American Black Bear
Black bears can be black but are also different colors, ranging from brown or dark red to a light tan, depending on where they live. Their fur is short and thick and covers all of their heavily built bodies. Black bears have small eyes and a pointed muzzle, and their ears are larger and more pointed than those of their brown bear relatives. They have short legs, and their claws enable them to get away from danger by digging into a tree trunk so the bear can pull himself up. The Black bear, like all bears, has a very good sense of smell, put to good use to detect food. Its hearing and sight are not so well developed, as its ears and eyes are relatively small.
The habitat of Black bears extends from the barren treeless tundra of northern Alaska through the Canada and the U.S. ranging as far as central Mexico, where they live in hot, dry, shrubby forests.
Habits and lifestyle
Black bears are usually solitary nocturnal hunters but can get along with each other and look for food in groups when food is plentiful. Depending on the weather and how much food is available during winter, most black bears hibernate. Where there is a guaranteed supply of food and warm temperatures during winter, they may hibernate very briefly or not at all. Once females have given birth it is usual for them to stay in their dens during winter, but females without young, and males, sometimes leave their dens now and again during the winter months.
Diet and nutrition
Although classed as a carnivore, Black bears eat mostly plant material, with 75% to 95% of their diet being vegetarian. They forage for nuts and fruits in the trees, plucking them with their prehensile lips, and on the ground they eat grasses, bulbs, and roots, as well as small animals like rodents and insects. Depending on where they live and what prey is available, black bears may eat carrion, hunt young deer, and catch fish in rivers.
Black bears are polygynous, the males mate with a number of females. June to mid-July is the most active part of the mating season. They generally give birth every second year, but sometimes wait up to 4 years. The gestation period lasts about 7 months, the female giving birth to one to five cubs in her den at the end of winter. Cubs are usually weaned when they are 6 to 8 months old, but stay with their mother in her den during their second winter, until they reach about 17 months old. Females gain sexual maturity between 2 to 9 years old and males at 3 to 4 years old but keep on growing until 10 to 12 years.
Black bears were intensively hunted as trophies and for their hides for clothing and rugs, and their meat for food. Farmers in areas which encroach on the bears' habitat hunt them in order to protect their livestock. Some isolated populations of bears are threatened by habitat loss, mainly as a result of deforestation for logging.
According to IUCN Red List, the total number of Black bears in North America is likely within the range 850,000–950,000 of mature individuals. Over 300,000 of these are estimated to live in the United States excluding Alaska where the estimated population is around 100,000-200,000 animals. Canada’s black bear population is about 450,000 animals. Currently American black bears are classified as Least Concern (LC) and their numbers today are increasing.
Black bears play an important part in ecosystems due to their effects on fruits and insects. They help spread the seeds of any plants that they eat and they also eat many moth larvae and colonial insects controlling their population growth.
Fun facts for kids
- A Black bear standing on his back legs may not be about to charge. He may just be following his curiosity and trying to smell and see something better.
- Black bears are very intelligent and have an excellent long-term memory and much better navigation skills as compared to people. Each one is an individual and often they share with each other their security, resources and friendships.
- Black bears have poor eyesight but very good senses of smell and hearing.
- Black bears can survive without food during hibernation for as long as seven months.
- Black bears can swim well and can travel as far as 1½ miles in fresh water.