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The Kodiak Bear - the Largest Bears in the United States

A Kodiak Bear (Ursus arctos middendorffi)


Ursus arctos middendorffi, The Kodiak Bear

The Kodiak bear is not a grizzly bear, but is it's own distinct species of brown bear that is closely related to the grizzly bear. The Kodiak bear is also related closely to the Russian brown bear, which is really the Eurasian brown bear that once lived as far away West from Russia as the British Islands. The English name Kodiak Bear, strangely enough, probably isn't the name most often used for this animal, very likely the Native Americans that inhabit the Kodiak Archipelago of South Western Alaska use the name from their language more often than anyone else, and in the Native's tongue this bear is called Taquka-aq.

If you don't believe in evolution, then the Kodiak bear is a major challenge for you, as it is CLEARLY an evolved species of brown bear that evolved from the same ancestors as did the grizzly bear and the Eurasian brown bear, and for that matter, the polar bear - which is also a brown bear, but a white or cream coloured one. You see, the Kodiak bears have been genetically isolated from all the other species of brown bear for at least ten thousand years, they got to their homeland by crossing the ice, and when the ice melted, they (obviously) stayed there, and developed and evolved due to whatever environmental factors that were specific to that ecosystem, and over time, there you have it - the Kodiak bear, a unique species of brown bear.

The Kodiak Bear - That's One Big Bear!


The Kodiak Bear Size

The size of the Kodiak bear is really a tie for first with the polar bear for biggest bear contest's first prize. Oh I know you didn't realize that there was a contest afoot, it was held in my head. An adult male Kodiak bear stands five feet tall at it's shoulders while standing on his four legs, but should he stand up as a human always does on his back two legs, then they can easily be ten feet tall. The heaviest Kodiak bear in captivity weighed sixteen hundred and seventy pounds. There's few people brave enough to ask a wild Kodiak bear to take a moment and step on some scales, the one's that have tried that, well, we've not heard back from them. I think they must have gotten lost, or just decided to stay on the Kodiak Archipelago, in one form or another, if you catch my jive talking drift.

The facts are probably that the female bears are always more dangerous than are the males, as there's nothing more dangerous than a female bear with cubs, and especially is this true in the different species of brown bear, Kodiak included. The females are, of course, a bit smaller than are the males, and there is a lot of sexual dimorphism in bears. According to Wikipedia, the females average twenty percent smaller in size, and thirty percent lighter in weight, and isn't that snazzy data?

The Kodiak and the polar bears are two largest extant terrestrial carnivores, you've got to be a killer whale to be a bigger carnivore, or maybe a Loch Ness Nessie, if you're into that.

The Kodiak Archipelago Of Alaska - The Only Home Of The Wild Kodiak Bears


The Kodiak Bear Population.

I try to get people to think in biological terminology as much as I can, as it helps me to do so as well; so when you consider that the Kodiak bears live only on a few islands of the Kodiak archipelago, you should then ask yourself,

What about genetic stagnation? Those bears have a very small gene pool to work with towards their future!

Well, it's true, there are lots of Kodiak bears getting married to their cousins; no word yet on the official stance of Kodiak bears should gay cousin bears decide to marry, but that's beside the point, gay Kodiak bears don't contribute much to the gene pool anyway.

Ah, but I've digressed....

Despite the lack of genetic diversity in the Kodiak bears, they show no signs of the typical negatives of inbreeding. The Kodiak bears, however, may be more susceptible to new diseases and parasites than other bears because of it. Kodiak bear numbers are increasing, and there is almost an average of one bear per square mile on the Kodiak archipelago!

There are less than four thousand of these bears in the entire world, but they are NOT considered threatened or endangered bears as a species due to the high population density in their small and very specific habitat.

The Kodiak Bear

A Big Bear with a Big Success Story

Kodiak bears (Ursus arctos middendorffi)

Kodiak Bear Reproduction And Life Span

Kodiak bears are ready to mate at five years of age, and the females average a litter of cubs every four years afterwards. Mating season is May and June, and Kodiak bears observe serial monogamy in mating. Serial monogamy means that they do not mate with any other bear during the mating season - but the next go round they may or may not mate with the same opposite sex bear. Kodiak bear cubs are born in either January or February weighing less than one pound.

