Bear Claws; black, polar and grizzly bear claws

Comparison of Grizzly bear, black bear and polar bear claws

Comparison of Bear claws – black bear claws (Ursus americanus), polar bear claw (Ursus maritimus), grizzly bear claw (Ursus arctos) and Kodiak bear claws. Please click on the image for a larger version of this photo.

Hey Folks,

I thought I’d post this shot, as it might be of interest to some folks. A photo showing the different size and shapes of claws from various species of American bears. From left to right, the claws are: black bear, polar bear, grizzly bear, coastal brown bear or Kodiak bear.The polar bear is the only true carnivore out of those species, but it’s claws are but a fraction of the size of those belonging to the great grizzly, and in particular, the coastal brown bear.

Bear claws, and particularly the grizzly claws, were long revered as a symbol of power, both physical and spiritual, to many Native American Indian cultures; wearing the bear claw was often only an earned respect. Anyone’s who’s seen such fearsome weaponry up close can attest as to why.

The relationship of the polar bear and the grizzly bear is interesting. Polar bears are believed to have split off from the grizzly bear lineage approximately 150 000 years ago in a time of global climate cooling – arctic living skills became an advantage. So the polar bears stayed in the north, and the grizzlies enjoyed the warmer climes further south. Rarely did the 2 run into each other.

Now, it seems that global warming is bringing the 2 species into some conflict. Until 1996, for example, grizzlies had never been seen in Wapusk National Park area in Manitoba, Canada. Between 1996 and 2008 there were 9 grizzly bear sightings, and 3 more observed just last summer (source). Though the grizzlies of the arctic are generally much smaller than their polar cousins, they tend to be more aggressive, and will readily drive all but the largest male polar bears off a food source. They also are a potential threat to polar bear cubs. So along with an ever-harder to find food source, polar bears may now be encumbered with a new threat – their old cousins, the big clawed grizzlies.

The poor old black bear sits at the bottom of the American bear tree. His hooked claws, at left, are good for climbing, and tearing open nylon stuff sacks, but he lacks the power to defend himself for his larger adversaries. The black bear’s strength apparently lies in his ability to break into automobiles in National Park parking lots and raid coolers. They’ve also been known to abscond from a backcountry campsite with a certain backpacking guide’s Teva sandal, but that’s another story.

Here’s a photo of a polar bear.

Browse a thorough selection of photos of these various species of bears in the galleries below

Polar Bear Photos

Grizzly Bear Photos

Black Bear Photos

Interested in seeing polar bears? Take a look at my Polar Bears of Alaska Photo tour.



6 thoughts on “Bear Claws; black, polar and grizzly bear claws

  1. Earl

    Carl, very interesting comparison of the claws of the American bears. I knew the order as to size of the claws but I’d never seen them compared, as in your photo. If I might suggest, it would be nice to have a standard ruler in the photo and I assume these were all from fully grown bears. That Kodiak bear claw is amazingly scary!

    Thanks for sharing this!

  2. Carl D Post author

    Hey Earl

    Thanks for reading and commenting, I appreciate it.

    You’re completely right, I should’ve included something else for scale here. I was just looking at the relationship in size between the 4, but it would’ve been better to include a ruler or my hand or something to show you big these claws are. The Kodiak claw is a bit longer than my middle finger, but quite a bit more intimidating. 🙂



  3. Mark

    Quite interesting Carl. I didn’t know that grizzly claws were so different than the coastal browns. I was thinking their species differed primarily in habitat occupation, not actually physical characteristics as dramatic as this. Do you know if this is typical? Interesting how the polar bear has almost a serrated edge for cutting flesh.

    Quite interesting also from your source article that we may soon be seeing hybrid polar/grizzlies!

  4. Rand Hill

    Kodiaks are indeed scary. Hope the Alaskans don’t head south with climate change. Would be nice to see photos of bear tracks.

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