What’s The Worst That Can Happen

Yellowstone National Park

“Come On let’s do it.”

“Leave me alone Earl.”

“Come on boo, it’ll be cool.”

“No, You always do this. And I catch it big time because I listened to you. No, not after last time.”

“Come on… She’ll have forgotten all about that, it was days ago.”

“Yeah right she doesn’t forget anything.”

“What about that time she left us up in the tree all night. She forgot which one she sent us up.”

“She didn’t forget you doofus. Old Split Tooth was coming around. If you remember, you still got the marks on your butt where he tried to catch you. You were squealing pretty good if I remember right. He fell asleep right at the foot of the tree all night. Mama had a cow until he left.”

“Well that was a little serious. She won’t remember this because it’s small stuff. Mama don’t sweat the small stuff.”

“Just like she didn’t sweat the small stuff when you thought it would be funny to see how many nipples you could get in your mouth at one time. She carried you around by the scruff of your neck for two whole days. The skin on your neck is just now looking normal.”

“That was then this is now. I was younger and slower then. Let’s do it it’ll be fun. You bite her on that spot by her tail that she licks all the time and I’ll jump on her face and hold my paws over her eyes. She won’t even know it was us I bet. Then we’ll hide behind this log. Get ready and bite her. Come on, what’s the worst that can happen.”

The Fall Terminator Line


Every Fall the terminator line, that line that separates day from night, the one that can be seen moving across the face of the Earth from outer space, ushers in the changing of the season from Summer to Fall. The terminator line is usually thought of as being connected to the day/night cycle but our observers at the Observatory here at The Institute have determined that it is also connected to the changing of the seasons. Just as everyday the terminator races across the earth bringing night to some, and on the other side of the line, day to others, the terminator line also separates Summer from Fall.

As most people are busy watching football, playing video games, or doing inside stuff, they don’t notice this phenomenon. But the animals do. Take this mother Grizzly and her cubs for instance. They are right smack dab on the terminator line as it rushes toward them. You can see the difference between Fall and Summer in the meadow they’re in. On the top side of the line the grass has already turned golden on its way to being brown for the winter. On the lower side of line you can still see the grass is green and chewable. Mother is keeping the family on the summer side of the line as long as she can because they need to eat right up to the point where they enter the den.

The cubs always playful and boisterous are now quiet and still, hiding their heads in the grass, just below and to the left of Mom. We can’t hear the sound of the advancing terminator, but the bears can and it is terrifying to the young ones. We set up microphones that are able to pick up the UV layers of sound that are out of our hearing range and it was totally freaking scary. Two of our technicians fainted and had to be dragged back to the research vehicle where the Heimlicher procedure was performed along with liberal use of the company defibrillator.

Apparently the sound is similar to that of running along beneath the underbelly of a 747 as it reaches takeoff velocity. There is also a crackling sound as the Fall side of the terminator incinerates the foliage and causes all the grass to wilt and die screaming and all the colors rush out to the extremities of the trees and bushes. Where they then leap off on the leaves and catapult themselves into oblivion just to get away from the noise. That’s enough to scare any bear cub. Mother is used to it after being through it many times but nothing reassures the cubs like living through it once. It won’t be long and the terminator will pass over them at nearly warp speed leaving the little family dazed and confused, wondering if they had been snake bit or struck by lightning, as they wander dizzily around the meadow. But that soon passes.

It is rare to catch an animal family actually working the terminator line, but we did and that’s why *The Institute has the reputation for the unusual, strange, and freaky that we do. Some have wondered if we’re not the Supermarket tabloid of the science world. Although we appreciate the compliment we are simply The Institute, the worlds best Institute for science and other cool stuff there is.

If any of you out there can hear above 80,000 kHz then there is a good chance you might be able to hear the terminator coming. If so and you haven’t heard it before, try and maintain your composure so you don’t start a panic. Also stay way back from any bear family you might encounter. Mother grizzly may have been through this before but she is still a grizzly and a single mom. No matter how many times she’s been through it, it still makes her itchy and she is likely to snap at you if you get too close. This is a dicey time to have any sort of interaction with her. Just stay back. Let’s just be glad this terminator business only happens a few times a year.