Kodiak bear sows average 2.4 cubs per litter, but sometimes a sow will adopt cubs from other litters. The cubs will stay with their mother for about three years before departing, and the female cubs will always stay within their mother's range. Out of all the cubs born to Kodiak bear mothers, the sad truth is that only about half of them will survive past their childhood, and the major reason for this is that male Kodiak bears will often eat Kodiak bear cubs.

The majority of Kodiak bear sows die of natural causes in the wild, but the largest majority of males die due to hunting. While I do not typically support hunting and killing anything that someone isn't planning on eating, the Kodiak bear population is on the rise, and the hunting program on the Kodiak Islands is considered the most successful in the world so far as maintaining an optimum population of Kodiak bears. Simply put, without the hunting program on the Kodiak archipelago, the bear population would be too high, and thus damaging to the ecosystem on the islands in a similar way to how the wild boar populations here in the south is damaging to our Texas ecosystems.

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Would I personally hunt the Kodiak bear? Absolutely not - that's not hunting, that is nothing more than shooting fish in a barrel, with nearly one bear per square mile, there is no sport in that, but if even the biologist and ecologist are saying that the Kodiak bear hunting program is the most successful wildlife management program in the world, then I'll defer to their wisdom on this issue.

A Cute Kodiak Bear Cub


Denning Or Hibernation

Bears do not truly hibernate, what bears do in the coldest parts of Winter is really a false hibernation, but the word denning also applies, and describes the same thing. Facts of the matter concerning Kodiak bears is not all of them even bother with that energy saving biological ritual slumber. Twenty five percent of Kodiak bears seem to be denning agnostics. Yes, of course I made the italicized term up, but the facts are still the same.

So far as the Kodiak bears that do the Winter's slumber deal, the pregnant females are the first to enter the dens, and the males are the first to leave them. The Kodiak bears generally dig their dens in the side of hills, and the season of false hibernation can last from late October to late June.

An Elderly Kodiak Bear


Food - What Do Kodiak Bears Eat?

The Kodiak bears are mostly daytime folks, but if food gets scarce, they'll look for meals at night. These bears (along with the polar bears) are often said to be the largest terrestrial carnivores, but this is not true. Yes, Kodiak bears are carnivorous, but they are truly omnivores, and that means that they'll eat all sorts of things, and the facts are that the Kodiak bear is most often eating plant material instead of meat.

When the Kodiak bear emerges from it's den in the Spring (if it did "den up" in the false hibernation fashion) then whatever animal has died during the Winter is the first thing the Kodiak bear will make a meal of. Isn't it wonderful how nature works so efficiently in the animal kingdom? Do you know WHY mankind is truly separate from the animals? Mankind has an EGO that it values over anything else - but not so the Kodiak bear, it works on mother nature's auto pilot, and does things in the most efficient and beneficial possible way, and all on instinct.

Yes, of course Kodiak bears love salmon, and they also love to eat any other fish that they can catch. ALL North American bears are the same in this manner of dining. Kodiak bears are generally just lazy when it comes to killing something for food, yes, some do it, but NO, most do not. Deer, Moose, and mountain goats have it easy on the Kodiak Archipelago. Berries, well, just as with the grizzly bears, berries RELY on Kodiak bears eating them so as their seeds (the berry sees) are spread about in the bear's scat.

Big And Beautiful - The Kodiak Bear


Senses, Intelligence, and Other Facts About Kodiak Bears

Kodiak bears are thought to have roughly the same level of eyesight as a human, the same hearing as a dog, and a sense of smell that is possibly four times that of a dog. The intelligence of these very large animals is thought to be somewhere between that of a dog, and a primate - these bears are anything but "dumb" so far as the intelligence within the animal kingdom is concerned. They have unique personalities just like your family dog has, and they react to different situations according to their personality and their unique individual experiences. In fact, Kodiak bears talk to each other through a very complex verbal and physical manner. They make all kinds of different grunts, growls, and howls along with various and sundry poses to express themselves.

