In 1921 the brown bear population in the Central Apennines was described for the first time as a different subspecies from Ursus Arctos and named Ursus Arctos Marsicanus by Giuseppe Altobello, a naturalist from Molise. Our Apennines bear differs from the other European brown bear populations in various morphological and morphometric features of its skull, particularly evident in the adult.
While in young bears and in females the skull is similar to the other Euro-Asian populations, in male adult bears the head is short, large, high, with a pronounced crest and a short muzzle. In 2003 the existence of this subspecies was formalized and published [Vigna Taglianti A., 2003] on the volume number 38 of the Fauna of Italy and later confirmed by additional researches and publications.
Although smaller than Alps and Balkans brown bears, marsican brown bears males can weigh between 130-200 kg with an upright height of 180-190 cm, while females are smaller and seldom weigh over 120 kg. Generally the male/female ratio in this species is 1:1. The bear may live up to 40 years and it is the largest Italian carnivore, even though its diet is about 80% based on vegetables. Bears mainly feed on beech cupules, acorns, rhamnus berries, berries, roots, soft fruit, insects, honey and obviously meat, including carcasses that they usually find at the end of the winter, under the melting snow. That’s the time when they come out of their dens after hibernation.
The bear habitat is very heterogeneous according to the season, ranging from mountainous forests to high ground grasslands, where they move in hot summer months to look for a cool place or feed on Rhamnus berries that ripen at the end of summer. The noise that bears make is called growling.
Mating occurs in spring throughout early summer and after the earliest stages of development, the fertilized ovum stops in a stage of quiescence or embryonic diapause. In autumn, all the bears needs to feed a lot (hyperphagia) to store up fat for the winter hibernation period and the females even more in order to have sufficient resources to complete pregnancy successfully. The bears need to store up fat before falling in a state of a partial hibernation from which they might awake from time to time and search for food in occasionally warm days. For its winter sleep the bear sets its den in extremely inaccessible and quiet places, often caves in the rock wherein the animal collects grass and tree branches to make up its bedding.
In the lair, between December and January, the female gives birth to 1-3 cubs which weigh 200-500 grams soon after birth. The high nutritional value of the breast milk makes them grow up very quickly in the first few months of life
Since females stay with their cubs approximately for 2 years, spending with them at least the next winter-spring time, they may give birth every 3-4 years only and they’re not fertile before the age of 4. All these factors coupled with an high mortality rate among cubs in their first year of life, make the number of fertile females in a small population a key element for the survival of a viable bear population.
[*] VIGNA TAGLIANTI, A. 2003. Ursus arctos, Linnaeus 1758. Note di sistematica. Pagine 87–92 in Fauna d’Italia, Volume XXXVII. Mammalia. III. Carnivora—Artiodactyla. Calderini, Bologna, Italia