Black Bears

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Order: Carnivora
Family: Ursidae
Genus: Ursus
Life Span: 10 - 30 years
Population: 850,000 - 900,000
Species Status: Least Concern

Fun Factoid

Did you know? Wild Black Bears are very shy and try to avoid people as much as possible.

Welcome to the world of American Black Bears (Ursus americanus)! Of the eight species of bear in the world, Black Bears have the largest population and they can be found all across the North American continent, from the top of Canada and even all the way down to Mexico. American Black Bears are one of two kinds of Black Bear, the other is the Asiatic Black Bear. American Black Bears usually weigh between 90 and 130lbs, and can stand as tall as 7 ft when fully grown. While their name may be misleading, Black Bears can actually be many different colors such as a light brown, or even cream, and some have white patches on their chests. This can cause them to be easily confused for their Brown Bear cousins, but the easiest way to tell them apart is that Brown Bears have large humps above their shoulders. Even though Black Bears are considered common now, there used to be more than 2 million spread across the North American and Central American continents, but due to urban development and the fragmentation of forests, Black Bears are restricted to the forests that are left.

Geography

Fun Factoid

Did you know? There are 16 different subspecies of Black bear!

American Black Bears are found in the countries of Canada, Mexico, and the United States, and used to occupy almost the entire continent. However, their range has shrunk down due to the deforestation of many areas. Black Bears are still very common in areas with mountains, with their highest number of individuals in the Pacific northwest, where they share a lot of their habitat with Brown Bears, or Grizzly Bears. Black Bears are commonly found near areas with large forests, grasslands, swamps, and other places with lots of space for them to roam. Black Bears are solitary and they each have a home range of about 15 square miles which contributes to why they need so much space. Black Bears will also move around depending on the seasons to search for different food sources, except during the winter, when they go into hibernation.

What are Black Bears?

American Black Bears are 1 of only of 8 bear species spread throughout the world today who are all in the taxonomic Family Ursidae, also known as “true bears”. The other 7 bear species include the Polar Bear, Andean Bear, Sloth Bear, Brown Bear, Asiatic Black Bear, Panda Bear, and the Sun Bear. American Black Bears are the most common bear throughout the world, with a total population that is double ALL other bear populations combined. Bears as we know them today evolved about 38 million years ago from doglike ancestors, and all bears share common traits like nonretractable claws, short tails, small rounded ears, and an excellent sense of smell. Throughout all species, Bears are Apex predators at the top of the food chain and what makes American Black Bears very successful in their environments is that they are able to adapt and eat a large variety of fruits, vegetables, and meats. They are known to have the most efficient hibernation period, which is when they will go into a state where they sleep most of the time in a den, and slow their metabolism significantly to conserve energy in places where winter is very harsh.

Fun Factoid

Did you know? You can tell the difference between a Black Bear and a Brown Bear by looking for a hump on their back.

Behavior

Black Bears, unlike their Brown Bear cousins, are less aggressive than Brown Bears and tend to be timid and more reserved. However, they are also very curious and like to explore. They are also much better climbers than Brown Bears and when they feel threatened Black Bear cubs will head up a nearby tree as a first response. While Black Bears are often seen by themselves, they are still somewhat social, and although they may not live in large groups, young bears may “hang out” together. Bears are foragers and are constantly searching for food, and are mostly active at night. Especially in the spring after hibernation, and fall, before they hibernate. Black Bears hibernate in places where winter is harsh and cold. Hibernating is when bears will slow their metabolism down and rest in their dens to survive extreme weather. During this time, Black Bears barely eat or even move and lower their heartbeat to conserve energy and warmth. The amount of time bears hibernate depends on where they live. In warmer places, Black Bears may hibernate for only a few weeks, where in extreme winters, they can hibernate for many months. Some bears will lose up to 35% of their body fat during this time.

Fun Factoid

Did you know? Bears are very important for the germination and spreading of plant seeds, which they spread and fertilize with their poop!

Diet

Fun Factoid

Did you know? Although people think of bears as mostly eating meat, Black Bear diets consist mostly of plants!

Black Bears are able to consume a large variety of foods found throughout their habitat thanks to their many adaptations. Black Bears are able to eat all kinds of foods like berries, fruit, insects, fish, honeycomb, small rodents, amphibians, left over animal remains (called carrion), and more! Unfortunately, they also commonly eat human garbage, which makes it so important to keep trash in bear-proof containers if you live in a place with lots of Black Bears. They have an amazing sense of smell that is 7 times more powerful than a dog, meaning they can smell a food source from miles away. During the Fall, before they hibernate, Black Bears will go into a mode of excessive eating to try and gain as much body fat as possible. They will forage up to 21 hours a day during this time. Other adaptations that help them find food include their sharp, curved claws, which they use to rip open old logs in search of insects to eat.

Reproduction

Black Bears are not ready to mate and reproduce until they are 3 to 5 years old, and they have their breeding season during the warm Summer months. Once the male and female bears part ways, there is a something called a delayed implantation for female bears. This means that although a female bear is pregnant, her embryo does not begin developing until November or December, making their total gestation period around 7 months. Female bears give birth in January and February during hibernation to up to three cubs who are born blind and deaf. Black Bear cubs are born weighing only about half a pound and will nurse until they are ready to emerge from their dens with their mother in Spring time. When the cubs finally leave the den, they usually weigh around 5 lbs, and they will stay with their mother between 15 to 18 months. During this time, Black Bear cubs learn absolutely everything from their mothers. By the time a cub is 1 year old, they already weigh around 80 lbs.

Fun Factoid

Did you know? Black Bear cubs love to play! They are super curious and love to roughhouse with each other.

Threats

Although Black Bear populations are stable, they face many threats today like deforestation, vehicle strikes, and human conflicts. Black Bears are able to adapt very well to being around humans, however, due to the rapid growth of human developments, Black Bears are beginning to lose a lot of valuable habitat in many places. This can force Black Bears into areas with a high number of people in them, like neighborhoods, where they can go through people’s trashcans in search of food. When this happens, bears will often raid trashcans more frequently, because they know there is food there, and can cause problems for the people living there. Black Bears are also more at risk for being hit by cars as more developments are created, forcing them to cross multiple streets which cross through their territories.

Population

Although Black Bears face many threats, their population is still the highest population of any bear species throughout the world. They still have a large and healthy population, and are able to adapt to many different kinds of habitats. However, it is very important that we continue to leave them wild places to be in their natural habitats. As human developments continue to grow, more and more bears are exploring neighborhoods and cities where they are getting into trash cans and consuming whatever is in them. This can cause bears to get really sick, but also causes them to come back because they know there is food there. As this happens more often, these bears are seen as dangerous to the people who live in these houses, and the bears may be removed, or even euthanized if they are labelled as a “nuisance”.

How to Help

There are many ways you can help protect Black Bears throughout North America! The most important thing is to make sure that if you live in an area with Black Bears, always place your trash in a bear safe container. By doing this, you are helping prevent bears from getting sick, and letting them know that there is no food for them at your house.
Next is to always pay attention while driving, bears often get hit by cars while trying to cross roads. By paying attention and driving the speed limit, you can help reduce the number of bears getting hit by cars!
Never approach a bear! Bears are wild animals, and although Black Bears are curious and timid, they will protect themselves if they think you are a danger to them. Bears are wild animals and need you to respect their space, it is best for bears to not get used to people, so that they do not try and approach people.

Fun Factoid

Did you know? Black Bears make a different den to hibernate in each year!