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Spot The Difference Between A Male and Female Bear

Three out of the world’s eight bear species live in North America. These species are black bears, brown grizzly bears, and polar bears. There are several key differences between males and females.

Male bears are more significant than female bears. Males have rounded face shapes with small ears, while females have narrower faces and more prominent ears. Females urinate backward between the hindlegs and sometimes squat, while males urinate forward.

Gender identification can be puzzling in the wild, and it can be tricky unless you come across a bear followed by her cubs or urinating. Each of the three-bear species has ways to differentiate between males and females. 

Male Bear Ears

The ears of a male bear are wide apart compared to the females. The ears of a male bear are more petite and almost look out of place compared to the head’s massive size.

Male Bear Head, Shoulders, and Neck

The head of a male bear is square and broad, with thick, masculine shoulders. The big muscles of the bear create a valley-like structure down the forehead. 

The shoulders are massive and much more comprehensive than their head. Male bears are much more likely to have scarring on their head, muzzle, and even missing parts of their ears due to fighting throughout their lifetime.

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Male Bear Body Shape and Legs

The adult bear male has long legs. The front legs are solid and heavy down to the feet, with wide ankles to support them. A male bear’s midsection appears bulky due to the fat reserves they need to build up to hibernate.

Sex Organ & Urination

The testicles and sheath of the penis are highly visible on a male bear. They urinate forward between the legs. This is one of the best ways to tell if the bear you are looking at is male or female.

Female Ears

The ears of the female bear are prominent on the head, compared to the male bear, which is much smaller.  

Female Head, Shoulders, and Neck

The head of the female bear is narrow compared to the round head size of the male bear. Female bears also have a tapered muzzle. On a male bear, the shoulders are much broader than the head, while females generally have shouldered the same width as their head. 

Female black bear
Female black bear

Female Body Shape and Legs

A female’s legs are shorter and thinner in comparison to males. The front legs of the female appear to taper up to narrow shoulders. The females look stockier and closer to the ground since they have shorter legs. Cubs around females also pull the hair out of the armpit, another sign of a female.

Female bear urinating
Female grizzly bear

Female Sex Organ and Urination

A nursing bear with her cubs can easily be identified. Female bears urinate to the rear and outwards. Female bears may also squat to urinate.

Are Males Bigger Than Female Bears?

Male bears are more significant than females. Male adult black bears weigh between 59–300 kilos, whereas females weigh 40–79 kilos. When the mating season comes in May and June, the female bear gains weight due to pregnancy.

Female bears are shorter, stockier, and leaner in stature, while males have much more heavily muscled shoulders, heads & necks than females. The head of the male bear is much rounder and broader when compared with females. 

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Are Male and Female Black Bear Faces Different?

There is a big contrast between the face shape of a male and a female bear. The female bear’s face is much more narrow, while males have a much wider head. 

Male bears have smaller ears on their head. The smaller, narrower head of the female is the best way to tell the difference between the genders.

Female brown bear urinating
Female grizzly bear

What is the Difference Between Male and Female Grizzly Bears?

The most natural way to tell the difference between a male and a female bear is to observe how the bear urinates. If the bear’s urine comes from the back, the bear is a female. If the urine stream is underneath the torso, it is a male bear. 

Another good way is to look at the sexual organ of the male bear as it is easily visible. It is, however, small in proportion to body size.

If the grizzly bear is moving with little cubs, this is a sign that the bear is female. Cubs stay with their mother for two to three years, after which the cubs roam on their own. 

Adult females weigh between 130-180kg, with males weighing between 180-360kg. Female bears have shorter legs and are faster.  

During the mating season in May-June, the walk of males becomes a swagger, with their legs moving further than their normal position.

In places where bears eat claims, female bears are more likely to dig for clams than males.

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Male brown bear
Male grizzly bear

What is the difference Between Male and Female Black Bears?

The ears of female black bears are further apart and much more significant than males. If the ears are large in proportion to the head, the bear is likely to be female. 

The head of the female bear is narrow, while males typically have a roundish, wider head, so their ears seem to be much smaller. When the ears are more on top, the bear is likely female. The ears of a male bear are on the side of the head.

The way the bear urinates is a helpful feature in determining gender. A male black bear urinates underneath the belly. Females squat to urinate, or the stream emerges between the hindlegs when standing.

The size of the bear is one of the best ways to identify gender. Prominent and round are the two most common characteristics of a male bear, whereas a female black bear is leaner and more minor. Male bears spend most of their time alone seeking a mate, but female bears stay with their cubs. 

Male bears are bulkier, and if you have the right angle, you can visibly see the sexual organ. The neck of a male is much thicker and broader. Females climb small trees and shrubs during the mating season, leaving a scent behind, but males do not.

Another way to tell gender is by looking closely at the bear’s backside. Female bears have long hairs beneath the tail, forming a ponytail. They use this to leave a scent.

You can also tell the difference if you manage to see the nipples of the bear. If the female bear has cubs, then the cubs, while feeding, pull the hair out, making the nipples highly visible. You can see this from the side of the female bear, especially among older females.  

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Male polar bear
Male polar bear

What is the difference Between Male and Female Polar Bears?

Male polar bears generally grow two to three times larger than females. Males typically weigh around 680 kgs, while non-pregnant females weigh almost two-thirds less at 226 kgs.

The height of the female while standing is in the range of 2.0 to 2.5 meters. Males can stand between 2.5 to 3 meters tall. If a bear walks with their cubs, the bear will be female.

Urination is similar to other bears, with the female bear urinating to the back. The male polar bears urinate in front, as do brown and black bears.

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Difference Between Bears In Mating Season

Bears enjoy solitary lives, but males and females come together during the mating season. Four to five years is the average breeding age of a female grizzly, while the breeding age is between three to five years for female black bears.  

The breeding season commences in May and is until the end of June. Female bears put on weight to protect the unborn cub. A pregnant bear can look like a male bear due to the extra layers of fat, making them bulky.

Adult females establish homes for their cubs to stay with them during the first few years. Male bears travel solo to pursue a mate. If you find a bear roaming in the fields with no other bears in proximity, then the chances are high that this is a male bear.

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Are male bears more aggressive than female bears?

It is often thought that female bears, especially those with cubs, are more aggressive than males. Studies have suggested that, while certain behaviors displayed by brown bears are gender-specific, male brown bears tend to exhibit more aggression than females.

This includes territorial disputes over mates, which female bears do not do. Female brown bears are often portrayed as the most aggressive due to their protection of cubs. Still, even with the added stress of protecting their young, these bears continue to show only moderate aggression towards humans.

Most bear attacks come from male bears, not females, but even these are rare. Black bears have caused 60 fatal maulings in North America in the last hundred years. Out of these attacks, 92% were by predatory males.

References and Further Reading

JSTOR – Variation in Reproductive Biology of Male Black Bears

Journal of Mammalogy – Geographic variation in size, growth, and sexual dimorphism of Alaska brown bears

Researchgate – Growth in length and weight of northern brown bears: differences between sexes and populations – Histological, chemical, and behavioral evidence of pedal communication in brown bears

CTV News – Male black bears more dangerous than females?