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American Black Bear – Everything You Want To Know

Last year, when I was backpacking across the United States, I had a chance to visit Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming and Montana. I had so many opportunities to view black bears in between the other wildlife.

The American black bears are known by their species name of Ursus americanus.  Black bears are medium-sized bears who live throughout most of North America. They are smaller than the other two bears in the continent, the brown bear and the polar bear, which is the largest.  Black bears are the most widespread species of bear in North America, as well as the World.

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A black bears’ diet changes depending on the season and their location; however, they are mostly meat-eaters. They can be found in hugely wooded lands, yet they will leave the woodland to hunt for food.

There is a lot to learn about American black bears. Please continue to read further to find out more about them, for when you get a chance to see this beautiful creature.

If you want to know about how bears evolved then I have written an article you can find here.

Etymology 

The bear in Old English is known as beran, and it belongs of Germanic origin. Also, from an Indo-European origin, shared by Bharati Sanskrit “Bhalu,” in Greek, it is called “αρκούδα,” and in Latin, it is “Ursa.” 

The male bear is known as boar, whereas, a female bear is called sow.

Range 

Where do Black Bears Live?

The following states have records of black bears.  Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin, and Wyoming.

Click here to find out which National Parks you can see bears here

What States do not Have Black Bears?  

The black bears do not exist in these states. Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, and South Dakota. In Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Nebraska, and South Dakota, bears were once found but are no longer residents.

Distribution 

As stated earlier, the American black bears’ distribution is spread wide across the regions of North America.  However, they are now completely displaced from a few areas of their native range.

The population of American black bears in the 41 states is as follows:

Which State has Most Black Bears?  

The American black bears are in a much larger supply in Alaska than any other state in the country.  They occur in central Mexico, Northern Alaska, and most parts of Canada as well. 

Moreover, the bears are found on the east, west coast, the Rocky Mountains, and some Alaska areas.  Oregon, Wisconsin, Washington, and Maine have the next highest number of black bears.

Want to find out if bears can climb trees? Find out here.

Seasonal distribution 

Spring: During springtime, black bears live in low altitudes towards the south slopes and within the forests and estuaries, that have a plentiful supply of green plants

Summer: In summer, black bears occur in mid-elevation non-woody environments.  They also live in low altitudes, such as on the river’s edge and beaches, where they consume berries. In a few regions, they even look around for the regions containing waters with plentiful fish supplies.

Autumn: In the fall, black bears live near the large rivers full of fish and the coastal woodland nearby where they will eat roots, berries, and other fruits. 

Winter: During the winter season, most black bears live in woodland.

If you have ever wondered why bears are mammals, I have written this article

Habitat 

Black bears like to live in thick vegetation and forested areas. Experts identify about sixteen distinct subspecies of the black bear that occupy a considerable assortment of habitats. 

Many of the habitats have the same attributes, which let the bears grow and live peacefully. Thick plantation and hard to reach regions help these bears stay safe.  Bears like to live far away from the presence of humans.

American black bears usually live in forested regions only, but only if the habitat suits their needs. They can stay in both dry and humid areas and live in ranges from sea level to mountainous regions of about 2,000 meters or 6,560 feet. Black bears will refrain from living in open habitats due to the threat of predators.

How Many Black Bears are in the United States?  

The total number of black bears residing in the United States is about 300,000.

Polar bears are apex predators.  Find out how they hunt in this article I wrote

How Many Black Bears are in Canada?  

The estimated population of American black bears residing in Canada is 500,000. The bears live in forested regions and have adjusted to develop well in a colder environment.

Subspecies 

What is the Behavior of a Black Bear?  

Black bears like to remain isolated, except while mothers are with cubs or at some stages of mating. Black bears can be seen together in regions where the food density is high, consisting of oak trees, berries, wheat, and grain from farm areas.

Black bears may also protect a source of food or their mate.  They do not tend to shield a particular place from intervention by other black bears, but they value their personal space. A bear’s residing space that gives water, food, and enough shelter are known as their home range.

The expansion of a home range can alter with the seasons or years.  This depends on the availability of food, sex, age, the bear’s generative condition, and even the population of the area.

At most times, bears will walk further distances in search of food. They are also natural swimmers and can travel to unusual regions, such as small islands in Canada.

You can find out more about bears swimming here.

Black bears react to people in the same way as they would with other bears. Knowing how bears communicate help humans to understand the bears.

