If you are ever roaming the wilds of bear country, and fortunate enough to come across tracks, it's a very humbling experience.
However, bear tracks and their patterns are typically very conservative in nature. Often times, signs in the general area can provide further insight and clarify what species was present. Though, it is often impossible to positively separate grizzly and black bear sign. There is no size criteria that will separate the sign of black bear from grizzly. The track of what someone may assume to be a female grizzly could actually be a male black bear.
Generally speaking, black bear tracks are five inches (12 cm) wide or smaller. Black bears usually have short claws, often times not showing up in prints/tracks. It is very important to note that they presence/absence of claw marks does NOT positively identify the species responsible for the track.
Grizzly bears leave tracks usually larger than 5 inches (12 cm) wide. On front foot tracks, claws when present form a pointed chevron (also can be present somewhat on the hind foot).
One of the best clues for separating tracks of grizzly and black bears are found in the toes. In black bears, there is a greater arc in the toes; in grizzlies the toes are joined. Toes joined at the base, when visible, can possibly identify grizzly tracks.
The front paw of a black bear, a line drawn from the base of the big toe (the outer most and outside toe) across the top of the intermediate pad will intersect the little toe at midline or above. When the same line is drawn on a grizzly track, it tends to intersect the little toe below the midline or not at all.
---Halfpenny, J. C. (1986). A field guide to mammal tracking in North America. Big Earth Publishing.---
These images were taken during September and October 2017 in Yellowstone National Park at an undisclosed location(s).
Tyler Brasington is a native born and raised Pennsylvanian, yet proud current Wisconsin resident. He graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater with a B.S. in Environmental Science. Currently, Tyler is pursuing his masters in Natural Resources with the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point. He has worked in Yellowstone National Park under the guidance and supervision of Dr. George Clokey and Dr. Jim Halfpenny.
Disclaimer: The information and views expressed on this page do not necessarily represent the views of the Department of Interior, US Geological Survey, National Park Service or the United States Government.
The Greater Yellowstone Grizzly Project
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