Do bears hug their enemies to death?

April 26, 2017 | Author: | Posted in Zoology

The proverbial hugging propensity of bears is probably a myth, notwithstanding a vast amount of alleged testimony to the contrary. Literature, reference works and books on natural history contain numerous references to the “crushing embrace” or “deadly hug” of bears. Alexander Pope wrote: ” ‘Tis a bear’s talent not to kick, but hug.”

Nearly all careful observers are agreed that this notion is erroneous. It no doubt arose from faulty observation. The notion originated in the Old World, where the European brown bear is the most common species. This species, Ursus arctos, is more given to rising upright and standing on its hind legs than other bears. Consequently members of this species are more readily trained for boxing, wrestling and other exhibition purposes. In the old days the brown bear was the favorite species used by itinerant showmen. But these bears when boxing or wrestling do not habitually hug and do not naturally tend to clench an antagonist.

There is no available evidence that any species of bear tries to inflict injury by hugging an enemy with its arms. Reports of hunters being “squeezed to death” by┬ábears apparently have no basis in fact. Black bears hug tree trunks in climbing trees adapted to their embrace, but bears are not true tree climbers and the claws of the larger bears are not adapted to climbing trees or other arboreal gymnastics.

In his book entitled In the Zoo Dr. W. Reid Blair, director of the New York Zoological Park, says: “In regard to the proverbial hug, the story is apparently devoid of foundation. A bear, on account of its anatomical structure, strikes round with its paws as if grasping, and the blow of its powerful arm drives its claws into the body of its victim, which action apparently give rise to its hugging reputation.”


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