Black bears are quiet animals; however, they often make sounds to convey a message:

  • Cubs roar and groan while suffering in pain, and perform a whispering gasp while suckling.
  • The female bears communicate with cubs using groans and moans to send a signal to the cubs to climb a tree for security or follow her. 
  • A black bear, if feeling insecure, does not howl or snarl. They will slap the floor, huff and puff air forcibly from their nose, and clasp their teeth together. If these actions don’t frighten their prey, the bear may then walk closer to attack them.
  • A black bear does not make a sound when aggressive. As an alternative, they’ll look directly, extrude the lower lip and make their ears lay flat back on their head.

Using their noses to smell, they will suddenly rise on their back legs for a clear view and to help them smell their environment better.  This is an ordinary behavior and isn’t always a signal of aggression.

Black bears also stroke, chew, and leave paw marks on the trees.  The marks relate to the male black bear superiority their dominance in the territory.

Marks also convey the bear’s reproduction state to ensure both male and female bears know what other bears are in range. Marking the boundaries of the home range amongst female bears may additionally show regional behavior. Marks may also help direct bears in unfamiliar regions, as markings have increased when a new bear visits the area.

Bears can often be seen playing with each other, but do you know why?  Find out in this article I wrote

Can Black Bears Climb Trees?  

Black bears have less mass in their bodies in comparison to brown bears. They also have shorter paws and so black bears are good at climbing trees. They can climb 100 feet up a tree in just 30 seconds. If you come face to face with a black bear, do not climb a tree.

Want to find out more about bears climbing trees? Find out here. 

How Fast Can a Black Bear Run?

Black bears can run downhill, uphill, or on flat surfaces with the same speed.

Black bears can run fast, running up to a speed of about 60 km per hour.  Black bears can outrun a racehorse on small distances; however, have less endurance. To provide a better idea, black bears can run 50 feet per second.

Are Black Bears Nocturnal?  

American black bears stay active at all times of the day and night but mainly search for food at night. Bears residing close to humans are a lot more nocturnal.  American black bears living closer to their larger cousins, the brown bears, are prone to be mostly diurnal.

Where do Black Bears Sleep? 

Black bears tend to make their dens in caverns, huge upright hollow trees, stony protrudes, under a pile of leaves and branches, or the decomposing trunks of wood. Their preferred place to stay during the day is large trees with immense open branches.

How Long Does a Black Bear Live?  

A black bear’s lifespan is about 18 to 20 years in the forest, but a captive bear lived 39 years. His diet consisted of natural and organic food, while bears who eat non-natural human food tend to die earlier in captivity.

Polar bears are apex predators.  Find out how they hunt in this article I wrote

What Color Is A Black Bears Fur?

American black bears have soft fur, thick underfur, large, bristly, hairy, and dense guard fur. Despite their name, they display various colors as they appear in white, blue-tinted, blonde, cream, cinnamon, light brown, chocolate, or pitch dark, along with distinct contrasts existing. American black bears are normally black with a brown snout and white marks on the upper body.

Some black bears have a white and deep blue lining, and these are named the glacier bear and kermode, respectively. Kermode bears live across the north-central coast of Vancouver Island and north-western Canada. 

American black bears have multiple layers of dense shaggy fur that help them stay warm in the cold months of winter. Their fur is deeper, rougher, and a bit more bristly and coarse compared to a dog’s coat. Black bears often have a white blotch under their throats or on the chest.

What Do Black Bears Use Their Claws For?

American black bears possess rugged, greatly bent claws. They use their claws to dig, climb, and hunt.

Black bears usually walk on four legs but can stay in an upright position on their two back legs to search for food, climb, or inspect their surroundings.

Bears can often be seen playing with each other, but do you know why?  Find out in this article I wrote

How Many Toes Does A Black Bear Have?

American black bears’ paws are round, flat, huge, and look like humans besides the biggest toe on their feet. They have five toes on both the back and front legs. The pad on the bottom of the paw contains fur, which helps them in cold temperatures.

The front feet are more rectangular compared to their back feet. The heel pads are so strong that the heel pads’ track marks become visible when they put their feet on muddy surfaces. The measurement of the front foot is 4 to 8 inches long and 3.25 to 6 inches broad. The back feet measure around 5-9 inches long and 3.5 to 6 inches broad. 

Black bears usually stroll but may additionally run, stride or sprint. They roam around in a fast stroll.  The stroll is normally in the range of 19-28 inches in length and 8-14 inches wide. While in a sprint, the length of pace is typically 25-30 inches. The length of all 4 feet altogether is generally 38-50 inches long.

