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Animal Facts: Kermode (spirit) bear

  • Aug 12, 2021
  • 320 words
  • 2 minutes
As the provincial animal of British Columbia, the Kermode bear can be found in Central and North Coast regions of B.C. (Photo: Rina Ansell/Can Geo Photo Club)
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Commonly referred to as the ‘spirit bear’, the Kermode bear was named after Frank Kermode who was the former director of the Royal B.C. Museum, Victoria. 

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Fast Facts

Common name: Kermode bear or spirit bear

Scientific nameUrsus americanus kermodei

Tsimshian name: moksgm’ol

Type: Mammal

Diet: Omnivore 

Group name: Sleuth or sloth

Average weight: 80 kilograms to 225 kilograms

Average height: 60cm to 90cm at shoulder

COSEWIC Status: No status

Did you know?

Kermode bears (or spirit bears) are a “colour phase” of black bears, with cream-coloured fur.

Physical characteristics and behaviour

Kermodes are white because of a recessive gene. Both parents must be carrying the gene for a cub to have white fur. Their entire coat is white, from the roots to the tips of their hair, however, they have dark eyes and noses just like black-coated black bears. 

Each fall, Kermode bears excavate a den to occupy during their winter sleep, which occurs between November and March. Like other coastal bears, Kermode bears play an important role in coastal ecosystems because they bring salmon from rivers into the forest to eat, where the leftovers can be scavenged by other animals or act as fertilizer for trees and plants. 

Kermode bears mostly live in the Great Bear Rainforest, a protected area about the size of Ireland along the North and Central Coast regions of British Columbia. In the Oral Tradition of the Kitasoo/Xai’xais Nation, centred in Klemtu, B.C., in the Great Bear Rainforest, the Creator Raven made the Kermode bear as a reminder to be thankful for the bountiful landscape.

Diet

Like other black bears, Kermode bears are omnivores. Plants, berries and salmon form important parts of their diet. 

Habitat and distribution

Kermode bears prefer British Columbia’s old-growth coastal rainforest. In particular, these bears have thrived on two isolated islands off B.C.’s North Coast, Princess Royal and Gribbell, which are home to the largest Kermode population.

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