* Note: For those of you unfamiliar with The Institute and what it does, please see the page labeled The Institute on the Menu Bar above. That should explain everything. You shouldn’t have one single question remaining regarding The Institute after reading it. None. For those of you favored few who already know about the Institute, Nevermind. Return to your daily activities. Thank you for your support.

Through The Keyhole

ThruKeyhole8305click to enlarge

On this inspection tour of Yellowstone National Park one of the items on our checklist was to see how bears were doing. Were they prevalent. Were they happy. Did they have nice glossy coats, did they appear well fed. What was their disposition. Did they still have a predilection to eat foreign or domestic tourists who go too close, or flashed them with their flash cameras while they were busy doing bear stuff. Did they have the normal amount of offspring with them. This pertained mostly to the female bears as the male bears had the rather disturbing tendency to eat the cubs. We had many questions to answer and precious little time to ask them, as most bears are reluctant to be interviewed even if it’s for a good cause. So we tried to make the best use of our limited time with them.

We chose to limit our observations to free range bears and not include any of those in the various cages scattered around the boundaries of the park. Cages tend to change the personalities and physical characteristics of the bears, making them fat and goofy, performing stunts and behaviors that they normally would never do in the wild. You will never see a bear, either black or grizzly, we are not certain about Polar bears but since there aren’t any in the park it doesn’t matter, smoking a king-size mentholated cigarette in the wild. Come to think of it we have never seen a bear, either black or grizzly smoking one in a cage either, but the caged ones tend to do equally goofy things so the analogy, though weak and possibly irrelevant, still holds. The Institute has taken a strong position on this situation and that is we do not condone putting bears, or most any other living things in cages. If asked to do so, we just say no.

Access to bears is kind of tricky. Sometimes they will walk right up to you and rifle through your pockets looking for stray food items you might have left in one of your front pockets and other times they can be reclusive and non-communicative, ready to lash out and tear the legs off your tripod. This is when its best not to get too close, instead just call out your questions in a firm but distance voice.

As a recorder of bear behavior one must always have your camera ready even if it means photographing the bear through the keyhole, as it were. Just the because the bear is standoffish and reluctant to have its picture taken we all know that it is for its own good and if the image is Photoshopped properly the bear will come to accept it and perhaps even cherish it later on.

That’s what’s happening here. This was an uncooperative black bear that simply refused all offers of doing an interview as if it simply didn’t care that we had a job to do. Instead it chose to go off and stand behind some foliage. Foliage is the bane of all wildlife photographers. Bears know this and will often use foliage to screw up a picture-taking opportunity. They have the most uncanny ability to position themselves where errant pieces of foliage will obscure the more photogenic parts of their bodies, like their eyes or noses, or when they open their mouths to snarl a piece of branch or leaf will be right where it can goof up the picture the best. The bears take great delight in doing this and will lure the photographer into shooting it and then move itself into the worst position possible. Many times in the heat of the moment the photographer will not realize the wily bear has done this and doesn’t see how cleverly disruptive the bear was until they get back home and see their images on the computer and find that in every single one of the best pictures taken there is a piece of foliage where it shouldn’t be.

If you look really closely at the bear in the image above you will notice telltale laugh lines around its muzzle. These are caused by the bear knowing the frustration it has caused and it likes it. We were incredibly fortunate in this image to catch the bear just before it found a piece of foliage to get behind. But then we’re experts and have to win once in a while.

All in all the bears seem to be doing well and we were able to check off that item on our checklist. They were plentiful and we were fortunate enough to see and photograph two to three different bears a day.

In fact it was almost as if they wanted their pictures taken. Bears are mysterious creatures, you never know what’s going through their minds unless they’re attacking you, then it’s pretty clear. We had other items on our list and couldn’t spend all our time with bears so we left this bear and continued on our mission to completely inspect the park.

