The grizzly bear , is any North American subspecies of the brown bear, such as the mainland grizzly , the Kodiak , the peninsular grizzly and the recently extinct California grizzly . Specialists sometimes call the grizzly the North American brown bear because the grizzly and the brown bear are one species on two continents. In some places, some may nickname the grizzly the silvertip for the silvery, grizzly sheen in its fur.
Since the mainland grizzly is so widespread, it is representative and archetypal for the whole subspecific group. Even so, classification is being revised along genetic lines. Its closest relatives are the European cave bear and the polar bear.
Except for cubs and females, grizzlies are normally solitary, active animals, but in coastal areas, grizzlies gather around streams, lakes, rivers, and ponds during the salmon spawn. Every other year, females (sows) produce one to four young (usually two) which are small and weigh only about 500 grams (1 lb). A sow is protective of her offspring and will attack if she thinks she or her cubs are threatened.
The word "grizzly" means "grizzled;" that is, golden and grey tips of the hair. This is not to be confused with the word "grisly". Nonetheless, after careful study, naturalist George Ord formally classified the California grizzly in 1815—not for its hair, but for its character—Ursus horribilis. Thus Ord made a famous pun. Indeed there were many accounts of grizzlies fighting and beating longhorn bulls.
From 1815 on, grizzlies were classified in a species separate from all other bear. However, after modern genetic testing, the grizzly joined the brown bear . So in Eurasia, it is the "brown bear;" in North America, it is the "grizzly." In other words, the grizzly and the brown bear are one species on two continents. Currently, Rausch and others classify three subspecies of the new "North American brown bear:" U. a. horribilis, middendorffi, and gyas. But more recent studies of mtDNA suggest that this three-fold division of living grizzlies needs revision. Further testing of Y-chromosomes is required to yield an accurate new taxonomy with different subspecies.