Kodiak bears are NOT as aggressive towards humans as are their cousins the grizzly bears or the polar bears, and the reason for this is simple - it's evolution. You see, the Kodiak islands have been inhabited by Native Americans for longer than our recorded history, or theirs, can tell us, and the bears have become very used to human beings being nearby. Yes, it's very dangerous to mess with one - but in the video I provided above (assuming you took a minute to view it) the men in the video were nervous, but that video is VASTLY different from the video of the men encountering a grizzly bear in Alaska (NOT in the Kodiak archipelago!). Obviously, the men in the video were aware of the matters at hand - you do not RUN from a Kodiak bear, it will instinctively chase you. You do not FEED a Kodiak bear, as it will then start approaching humans for food (as a learned behaviour) and this will inevitably proof fatal for either the human, the bear, or both.

No human has been killed by a Kodiak bear (and there is one bear per square mile on the Kodiak archipelago!) since 1999, and prior to that, no humans were killed by Kodiak bears since 1921!!!!!!! These bears are AMAZINGLY calm and acclimated to humans! The incident in 1921, and you can read about that on Wikipedia, was an instance of human stupidity so profound that even this Texan (where there are no brown bears) would have known better to have been a part of.

The following is simply and beautifully presented in such a way so that anyone willing could understand it. Kodiak bears are a HUGE attraction to the Kodiak Archipelago of Alaska, and the bears have been living with humans there for 8000 or more years, and so the people there all wish to keep things just as they are now - humans and bears at peace with one another, and no dead bodies to rile the overly unforgiving nature of humans that have inevitably done something out of ignorance to provoke or encourage a bear:

In other words, the next two paragraphs aren't mine - they're from one of the two links to sites that I included in blue up above.

Avoid bears whenever possible and give it every opportunity to avoid you. If you do encounter a bear at close distance, remain calm. Attacks are rare. Most bears are only interested in protecting food, cubs or their “personal space,” so give them plenty of space. Identify yourself as human. Talk to the bear in a normal voice. Wave your arms. Help the bear recognize you. If a bear cannot tell what you are, it may come closer or stand on its hind legs to get a better look or smell. A standing bear is usually curious, not threatening. You may try to back away slowly and diagonally, but if the bear follows, stop and hold your ground.

Don’t run. You cannot out run a bear and, like dogs, they will chase a fleeing animal. A charging bear might get to within a few feet of you before stopping. Continue waving your arms and talking to the bear. If it does not leave or continues to approach, become more defensive. Raise your voice, beat on pans, use noisemakers, and throw rocks or sticks. Drive a bear off rather than let it follow you. If with a group, stand shoulder to shoulder to present a larger outline. Defend yourself against a bear entering your tent or cabin.

The Kodiak Bear - This Man Isn't Being Attacked


© 2012 Wesman Todd Shaw


Bin bolling on July 04, 2019:

The blue whale is the largest carnivore, not the killer whale. Think about it.

Wesman Todd Shaw (author) from Kaufman, Texas on June 09, 2019:

Hey thanks, Randy!

I heard it tastes a lot like pork. I just wish I could purchase more diverse meats in the local grocery, but you know how it goes.

For one thing, I'd sure eat a hell of a lot more venison if I could buy it. But you can't seem to buy it commercially. Then there are elk and moose, which I'm very interested in trying.

Duck? I've ate duck, but I'd like to know how it would be were I to cook it myself, you know.

I could go on and on. I'm pretty hot on meat eating. Haven't been hunting in years. I'm a much better fisherman than hunter.

Randy Godwin from Southern Georgia on June 09, 2019:

Tried it, Wesman. Too greasy for my taste!

Wesman Todd Shaw (author) from Kaufman, Texas on June 09, 2019:

Thanks Pam and Mike.

We do have black bears in Texas, but not where I live. Would have to travel close to the Oklahoma and Arkansas border to find them.

The black ones aren't nearly as scary as brown bears, but I'd be plenty frightened of the black bears too. This is in part because I've never seen any bear in the wild.

And I wrote the articles because I wanted to learn some bear basics. Teddy Roosevelt said bear meat was the finest meat he'd ever had. Heh. I'd try it, but I have yet to do so.

Readmikenow on June 09, 2019:

Excellent article. I enjoyed reading it. I've only seen Black Bears in the wild. I was out west and in the distance we saw a Grizzly Bear. The man I was with said it is good they are at a distance. He carried a sidearm with him at all times outside his cabin. He made me carry one as well. Learned a lot from this article.

Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on June 09, 2019:

This article about the Kodiak bear is not only informative, but it has a bit of humor. I am not for killing any animal for the sport of killing, as I think that is absolutely wrong. Evolution is very interesting, and I have watched One Strange Rock on Netflix, which gets into evolution. Very good article Todd.

Nick Carter from Milan on September 02, 2017:


steve on November 27, 2016:

talk about thee big L

Wesman Todd Shaw (author) from Kaufman, Texas on May 06, 2012:

Eiddwen - thank you!!

libby101a - I get more learning out of this than anything else!

Eiddwen from Wales on March 28, 2012:

Wow I really enjoyed this one and it has to have my 'up up and away!!'

Take care and enjoy your day.


Wesman Todd Shaw (author) from Kaufman, Texas on March 24, 2012:

Thank you very much CassyLu!!!!!!!!!!!

Hey Billy - I'd imagine that it was Grizzly Bears that attacked boats - but you can't tell a Kodiak from a Grizzly by sight, so far as I'm aware!!!

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on March 24, 2012:

Fascinating read! When I was in Alaska I heard some rather amazing stories of Kodiaks walking right by hiking parties like they weren't even ten feet away....while others would swim out into a lake to attack a boat of fishermen...I think I like looking at them from a thousand miles away thank you very much! Great hub!

CassyLu1981 from Spring Lake, NC on March 24, 2012:

Wonderful pictures! They are incredible animals for sure! Thanks for Sharing!!!

Wesman Todd Shaw (author) from Kaufman, Texas on March 13, 2012:

TheHeavyReview - Thanks very much!!!

I'm fascinated by the whole thing. The Kodiak is damn near the same thing as a grizzly bear, but the Kodiak bear will just walk up to or by you...and 99.99999 percent of the time...a person that knows a bit about them will be in no danger.

...but the grizzly bear - anyone within five hundred yards of one of those is either dead already, or asking for it!

TheHeavyReview on March 11, 2012:

Great hub! These are very beautiful, yet powerful animals (the best kind). The cub was so cute. I'm more of a cat person myself, but I like bears too. Awesome job!

Wesman Todd Shaw (author) from Kaufman, Texas on March 09, 2012:

Thanks Very Very Much b. Malin!!!!!!!!!!

You should enjoy the next one then - the next thing I publish here will most definitely be the Polar Bear.

It's being a heck of a lot harder to write than this one was - polar bears are complicated topics!!!!

b. Malin on March 09, 2012:

Hi Wesman, that was one Hell of a Bear Story...quite Educational...a real Learning Experience. I'm afraid of Bears and respect them from a distance...Like a Cage between us! The Pictures were Wonderful too.

I now look forward to Following your Hubs.

Wesman Todd Shaw (author) from Kaufman, Texas on March 09, 2012:

HELL YES WILLIE!!!!!!!!!!!!

I'm 75 percent done with my polar bear hub...which does cover that topic!!!!!!!!

DoItForHer on March 09, 2012:

Maybe you could include the "Grolar" Bear, although, I prefer the name "Pizzly" Bear.

Wesman Todd Shaw (author) from Kaufman, Texas on March 09, 2012:

rocknrollcowboy - Thanks Very Much!

I've done the grizzly and black bears here already, and I'm working on the polar bear. I'll probably wind up writing about all the bears in time!

I sure enjoy the learning I do in the process of creating something like this!!

rocknrollcowboy from California on March 08, 2012:

Thanks for the great information. I've always been fascinated with bears, particularly the Grizzly and Kodiak. Keep up the good writing and maybe write more on bears if you haven't already. Goo job, great hub!

Wesman Todd Shaw (author) from Kaufman, Texas on March 07, 2012:

Thanks Very Much Alicia!!!!!

I never get tired of learning about animals, and so I'll not stop publishing things about them so long as I am able. I just enjoy it too much!

Linda Crampton from British Columbia, Canada on March 07, 2012:

This is a very interesting and educational hub, Wesman. Kodiak bears are such majestic and impressive animals! Thanks for sharing the information and the beautiful photos.

Wesman Todd Shaw (author) from Kaufman, Texas on March 07, 2012:


DoItForHer on March 07, 2012:

Ohhhh, how cute! I want one! :)

Wesman Todd Shaw (author) from Kaufman, Texas on March 07, 2012:

Thank You Seeker7!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Well, supposedly seventy five percent of them DO sleep off the Winters, but the deal is - that isn't a true hibernation.

