

"Least Concern does not always mean that species are not at risk. There are declining species that are evaluated as Least Concern."

Brown bears could once be found across most of northern Eurasia.

The brown bear has long been extinct in Britain and Ireland, but it still exists in Northern Europe and in Russia. There is a tiny population in the Pyrenees, on the border between Spain and France, which is on the edge of extinction, as well as an equally threatened group in the Cantabrian Mountains in Spain. There are also populations in the Abruzzo, South Tyrol and Trentino regions of Italy.

Populations in Baltoscandia are steady and slowly increasing – they include over 2000 bears in Sweden, another 1200 in Finland, 700 in Estonia and around 70 in Norway. [9][10]

Large populations can be found in Romania, Slovakia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Slovenia, Macedonia, Bulgaria and Georgia; smaller, but still significant populations can also be found in Albania, Greece, Serbia and Montenegro; in 2005, there were an estimated 200 in Ukraine; these populations are part of two distinct metapopulations: the Carpathian (over 5,000 individuals), and the Dinaric-Pindos (Balkans), with around 3,000 individuals.[11]

The largest brown bear population in Europe can be found in Russia; it has now recovered from an all-time low caused by intensive hunting prior to the Russian revolution of 1917

Globally, the largest population is found east of the Ural mountain range, in the large Siberian forests; brown bears are also present in smaller numbers in parts of central Asia (former Soviet states).

Other subspecies of brown bear persist in small, isolated and for the most part highly threatened populations in Turkey, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, parts of northwest India, central China, and on the island of Hokkaidō in Japan.

Cultural depictions[edit]

The historic distribution of bears and the impression it made on people has been reflected in the names of a number of localities (some notable examples include Bern, Medvednica and Ayu-Dag), as well as personal names—for example, Xiong (熊), Bernard, Arthur, Ursula, Urs, Ursicinus, Orsolya, Björn, Nedved, Medvedev and Otso. The constellations Ursa Major and Ursa Minor are named for bears.

Bears of this subspecies appear very frequently in the fairy tales and fables of Europe, in particular tales collected by Jakob and Wilhelm Grimm. The European Brown Bear was once extremely common to Germany and alpine lands like Northern Italy, Eastern France, and most of Switzerland, and thus appear in the tales of various dialects of German.

The bear is traditionally regarded as the symbol of the Russian (military and political) might; it is also Finland's national animal; and in Croatia, a brown bear is depicted on the reverse of the Croatian 5 kuna coin, minted since 1993.[12]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Bear Specialist Group (1996). Ursus arctos. 2006. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. IUCN 2006. Retrieved on 12 May 2006.
  2. ^ Albino brown bear killed in 2009. (2009-10-29). Retrieved on 2011-09-24.
  3. ^ Mammals of the Soviet Union Vol.II Part 1a, SIRENIA AND CARNIVORA (Sea cows; Wolves and Bears), p. 611, V.G Heptner and N.P Naumov editors, Science Publishers, Inc. USA. 1998. ISBN 1-886106-81-9
  4. ^ Wood, The Guinness Book of Animal Facts and Feats. Sterling Pub Co Inc (1983), ISBN 978-0-85112-235-9
  5. ^ Lovegrove, Roger (2008). Silent Fields: The long decline of a nation's wildlife. London: OUP Oxford. p. 416. ISBN 0199548153. 
  6. ^ a b Pastoureau, Michel (2007). L’ours; Histoire d’un roi dechu. p. 419. ISBN 2-02-021542-X. 
  7. ^ "Brown Bear". Tooth & Claw. Archived from the original on 2007-12-23. Retrieved 2008-01-05. 
  8. ^ Det Skandinaviske Bjørneprosjektet
  9. ^ Brown Bears in Sweden – the shy giant of the wilderness « Nature Travels: Outdoor Holidays in Sweden. (2008-01-28). Retrieved on 2011-09-24.
  10. ^ Karhu. (Finnish)
  11. ^ Bear Online Information System for Europe. Retrieved on 2011-09-24.
  12. ^ Croatian National Bank. Kuna and Lipa, Coins of Croatia: 5 Kuna Coin. – Retrieved on 31 March 2009.

External links[edit]