Bears are frequently depicted in cartoons and films as bloodthirsty predators, but most eat more plants than animals. Except for polar bears, every species of bear consumes some type of plant, berry, or insect on a daily basis. In fact, the Giant Panda only eats bamboo! Other bears, on the other hand, eat meat when they can find it and supplement their diet with vegetation. Because most bears are apex predators or at the top of the food chain in their environment, they rarely need to hunt and can instead steal meat from other animals.
The two most common types of bears in North America are the black and brown bears. Black bears have the greatest population in the United States, while brown bears are known for their most famous subspecies, the fearsome grizzly bear. Surprisingly, these two species are not closely related.
The American black bear is much smaller, weighing up to 550 pounds compared to the 800 pounds of a grizzly. They live in the same areas but don’t see too much of each other since they forage for food at different times of the day. Both species, however, must prepare for the long winter and hibernation. So, What do Bears Eat? Keep reading to learn how these massive animals prepare to spend months without eating anything at all.
What do Black Bears Eat?
Black bears are omnivorous animals that primarily consume vegetation and fruits. Despite their tough appearance and long teeth and claws, plants account for 85 percent of a black bear’s diet. They also enjoy honey and can rip open an entire tree to gain access to a beehive. Because black bears’ thick coats protect them from stinging bees, they can eat honeycombs as quickly or as slowly as they like. Black bears in the Pacific Northwest fish for salmon in rivers at night. A few enterprising bears will also enter human-populated areas to steal from trashcans or campsites. Black bears eat a lot of bugs like ants and bees for protein in the fall as they prepare for hibernation. Black bears occasionally catch baby deer, cows, and moose, but they are more likely to steal carcasses from more active predators such as wolves, coyotes, and cougars. The extra proteins aid in fat gain during their long, annual hibernation.
Hibernating bears do not eat anything during the winter. This means that when they wake up in the spring, they are starving and often very weak. A black bear’s favorite foods at this time of year are young tree shoots and nuts stolen from squirrel caches, which are abundant and high in nutrients. These help them regain their strength, and after a month or two, they can resume their normal diet.
What do Grizzly Bears Eat?
While black bears can be found throughout most of the continent, grizzly bears usually only live in the northwestern part of North America. They prefer grassy areas and coastlines and live alone until the salmon spawning brings them together along streams and rivers. Grizzly bears, like black bears, eat a lot of vegetation, but they also eat more meat than their cousins.
Grizzly bears hunt deer, elk, moose and bison regularly, along with fish like salmon and trout. When meat is not available, they prefer to eat wild beans, nuts, grass and tubers. They also love insects, and many get up to half their yearly calories from moths alone.
Not all grizzly bears hibernate, but those that do make sure to pack on the weight before they settle in for a nap. Grizzly bears gain an average of 400lbs before hibernating. Because they have more body fat than black bears, many grizzlies do not sleep through the whole winter, and some don’t hibernate at all! Unlike the more herbivorous black bear, grizzlies are capable of hunting through the winter in some regions. Both bears, however, are much more peaceful than their reputations would suggest, and are masters of collecting food from any source available.