How big is a bear? If you’re like most people, you know that bears are big, but you may be surprised to know just how big they can become. Until you see a bear at the zoo or in the wild, it may be difficult to imagine the sheer size of a polar bear or brown bear.
The largest bear ever recorded was the prehistoric short-faced bear who had an estimated weight of more than 1500 pounds and stood 11 feet tall on its hind legs. Presently, polar bears are the biggest bears on Earth, weighing up to 1500 pounds, with Kodiak bears not far behind.
Different regions, species, and subspecies determine the height and weight of bears. Read on to find out more about how big bears are, including some of the biggest bears ever recorded.
The Largest Prehistoric Bear
If you want to hear about one of the most powerful land carnivores during the ice age, look no further than the short-faced bear. The short-faced bear stood 11 feet tall on its hind legs and almost five feet on four legs. While taller than brown bears, they did not have as heavy of a build but may have weighed around 1540 pounds. The short-faced bear traveled through the high grasslands of western North America from Alaska and Yukon to Mexico.
Due to the bear’s stature, canine teeth, and large molars, many thought the short-faced bear may have been a predator. However, it also has long limbs for long-distance pacing. They could not rapidly accelerate or change direction quickly. The skull has large nasal openings, suggesting an amazing sense of smell. Many believe short-faced bears did not kill but chased other predators to eat their kills. While this is widespread, some scientists believe prehistoric bears were omnivorous.
There is only one living relative left of the massive bear in evolutionary history. The only relative happens to the spectacled bear in South America.
8 Bear Species in the World by Size
There may have been hundreds of bear species in the past, but nowadays, there are only eight species. You can find bears on all continents except for Australia and Antarctica. While there are many subspecies, the following are the eight bear species throughout the world.
The Polar Bear Is the Biggest Bear Ever
A polar bear is the largest bear ever and the largest terrestrial carnivore. An adult male weighs around 880 to 1500 pounds, with females about half the size. Unlike other bears, polar bears are almost strictly carnivorous. They feed primarily on seals but may also eat whales and walruses.
They have adapted to surviving the arctic, with white fur and particular paws for swimming and traveling on ice. Polar bears are considered a vulnerable species with a predicted 30% reduction to their habitat over the next 45 years.
The Brown Bear (Including Kodiak and Grizzly Bears)
The brown bear species cover bears through various regions, including Alaska, Canada, the northwestern U.S., parts of western and eastern Europe, and northern Asia. Most brown bears share a large frame, dish-shaped face, and hump on the shoulders. Grizzly and Kodiak bears are subspecies of brown bears, though the differences are quite small.
When it comes to brown bears, males weigh between 300 and 900 pounds, whereas females weigh between 205 and 455 pounds. Their weight may depend on where they live. The heaviest tend to live along the Alaska and British Columbia coast and eat a diet high in salmon. Nearly 200,000 brown bears live in the wild but may have small numbers through various regions.
The American Black Bear
The American black bear is the smallest in North America. With about 600,000 bears native to the continent, they live in most of the U.S., Canada, and parts of Mexico.
The size of an American black bear depends heavily on the region, season, food source, sex, and age. A black bear may weigh anywhere between 90 and 875 pounds. On average, males are around 400 pounds, and females are about 175 pounds. When standing, they are about 27 to 36 inches high at the shoulder and may be four to five and a half feet in length. Male black bears do not stop growing until they are about 10 or 12 years old.
The Spectacled Bear
The spectacled bear, or Andean bear, gets its name from the light markings that circle its eyes, creating the illusion of glasses. It is the only species found within South America and lives in dense rainforests and coastal scrub deserts.
Spectacled bears may be about five to six feet long and stand at two to three feet at the shoulder, with the females being 30% smaller than the males. A male may weigh up to 340 pounds, whereas females rarely weigh over 180 pounds. They are considered a vulnerable species.
The Asiatic Black Bear
The Asiatic black bear lives in the forests of Eastern Asia, from Japan and Taiwan to Afghanistan. Generally, they prefer hilly and mountainous regions. They have long fur, usually black or brown, with a different cream or white patch.
They are medium-sized bears with a length of 3.9 feet to 6.6 feet. A male weighs between 200 and 255 pounds, while a female weighs 110 and 225 pounds. As a cousin to the American black bear, their diet looks similar, focusing on plants, insects, fruits, and bees’ nests. The Asiatic black bear currently has a vulnerable status due to loss of habitat and bear farming.
The Giant Panda
The giant panda is one of the most distinct-looking bears. An adult male ranges from 176 pounds to about 275 pounds, whereas a female weighs between 155 and 220 pounds. A panda is only about two to three feet tall at the shoulder.
Unlike other bears, pandas have a small range and currently only live in the forests of south-central China, where they feed almost entirely on bamboo. The giant panda is now an endangered species with fewer than 1,000 to 2,000 left in the wild.
The Sloth Bear
Sloth bears are distinct with long, curved claws and a shaggy, straight coat. Adult males may weigh between 175 and 310 pounds in size. On the other hand, females may weigh between 120 and 210 pounds.
Sloth bears eat termites, ants, and other vegetation types and fruits. Their native habitat is the lowland forests of Sri Lanka and India. They are a vulnerable species due to habitat loss and farming.
The Malayan Sun Bear
Of all the bear species, the sun bear is the smallest. It has a sleek coat with a light-colored muzzle and a crescent-shaped chest blaze. An adult male may weigh between 60 and 110 pounds, whereas females are slightly smaller.
