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Coin Of the Month

Uncovering America's Heritage... Coin by Coin

2008 Alaska Quarter

As we look at Alaska's quarter this month, it's hard to miss that big bear in the center.  Let's take a closer look at this animal and at why it's such a good symbol of our 49th state.

Alaska has lots of wide-open territory...a great place for bears to live.  Brown bears, grizzly bears, black bears, and even polar bears all make their homes in Alaska.  Polar bears are pretty easy to recognize because they're white all year long.  But what are the differences between the other kinds?

Well, black bears, with the scientific name Ursus americanus, are the smallest of all these species (adults are about 5 feet long from nose to tail).  They're also the most numerous and widespread of these species, found in every state except Hawaii.  Black bears most often live in forests.  Despite the name, their color can range from jet black to white, including blue.

Brown bears (Ursus arctos) used to be considered a separate species from grizzly bears, but the two types are now seen as variations of the same animal.  Bears that live near the coast and eat salmon are called brown bears, while those whose habitat is northern or inland are often called grizzly bears.  Grizzlies tend to be a bit smaller than their coastal relatives.

Brown bears can be colored from dark brown through light blond.  They weigh the least when they come out of their dens from hibernation in the spring or early summer.  They eat their way to fatness (for adult males, that’s 500 to more than 1,000 pounds) just before they retire for the winter.  A large male, standing upright, can be 9 feet (2.7 m) tall.

Bears can be cute, but never forget that even a friendly bear is a wild animal.  Be sure to steer clear of these beasts, especially when they're near their cubs or food.  Bears like to eat small animals like squirrels, berries, and several kinds of plants and roots.

Bears and Alaska go together.  After all, more than 70 percent of the bears in North America (and 98 percent of the bears in the United States) live in Alaska!


Image shows the back of Alaska's quarter with standard inscriptions.
Reverse:  Alaska’s quarter shows a bear at the foot of a waterfall catching a salmon.

Image of quarter obverses with standard inscriptions.
Obverse:  All the new quarters show the traditional portrait of George Washington, with some minor changes.  The bust is smaller and the legends have been moved.  Place your mouse over the image to see the former design.

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