Here's a link that "might" explain it better than I can - basically, it has to do with the bio and physiological processes that occur during that slumber...that is what determines whether or not something is a true hibernation

Helen Murphy Howell from Fife, Scotland on March 07, 2012:

Fantastic hub Wes! This is such an awesome and beautiful animal! I had heard of the Kodiak bear, but nothing much more than that - glad my ignorance has been put to rest by your article.

I was really interested in the 'false hibernation' - I guess like most folks I believe that when they went into their dens for the winter, they slept all the way through to spring/summer. This was knew to me and fascinating.

Another great hub and definitely deserves an awesome and beautiful vote!!!

Wesman Todd Shaw (author) from Kaufman, Texas on March 07, 2012:

CMHypno - Thank You!!!!

Of course now that I've wrote here about black bears, grizzly bears, and the Kodiak bears...I've got to swim through the mire of controversy, and attack the polar bear topic too!

Oh well, I'll be learning about that

Wesman Todd Shaw (author) from Kaufman, Texas on March 07, 2012:

AH!!!! Very Cool then!!!

Yeah....they don't want folks feeding the bears (or wolves or coyotes, or cougars, etc) because they don't want ...bears to approach people in general.

The thing have to know how bears think. So ..if bears think, "oh, there's a person..maybe they'll feed me!"

Then the persons sees the bear, and runs away screaming...the bears instincts will take over and they'll chase the person, and probably hurt them badly.

But if I were a grizzly adams type in a cabin in the woods - holy smoke, I'd want to make friends of the bears too!

CMHypno from Other Side of the Sun on March 07, 2012:

Fascinating hub on Kodiak bears Wesman, and it shows what amazing variations in species there can be in different regions. They are certainly big bears and it is good to hear that they they are increasing in numbers

Chris Merritt from Pendleton, Indiana on March 07, 2012:

No, google charlie vandergaw and check this guy out sometime...he actually lived among them. He has a cabin in Alaska, and feeds them...which is what became controversial with him...that is against the law...but he did it anyway, and made good friends with many bears...and had many close calls too. You should check it out.

Yeah, the Timoth Tredwell guy went too far...he was a little crazy...this Charlie guy is a pretty normal guy who just loves to be around bears.

Wesman Todd Shaw (author) from Kaufman, Texas on March 07, 2012:

Thanks Very Much CMerritt !!!!!!!!!!

I think you're referring to Timothy Tredwell?

If that's the guy in question who lived with bears....that ended very badly, it got to where the bears actually thought that he and his wife WERE bears, and ...that's a pretty bad deal during mating season, as male bears...are just like human men...but they've no concept of law enforcement!!!!!!

Tim and his wife turned up in the stomach of one bear. :-/

Chris Merritt from Pendleton, Indiana on March 07, 2012:

THIS has been a very fun hub for me...I LOVE everything about bears, especially the Kodiak. This was very enjoyable.

Have you seen the documentary "The man who lived with bears" by charlie vandergaw? This man has some stones.

once again WTS...up and awesome!


Wesman Todd Shaw (author) from Kaufman, Texas on March 07, 2012:

paries Thank You Very Much!!!!

There is a bit of confusion about whether the Kodiak or the polar bear is bigger, I think it depends mostly on who someone asks!

paries on March 07, 2012:

Oh my! Indeed huge! love the fur! How I wish I can see one here in our country..

Wesman Todd Shaw (author) from Kaufman, Texas on March 06, 2012:

THANKS ARDIE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

yeah, I'm skeered of them bad boys and girls too! But the Kodiaks will ....just walk right by folks - but you can't get within a mile of a grizzly or a polar bear without the thing setting it's mind to killing you.

It's gotta be awesome to have one of those things just walk right by you like it's nothing! I might have a heart attack, or I might....."transcend" something.

Heck, I'd actually love to spend some time in Alaska...just not too much time!

Sondra from Neverland on March 06, 2012:

Wow, that bear cub is CUTE!!! But man is his mama and papa gigantic. I think I will stay home and look at pictures of the Kodiak bear - 10 feet standing tall like a person?! That's nuts. Now I will have nightmares tonight hahah Thanks for taking the time to put together this Hub full of bear information. (Scared of bears, scared of bears, scared of bears!)

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