Note : To those of you tuning in late the following posts will catch you up on preceding events. There is no extra charge for this service it is included in the cost of admission. We know you don’t want to miss a minute of our fascinating but undocumented report.








Bear Tales



As we head into Spring it’s time for the bears to wake up and start the new season. Last fall they were stuffing themselves with anything edible in order to make it through the winter. This Black bear lady has two of last years cubs with her, although they aren’t in this shot, and next season she will cut them loose to go out and be bears on their own. They will den up with her this winter for the last time.

Before all that takes place she has a job to do. She has to bulk up and gain the weight needed to last through the winter. She has been eating everything in sight. Roadkill, carcasses that the wolves pulled down that she has appropriated, grass, bugs, Miller moths, and a delicacy she really likes, seeds from the pine cones from the white pine tree.

Here she has captured one of those pine cones and is holding it delicately in her front paws while she carefully pulls the individual scales off the cone to get at the seeds. It seems like a lot of work for such a small prize but she stays at it until she has eaten her fill. This is her chocolate and she’s a glutton. In the fall there seems to be enough pine cones on the ground and she can eat her fill without having to do too much work. If she finds a windfall where the pines cones have built up, like a place where they’ve rolled down into a gully and bunched up, she may stay there until she and her cubs have pretty much cleaned them out. Often sleeping on or near the pile so they’re at hand, or paw as it were, when she wakes up in the morning.

In the spring when there is still snow on the ground and the cones are more difficult to find she and her cubs will climb up into the white pines, heading to the top of the tree until it nearly bends over from their weight, and harvest the pin cones right off the tree.

She ‘s lucky today, the weather is perfect, she’s just located a huge stash of pine cones and she’s eaten so many so far that she is half-standing, half-laying on them as she still crams them into her mouth. The sound of her crunching the pine cones to make the scales fall off can be heard from some distance.

The cubs are behaving now and as they are sort of like teenagers at this point, they can not eat enough, but they give it their best shot as they too have figured out they better put on the pounds so they can make it through the winter. They can sleep as much as 10 and a half months without eating, drinking, urinating, defecating, while getting all the nutrients they need from the stored up fat of their own bodies as they sleep throughout the winter. This is why the bears pack it on and look like hairy sumo wrestlers when it’s time to den up.

This image was shot in late September in Yellowstone and this bear and her cubs have a couple of weeks yet before it’s time to head into the den. It looks like she has a good start on getting fattened up for the winter. It’s hard to image that she’ll put on even more weight in the next couple of weeks, but she will. So we’ll leave her to it. If we could catch her when she emerges from her den next spring you wouldn’t believe it was the same robust bear we’re looking at now as she will be just a pale shadow of herself. Sleep well.




Sittin’ Here In La La Waitin’ for My …

SittinHereInlala8477click to enlarge

It isn’t often that we’re allowed a rare glimpse into the private lives of the inhabitants of Yellowstone. But that’s the case this morning as we see Rosie, a single mom, taking a few moments to herself. The kids are up a tree, they’ve been fed, and this opportunity to stop and take stock of her life comes all too infrequently. She thinks about the dreams she had as a young bear when anything was possible and she thinks about how full her life has been with two cubs every two years as regular as clockwork. She was a victim of her own biology but it was a choice she willing made at the time. But sometimes she wonders if there wasn’t more to life than she received.

At times like this she sometimes feels that there is something missing. Always in the back of her mind is the thought of Big Red, the bear that has had sired so many of her cubs. She wishes he were around more instead of the visits he pays her every other year, but she also knows that isn’t realistic. They fight, she has to constantly be on guard when he’s around the kids as he is a stern father given to moments of unexpected rage. And of course there is that wandering eye of his, but she misses him, sometimes. Like now.

The kids are wrestling up in the tree and the smaller one is squalling, scared he’s going to fall. She woofs once quietly and they cease their constant bickering. They’ll be down soon, hungry, and she’ll be nursing them until its time to feed herself and then it starts all over again. These moments come too infrequently and she cherishes her time alone. These are first year cubs so she won’t see Red for another year and a half. But there’s plenty to do, twins are a pawfull.