Sun bears are the only bear to live in the lowland tropical rainforests in Southeast Asia. Unfortunately, due to deforestation, sun bears are considered a vulnerable species.
The Most Hunted Bears
When it comes to bear hunting, some of the best places to go are Alaska or one of the 48 contiguous states. Legal bear hunting involves the brown bear in Alaska, Eurasia, and Yukon; the black bear in the U.S. and Canada; and the Himalayan bear in Russia.
The Most Hunted Species
The American black bear is at the top when it comes to affordable and most common species to hunt. Many people hunt bears using dogs, packs of hounds, and spot and stalk hunting. The best time to hunt for bears is during the Spring season, from April through June. Since black bears are not endangered or vulnerable in the U.S., they are considered game animals.
The Biggest Bear Ever Hunted
If you’re wondering not only “how big are bears,” but “how big was the biggest bear,” we have the answer. The biggest bear ever hunted was for a science expedition in 1952. On the islands in the Kodiak Archipelago, there is a subspecies of brown bears known as the Kodiak bear. Kodiak bears stand over 10 feet tall on hind legs and about five feet on four legs.
While not considered the largest bear species (that goes to the polar bear), Kodiaks are likely the largest bears ever hunted legally since the average brown bear size is much smaller. The largest bear ever killed was a brown bear taken on Kodiak Island, harvested by Roy R. Lindsley, who currently holds the world record. The skull measured 17 and 15/16 inches long and 12 and 13/16 inches wide.
Is a Kodiak Bear Bigger Than a Grizzly?
Thanks to an abundance of salmon and other fatty food sources that require less energy to consume, Kodiak bears are generally larger than Grizzly bears. While they can be frighteningly large, Grizzlies are the smallest brown bears.
Kodiak bears are found in Alaska and parts of Canada, such as the Yukon, whereas other brown bears are located primarily along coastal regions in the Western US and Canada, where their diet consists mainly of fish. Meanwhile, Grizzly bears live more inland, such as the Rocky Mountains, Yellowstone, and Montana. Here they have a more diverse diet of big game, plants, and some aquatic plants and animals. Grizzlies tend to work harder for their food and are leaner bears.
Bear Size Comparison
There is a large variation in bear size based on region and species. Even in the same species, the sizes may vary incredibly. For example, the Kamchatka brown bear is the biggest in Eurasia and nearly as giant as the Kodiak brown bear. Native to Russia, the Kamchatka bear is about 7.9 feet long and stands about 9.8 feet tall on its hind legs, weighing around 1480 pounds.
Bears and Humans
How you compare to a bear depends on the species of bear. You may find that black bears look relatively small, whereas a brown or polar bear will tower over you. If you were to take a polar bear paw, it is 13 inches wide, compared to most humans with a hand width of about four inches.
Bears and Moose
In the deer family, the moose is the largest. A small female may be about 800 pounds, while an adult male can be up to 1600 pounds. Moose range between 4.6 feet and 6.9 feet at the shoulder. When it comes to bears, a small brown bear or black bear may be much smaller than a moose, whereas a sizable Kodiak bear could weigh more.
Bears and Horses
Black bears may only stand at about four feet or five to seven feet when upright. Compared to horses, they may be smaller, but a brown bear may stand much larger and outweigh a horse.
An average horse stands about five feet tall and may weigh between 800 and 1200 pounds. The largest horses tend to stand over six feet and can weigh up to 2200 pounds when it comes to the largest horses.
Bears and Wolves
Wolves have a variety of sizes, but when it comes to bear territory, gray wolves are most commonly found sharing the same land. A gray wolf may be about three to five feet long, and most females only weigh 60 to 100 pounds, compared to males that weigh 70 to 145 pounds. Most bears are larger than wolves.
However, wolves tend to have more protection on their side because they travel in numbers. If the largest wolf were faced with the largest bear ever, there would be no competition. The wolf would be much smaller.
Bears and Cougars
Mountain lions are large cats, with males weighing between 115 and 220 pounds and females weighing between 64 and 141 pounds. Generally, they tend to be smaller closer to the equator and larger closer to the poles. You can find cougars (a.k.a. panthers) throughout North and South America.
The size of a cougar compared to a bear depends on the bear type. Compared to a grizzly or brown bear, the cougar is much smaller. However, sun bears are a more similar size to cougars.
Bears and Bison
Bison are the largest land animals in North America. Bulls can weigh up to 2000 pounds and stand six feet tall, whereas cows weigh up to 1000 pounds and stand about four to five feet tall. Bison and grizzly bears share the same environment, and while bison outweigh grizzly bears, grizzly bears do prey on bison. When it comes to the two, both are capable of causing substantial harm to one another.
Find Out More About the Largest Bear Ever
There is so much to learn and so much satisfaction to gain from spending your time camping, hunting, or hiking when it comes to the great outdoors. Bears are among the most incredible, giant creatures that live throughout the Americas, Asia, Africa, and Europe. When it comes to bear species, all eight have different sizes and habitats. It may be difficult to pin down one average height or weight for all bears.
Even when it comes to polar bears being the largest bear on the planet, there is some dispute because of the sheer size of the Kodiak bear. While some bears may be giant, others are relatively small, like the sun bear. When it comes to bears, it sometimes helps to compare them to animals that you know well or even yourself. While most bears outweigh humans by quite a bit, some stand shorter than the average person, both on four legs and on their hind legs.