All four feet have five bent claws that the black bears cannot conceal. Their claws are sturdy enough to dig, tear out the roots of plants and trees, and dig up stumps and chunks of wood.

Black bears aren’t just black, and polar bears don’t have white fur.  Find out more in this article I wrote

Tongue 

American black bears possess pliable lips with a long and willowy tongue, which helps them to eat small food such as berries or ants.

Are Male Bears Bigger Than Females?  

The adult black bear males have the length and weight of  130-190 cms (50 to 75 in) and 60 to 300 kg (130 to 660 lbs). Female black bears are smaller, ranging from 130 to 190 cms (50 to 75) inches and weighing around 40 to 80 kg (90 to 175 lbs).

How Tall is a Black Bear?  

The adult black bears have a height of approximately 3-4 feet when they stand on four feet, but they may look up to 7 feet tall when they stand upright.

How Big was the Largest Black Bear?

The largest American black bear was a male residing in New Brunswick, shot dead in November 1972. This massive bear weighed around 409 kilograms and measured 7.9 feet long.

How Big is a Black Bear Cub?  

A black bear cub weighs around 1/300th to 1/500th of its mother’s weight when born. However, newborn cubs weigh a little above 10.5 ounces (300 gms) and are about 9 inches (23cm) long.

What is the Average Size of a Black Bear?  

The black bear ranges from 1.2 to 1.9 meters, with males typically larger than female bears, approximating 1.57 or 1.43 meters, respectively.

How Strong is a Black Bear?  

Black bears are unbelievably strong.  When researchers used to trap the bears in snares and traps, the bears could easily tear apart the traps. They could also work themselves out of the traps on their own.

They have strong jaws that are sufficient to crush the bones of a deer. Their limbs can turn over a 100 pound stone when searching for food. Their bodies have great endurance, and they can walk up to 15 miles every day.

How Heavy is a Black Bear?  

Female black bears range between 100 to 250 pounds, whereas male bears weigh around 130 to 500 pounds. 

What do Black Bears Eat? 

American black bears eat a mixed diet but commonly eat plants and fruits. Regardless of their appearance, long molars, and claws, around eighty-five percent of a black bear’s diet is from vegetation. They also love to consume honey and may tear apart an entire tree to reach a beehive. 

Black bears have thick coats that defend them from getting hurt by bees.  This means they can consume the honeycomb without any rush. Some resourceful bears travel into areas with humans to get food from trash cans or dumpsters.

When they make themselves ready for hibernation during the autumn season, they devour masses of small insects like ants or bees for protein. They can also capture small deer, cows, and elks.  These are generally the carcasses from other predators such as wolves and mountain lions. 

The protein they get from hunting and consuming meats helps them store fats for their lengthy and yearly hibernation.  Black bears sleep during the winter and gain a huge amount of mass, especially in autumn.

Throughout the winter season, the bears that are in hibernation don’t consume any food.  Once they wake, they are usually starving and can become vulnerable once spring arrives.

If you want to know more about bear hibernation I have written an article.

After waking up, a black bear’s preferred food is the shoots of trees and nuts taken from the squirrels’ caches.  These are plentiful and incorporate lots of essential and vital vitamins. These food items help them replace their energy, and one month later, they continue with their regular diet.

Black bears can lose about 30% of the body mass in the course of sleep. Female bears breastfeed the newly born cubs throughout this time and drop an extra 40% of their body mass throughout the slumber.

Find out more about black bears diet in this article I wrote

How Much Water do Black Bears Drink?  

Black bears drink about 4 gallons of water every day.

Characteristics 

Various characteristics create a distinction between the black bear and other species.  To help identify a black bear, the following can help.

The black bear is a developed social animal containing high intelligence in comparison to other animals.

Black bears may not be as dangerous as other bears, but they are sensitive and receptive animals.  The female parent is devoted, defensive, affectionate, gentle, and alert regarding their cubs. 

Cubs participate in social activities and show conventional methods to meet someone they don’t know and determine their behavior towards them. Bears can differentiate between the frightening and friendly demeanor of humans. 

Black bears convey their messages with the use of their body posture, noises, and smells. They deal with human beings just as they might with other bears, but as humans are not built the same as bears, this can cause injury or death.

