Winnie the Pooh and Michael Pelton, Too

February 27, 2006

Bears have been a part of popular culture since 1902 when toy designer Morris Michtom named the teddy bear in honor of Theodore Roosevelt. Most people are familiar with the Berenstain Bears, Yogi Bear, Smokey the Bear, Paddington Bear, the Chicago Bears, and arguably the most famous bear of all — Winnie the Pooh.

What have we learned from these make-believe bears? They are always stealing picnic lunches. They live in trees. They wear rain hats. They know how to prevent forest fires. They play football. And most memorably, they eat honey.

Do real bears behave that way? Dr. Michael Pelton, considered one of the most respected bear biologists in the world, will share the bear truth as the distinguished speaker at Mary Baldwin’s 14th annual Mary E. Humphreys Biology Lecture March 9.

To learn more about Dr. Pelton, visit p://

Until then, enjoy a few facts and some fiction about real and celebrity bears:

Yogi BearYogi Bear: He’s known for stealing people’s food in Jellystone National Park. But would a bear really steal a picnic lunch?

According to Bearman’s Yellowstone Outdoor Adventures it could happen and it’s not a good idea. Federal regulations require campers to suspend food from trees or use bear-proof food boxes.

“Allowing a bear to obtain human food even once often results in the bear becoming aggressive about obtaining such food in the future. Aggressive bears present a threat to human safety and eventually must be destroyed,” according to Bearman’s Website.

Berenstain BearsBerenstain Bears: This tree-living family of bears has taught children all over the world about strangers, getting to school on time, holidays, and even about becoming an older brother. But, do bears really live in trees?

According to the Smithsonian National Zoological Park both the Sloth Bear and Panda Bear are good tree climbers. If their mothers are not in the vicinity, cubs in the wild often climb trees to get away from possible predators. A quick Web search, revealed that many bears can climb trees. But live inside them? Not so much.

Paddington Bear: He’s that little bear found in a train station who wears a rain hat. How do real bears react to rain?

After a long search, it became fairly obvious that bears don’t react to rain. It’s just part of life for them. According to The American Bear Association a bear’s fur repels water. Bears have a built-in raincoat.

“A bear’s fur consists of two types of hair – the underfur and the outer guard hairs. The underfur is soft and dense and serves primarily as an insulator. The outer guard hairs ? repel water – when a bear emerges from a lake or creek, it will shake just like a dog, dispelling the water from its coat and leaving it practically dry,” according to The American Bear Association.

Smokey BearSmokey the Bear: Since 1944, Smokey has been helping educate the children of America about how to prevent forest fires. How would a real brown bear, who doesn’t wear jeans and a snappy hat, react if he came upon fire?

According to an article, “Fifty Years Later ? The Bear Facts Revealed,” on the American Veterinary Medical Association’s Website a young cub was found in the aftermath of a forest fire clinging to life in a tree and was treated by Dr. Edwin J. Smith. So, what does a bear do in a fire? What any of us would do: try to find a safe place.

The American Veterinary Medical Association’s Website tells us that “he was literally up a tree. In 1950, a small black bear cub, surrounded by smoke and flames, scurried up a tree in the midst of a catastrophic forest fire in the Capitan Mountains of New Mexico. He tenaciously held on while his forest home turned into charred embers around him.” Although this bear wasn’t the original inspiration for Smokey, he did encourage Smith and others to educate about forest fire prevention.

Chicago BearsThe Chicago Bears: Since 1920 the Chicago Bears have been playing football in the Midwest, and are one of the most well-known teams in the National Football League. We know that average bears don’t play football, but are they playful?
This question was asked, and answered, on the Idaho Black Bear Rehabilitation Center Website:

“We always think of bears as big predators and most of us don’t get to see the ‘kid’ in the bear. Even adult bears can be playful. The cubs are constantly playing. Watching them can wear a person out. When the cubs are young and mom is a favorite toy to bite and chew on, five minutes of play can easily match a good half hour aerobic workout. They wrestle with each other endlessly, chase each other around, and invent games around logs or stumps.”

Winne The PoohWinnie The Pooh: This cuddly little bear has entertained the world with his honey-eating antics, but do real bears eat honey? The American Bear Association was able to help with this bear trivia:

“Bears eat honey, but what they like best about finding a beehive is the bees and the larvae inside. They eat the bees and larvae and the honey is an extra treat.”

While some bear fiction is close to bear fact — you must remember to “think, think, think,” as Pooh would do, and take advantage of a great way to learn more about black bears at 7p.m. March 9 in Francis Auditorium at Mary Baldwin University. The lecture is free and open to the public.