Fact Check

Photo Accurately Shows Size of Bear Paw?

The paw seemingly dwarfed the size of the head of the man holding it.

Published Feb. 27, 2024

 (Screengrab/Instagram)
Image Via Screengrab/Instagram
Claim:
A photograph shared to social media genuinely shows a size comparison between a bear’s paw and the man holding it.
Context

Though there is no reason to doubt the authenticity of the photo, Snopes spoke with a wildlife expert who confirmed the size is likely the result of forced perspective, a photography trick that makes objects closer to the camera appear larger.

Since at least 2021, images showing a man holding a bear paw that seemingly measured twice the size of his head have circulated on social media. One such example was shared on Instagram on Feb. 6, 2024, with a caption that read "The size of a Grizzly Bear's Paw":

A reverse-image search of the photograph using Google Lens (archived) returned a version of the photograph that was posted to Facebook on Oct. 19, 2021, (archived) that was said to show a man by the name of Rick Paillet. 

The same image was posted on Paillet's Facebook page dated Oct. 16, 2021, (archived) with a caption that said he had "killed the giant bear" during a hunting trip in Alaska. 

Though we have no reason to doubt the photograph's authenticity, there may be an element of forced perspective at play. Snopes contacted Paillet for further details about the bear, including its age, sex and measurements, and will update this article accordingly. Because of the apparent optical illusion, we've rated this claim as "Miscaptioned."

As Snopes previously reported, forced perspective is a photography technique that can "make things appear bigger or smaller than they actually are, depending on their distance from the camera and other objects." Take, for example, this odd photograph of U.S. President Joe Biden and former President Jimmy Carter. (Or any fish photo on a person's dating profile, for that matter.)

Snopes spoke with Riley Woodford of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, who is also the photo editor for the agency's image library. Woodford told Snopes that though he believes the photograph is genuine, the size of the paw is likely due to a camera trick: 

[Paillet] is kneeling back behind the bear, the hunting guide/photographer is using a low camera angle, and in the "paw picture" the hunter is holding the paw out at arms-length, thrusting it at the camera. You can see his arm is extended and his elbow is barely bent. It's a big animal to be sure, but they are exaggerating the size. 

It is not known in what region the bear was killed and, without that information, Snopes was not able to verify its species. 

Grizzly and brown bears are largely considered to be the same species (scientific name Ursus arctos). However, grizzly bears are classified as a separate subspecies (U. a. horribilis), as the National Park Service notes, because of a few morphological differences. 

"Evolution happens gradually and when looking at a range of subspecies, it's a spectrum, not a well-drawn line," Woodford said. "The Kodiak bear has been isolated from other brown bear populations for at least 40,000 years, and has developed some distinctive divergent characteristics, mainly the size."

Kodiak bears (U. a. middendorffi), found only on Alaska's Kodiak Archipelago, are the largest bears in the world. With a weight of up to 1,500 pounds, a large male can stand more than 10 feet tall on his hind legs, and 5 feet when on all fours. Females, by comparison, are about four-fifths the size and roughly two-thirds the weight of males. 

Other brown bears typically weigh between 500 and 900 pounds, though according to the National Park Service a weight of 1,400 pounds is "not unheard of in the fall." On their hind legs, brown bears can stand almost 9 feet tall, and between 3 and 5 feet when on all fours. 

And with big bears come big paws. iNaturalist, a nonprofit social network of naturalists, citizen scientists and biologists, reports that all four feet in average-size brown bears tend to be between 7 and 8 inches wide. Large male coastal or Kodiak males may see hind feet that measure up to 16 inches in length and 11 inches in width. 

For further reading, check our other Snopes fact-checks related to bears. 

Sources

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Brown Bear Frequently Asked Questions - Katmai National Park & Preserve (U.S. National Park Service). https://www.nps.gov/katm/learn/photosmultimedia/brown-bear-frequently-asked-questions.htm. Accessed 22 Feb. 2024.

Brown Bear - Ursus Arctos - Kenai Fjords National Park (U.S. National Park Service). https://www.nps.gov/kefj/learn/nature/brown-bear.htm. Accessed 22 Feb. 2024.

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Madison Dapcevich is a freelance contributor for Snopes.