Studies show that bears probably see about as well together humans, however trust their sense of smell more

There are a many misconceptions around bears. “Grizzly bear can’t rise trees,” or “bears can’t run downhill” – both untrue. One common misconception is that bears have poor eyesight. The factors behind this misconception space understandable, however evidence shows that bears’ eyesight is comparable to ours. “From my experience bears can see an extremely well in ~ a distance, in ~ least and humans,” said biologist take care of Reynolds.

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Reynolds is a bear biologist for the room of Fish and Game in Fairbanks and serves together president that the international Association because that Bear Research and Management. He’s operated with bears for 45 years. Reynolds and also another biologist as soon as observed a big adult masculine grizzly that had actually killed and was eat a 2-year-old grizzly in the western Brooks Range.

“It to be late September and the ground was snow-covered as soon as we peeked just our heads over a ridge that was a quarter-mile distant from the bears,” the said. “The adult male instantly stopped what he was doing, stared ours direction, and ran – and kept top top running till he was the end of sight. If there was a wind it was just slight, and also I don"t remind it being at our backs. We were an extremely aware the bears’ extremely perceptive sense of smell, but from the evidence obtainable to united state at the time, it appeared most most likely that the bear to be alerted by its eyesight.”

Zookeeper Lee Huntsman operates a privately owned animal park just south of Cleveland, Ohio. He has 240 pets – 60 different varieties – including black bears and Syrian bears, a kind of eastern grizzly. He’s functioned with 30 various bears over the previous 10 years.

“We progressive them indigenous babies, and when they see a certain person, castle react in different ways than they perform to another person,” Huntsman said. “They respond to the civilization that feed them, and not others. And also it’s not that they watch the feed bucket, they identify the people. They have the right to see in detail. They have an excellent vision, and also I’d say they can recognize a details person native 200 feet away.”

Huntsman stated bears also see well in short light conditions. “I can go up at night and also they deserve to see me plainly; I have the right to tell due to the fact that of the means they react. I definitely think they check out well at night.”

Like many animals, bears’ eyes have a reflective layer referred to as the tapetum lucidum lining the earlier of the eyeball. This layer shows light back through the retina, permitting light to stimulate light-sensitive cell in the retina a second time, thereby boosting night vision. This is what gives dogs, cats and also many nocturnal pets that distinct, bright eyeshine as soon as they space flashed with a irradiate at night.

Polar bears have actually special adaptations that assist them to see underwater. Like plenty of other maritime mammals, they have actually a clear inner “eyelid” called a nictitating membrane that protects your eyes and serves together a 2nd lens when they are underwater.

John Hechtel has actually spent years observing bear in the wild and studying behavior, hibernation, and also bear and human interactions. A state biologist in Palmer, he’s functioned with bears throughout and also the Yukon. Hechtel emphasized that similar to with people, there is variation amongst bears.

“How plenty of humans really have actually 20/20 eyesight? yes a incredible variation, nearsighted or farsighted, and also with boosting age, sensory abilities decrease in general. Eyesight tends to gain worse, hearing is no so great any more, and also it’s probably similar with animals,” that said. “In general, your eyesight – for young healthy and balanced bears – has tendency to it is in pretty good. Over there is a fair amount written around how negative their eyesight is, yet I don’t think so.”

From his experiences, Hechtel has actually the impression that seeing silhouette and movement is critical part that bears’ distance vision. Over there isn’t a the majority of research top top the subject of bear vision, Hechtel said, and stories variety from cases where bear see very well come stories whereby bears seem almost blind.

“For now, bear biologists have tendency to say that bears’ eyesight is comparable to the of people. That doesn’t average bears basically see the means we do. Ns suspect, in some means they see far better – night vision, because that example, and also in some methods maybe worse, like distant, non-moving objects. The point is that bears no wandering approximately half-blind. And they room much an ext focused ~ above interpreting the world based on smell than sight.”


Hechtel said most misconceptions about bears are born of minimal experience and also assumptions. A human will assume that since a bear no respond come them, it didn’t recognize they were there. The bear may have smelled the human – and saw lock – long prior to the human was conscious of the bear.

“A many times bears watch things and also don’t visibly reaction by standing increase or fleeing,” Hechtel said. “That doesn’t median it didn’t see. Civilization expect bear to react once they view something, and also that’s not constantly the case.”

Biologists tension that through far, bears’ keenest feeling is their sense of smell. Hechtel said even when a be afflicted with does acquire a an excellent look at something, the still likes to check it v its nose. Hechtel think that’s contributed to the misconception about bears’ eyesight. Bears are so fine informed around their environment since of their sense of smell the they don’t appear to put much focus on their vision. Bears trust your noses much more than their eyes, just as human beings trust their vision an ext than their sense of smell.

“We depend so lot on our eyes,” said state video game biologist Phil Mooney that Sitka. “I nothing think bear think favor we do. They don’t think in regards to their eyes. If she walking with grass flats and a be afflicted with stands up, the using all of its senses.”

Larry Aumiller is the manager the the McNeil flow State game Sanctuary. Because that 28 years, he’s spent summers v brown bear at the sanctuary, 180 miles southwest of Anchorage. The recalled an occurrence one spring whereby a big adult masculine was following a female in estrus.

Aumiller wrote: “He to be trying to keep up v her until she was receptive. She, not being rather ready, to be trying to continue to be ahead that him. This is referred to as consorting, and also eventually end in mating once all parties space ready. The male frequently puts his nose to the ground, and no issue what, follows her precise footsteps. On this day her trip took she on a route that double back, bringing she to within 100 feet that the follow male. The glanced end at her, placed his nose earlier to the ground and continued top top her precise trail (scent) also though it took him number of hundred yards out of his way. This is a an excellent example the a bear trusting his feeling of smell an ext than his vision.”

In Aumiller’s experience, he thinks bears see on a par with people up to about 120 yards, and also beyond the their vision fall off. He’s found it’s straightforward to stalk a be affected by each other at longer distances, especially if you are careful about using cover and also disguising movement.

“You can approach a be afflicted with at distances that would never ever work through a food species, for instance a deer. This makes sense if girlfriend think around it, the “distance that concern” for a be afflicted with is considerably less than 100 yards. Bear have evolved to be pertained to only with - and react come - stimuli within their an individual space, which varies of food (smaller for much more dominate bears) yet is generally around 100 come 200 yards. This fits v being a predator together opposed to a food species, and also being the biggest, baddest guy on the block.”

“They deserve to see an extremely well in ~ night, far much better than humans,” the added. “Remember the exception of course, the bear that spotted you in ~ 400 yards, and also the one you walked right up come in the open up - and also at 40 feet it lastly did check out you and also came unglued. But these are rare exceptions.”

Hechtel claimed over time, our insights have to get much better as scientists attend to some the the unanswered questions concerning bear vision.

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“Who knows precisely what bears space seeing,” Hechtel said. “The interesting thing about studying bear is the a fairly new field. The expectations of extreme bear study has just to be a few decades. There space still a lot of cool points to understand about bears.”

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