A black bear’s world is defined by scent. They rely on their sharp sense of smell for knowledge about their surroundings. Their sense of smell is sensitive and is about 2,100 times as strong as ours.

Black bears are sturdy and robust animals and have adapted to living around humans.  Black bears have been known to open car doors and windows looking for food.

Do bears have tails? Find out here in another article I have written

The Need To Protect Black Bears 

The sustentation of black bears in nature is essential for human beings.  Black bears are necessary for ecosystems due to their impact on the population of insects and fruits. 

Black bears will defecate the seeds of plants they consume to fertilize the forest floor. The new plants can provide natural security against floods, erosion, and thunderstorms.

Black bears are listed as least concern by the IUCN.  Populations of black bears in Florida and Louisiana are now growing. The territories in Western Texas have been recolonizing bears after almost total annihilation, which has led to an increase in their numbers.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LdCbLp0zIjs

Regions having a large human population may become a cause of conflict to the bear.  As the bears get drawn towards the food of humans, bears will inevitably get closer to humans.

Other reasons to save the American black bears are:

  • They are a tremendous indicating species.
  • They have significant and productive value as various tourists, enthusiasts, and photographers spend a tremendous amount of money to view bears. 
  • They have become a part of legendary myths and anecdotes.
  • They have become essential for human beings in many ways, such as in First Nations services, legends, and in the manufacture and sale of teddy bears.

Physique 

American black bears have broad skulls, with slim noses and massive jawbones. Female bears tend to have leaner and V-shaped faces compared to males. Their claws are generally black or pale-brown, and they have small, round ears that lie at the back over their heads. 

A black bear’s ears look far too small for its head and body.  This is one of its most distinguishing features when trying to identify them.

What Physical Adaptations Do Black Bears Have?

The American black bear can consume both plants and animals. Their favorite foods are fruits, dry nuts, greens, small branches, and honey. They may also consume larvae, insects, fish, and other small animals. 

Bears who find less food in their home range will migrate to other regions, also looking in dumpsters in urban areas. Their teeth are perfect for breaking up food with massive canine molars for tearing through fish.

How do you tell the difference between a male and a female bear? Find out here in an article I have written

How Good Is The Sense Of Smell In A Black Bear?

American black bears tend to have the ability to smell up to a distance of 20 miles and possess one of the best noses in the animal kingdom.  They can smell about seven times better than most other animals and 21,000 times compared to human beings.

The black bear has a keen sense of smell developed to assist them in locating food.  Their sense of smell also helps them find a mate, track the cubs, and keep away from threats, especially male bears. The nose of a bear is so astute that they become aware of animals’ carcasses even against the wind. 

They have an extraordinary sense of smell due to the part in their brain that controls the sense of smell.  This is called the olfactory bulb. The brain of a black bear, although only 1/3rd the size of the human brain, has an olfactory bulb five times the size of humans.

They additionally have enormously advanced nose muscles that comprise of various tiny tissues. A bear’s nose’s internal area is 9 inches, which is 100 times larger than the human’s receptor.

How Strong Is A Black Bear?

Black bears can move huge items like rocks, trunks, or branches that obstruct them while finding food. The huge paws, toes, and strong, bent claws allow them to climb trees to find food.

Behavioral Adaptations

As the black bear’s physical adaptations make them good at searching for food, their adjustments in behavior lead them to be more effective hunters. They can share their home range with other wild animals and can be social.  Black bears will, however, look for food all the time and will not let any of the animals in their home range get in their way.

Do bears have tails? Find out here in another article I have written

Reproduction

Black bears remain solitary most of the time of the year.  However, they will come together to mate during the summer season. Cubs will stay with their mothers for at least a year.

The reproductive attributes of the black bear are as follows:

Black bears mate in May or June but can delay implantation once mating occurs.  This lets the female bear analyze her state before impregnation. The delayed implementation allows the bear not to lose essential fats and energy to support a gestation with little chance of success due to the bear’s physical state.

If the female does not gain enough weight, then the blastocyst, a tiny ball of cells, will not implant, and she will not become pregnant. The gestation period of a black bear is 220 days.

Female bears deliver a cub every two years if sources of food are abundant. When food sources are limited, a female bear can skip two years before reproducing again. 

Cubs are born in their mothers’ den and stay in the same shelter until the next winter. In the upcoming spring, when other cubs reach two years old, the female bears separate the cubs before reproducing again. 

The American black bear can give birth to 1-5 cubs; however, most young bears have only two cubs.

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