Do Bears Live in Caves?

Bears live in a wide variety of places. They will begin searching for a place to make a den to hibernate in during the warm summer months. One of a bear’s favorite places to spend the winter is a standing hollow tree. Bears will look for trees that are mature and have a rotting center.

For example, bears in northeastern Minnesota will find perfect trees in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area that were affected by forest fires years ago. 

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Another place that bears will create a den will be under tree roots or under an area of downed trees. Some bears will dig a den in a hillside during the summer and stay there all winter. The problem with these types of dens is that often they will collapse after the bear is done hibernating and then it cannot be reused the following year by that bear or any other bear. 

But what about caves? Do any bears live or hibernate in caves? Bears will sometimes make a den in a cave or in a rock crevice! Caves have been used for many centuries as a place for bears to hibernate. Even though a cave could be used year after year, researchers have found that a bear will only use the same cave once and after that, a new bear might use it – but a new bear will probably not den in it until six years later.  

What is hibernation? 

Bears, and some other animals, will hibernate and that is the way that they deal with the cold of the winter. As animal hibernates, they will curl up in a safe place and rest until the warmer months return. The body temperature of a hibernating animal is almost freezing and hibernating animals breathe very slowly. 

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What other animals hibernate? 

While bears are the most well-known hibernator, there are many other animals that hibernate as well. Groundhogs, hedgehogs, box turtles, wood frogs, snails, skunks, snakes, and bats are all other animals that hibernate.  

So if bears hibernate in dens in the winter, where do they sleep in the summer? 

Abandoned Bear Den
Abandoned Bear Den

Once a bear wakes up from hibernation, it does not sleep much over the next few months! Since they are so hungry after hibernating for so long, they will spend most of their time in the coming months getting food and adding weight to their bodies.

Instead of sleeping for hours, bears will take short naps in the summer and then spend the majority of their time getting food. Even in the fall, as they are getting ready to hibernate, bears will spend about 20 hours of the day eating – that only leaves a little bit of time left for sleeping.

Bears are nocturnal animals and they do more heavy hunting and feeding during the night and then they have more time to rest and relax during the day. 

What was a cave bear? 

A cave bear was a species of bear that is now extinct. Cave bears got their name from their fondness for always inhabiting caves. Since these bears would live in caves, their remains have been found well preserved.

More than 100,000 cave bear remains have been found all over Europe in places such as England, Germany, Greece, Italy, Russia, and Spain. These bears were around during the Stone Age and experts guess that they went extinct about 27,000 to 28,000 years ago.

Even though these cave bears were huge (comparable in size to the polar bear), they were probably largely vegetarians. It was likely that these bears became extinct due to the Ice Age.  

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Do polar bears hibernate in caves? 

Unlike other types of bears, polar bears rarely hibernate in caves. This is because polar bears do not hibernate like bears that live more to the south do.

Polar bears have adapted to the cold, harsh winters of the Arctic (where temperatures sometimes plummet to 40 degrees below zero) and instead do something called a “waking hibernation.” During a waking hibernation, polar bears will remain awake, will hunt, and explore, but they will have a much lower metabolic rate.

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Pregnant polar bears will spend more time resting in a den and getting ready for the birth of their cubs during this time. These female bears will dig dens into snowbanks.