Black Bears – Everything You Need 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.

I started researching about American black bears, and here is what I learned about these fantastic beasts.

The American black bears are known by its species name of Ursus Americanus.  Black bears are moderate-size bears who live in most of North America. They are also known as the smaller than the other two bears in the continent, the brown bear and the polar bear.  Black bears are the most widespread species of bear in North America, as well as the World.

Least concern conservation status

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

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

Etymology 

The bear in Old English is known as beran, and it belongs to the 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.” 

What is a Male and Female Black Bear Called?

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

Range 

Where do Black Bears Live?

If you wish to view black bears, there are many states of the United States where black bears have made their home. 

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.

What States do not Have Black Bears?  

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

If you would like to know where you can see black bears in North America, I have written a guide here.

Distribution 

As stated earlier, 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 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 in the east, west coast,  the Rocky Mountains, and some areas of Alaska.  Oregon, Wisconsin, Washington and Maine have the next highest number of black bears.

Seasonal distribution 

  • Spring: During springtime, black bears live in low altitude facing towards the south slopes, and within the forests and estuaries which house green plants and elks.
  • 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 also beaches for consuming berries. In a few regions, they even look around for the regions containing waters with plentiful supplies of fish.
  • 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.

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.  One of the reasons is that they 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, whereas, in the other parts of North America, the amount varies up to 500,000 black bears.  There are a total of 800,000 black bears in North America.

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 

The three main subspecies of the bear living in North America are the following, with subspecies of the American black bear below:

Behavior 

What is the Behavior of a Black Bear?  

Black bears like to remain isolated, except while mothers are with cubs, or at some stage of mating. Moreover, black bears may assemble in regions where the food density is high and consists of oak trees, berries, and 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 do value their personal space. A bear’s residing space that gives water, food, and enough shelter is 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 generative condition of the bear, and even the population of the area.

At most times, bears will walk to faraway areas in search of food. In addition to that, they are natural swimmers and can travel to unusual regions, such as small islands in Canada.

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.

The 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 to follow her. 
  • A black bear if feeling insecure, does not howl or snarl. But they will slap the floor, huff and puff air forcibly from their nose, and clasp or their teeth together. If these actions don’t frighten their prey, the bear may then walks closer to the cause of their unease 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.

Black bears are unusual creatures. 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.  There are some theories regarding this behavior.

The marks relate to the male black bear superiority their dominance in the territory.

Marks convey the bear’s reproduction state to make sure both male and female bears know what other bears are in range.

Marking the boundaries of the home range amongst the female bears may additionally show regional behavior.

Marks may additionally help to direct bears in unfamiliar regions, as markings increase when a new bear visits the area.

Can Black Bears Climb Trees?  

Because of the less mass in their bodies in comparison to brown bears, and due to their shorter paws; black bears are good at climbing trees. They can even climb 100 feet up a tree in just 30 seconds.  I have a video below to show how quickly a black bear can climb a tree.  If you come face to face with a black bear, do not climb a tree.  

How Fast is a Black Bear?  

Lean black bears can run as fast as 30 mph, and can even run downhill, uphill, or on flat surfaces with the same speed.

Are Black Bears Nocturnal?  

The American black bears stay active at all times of the day and night; however, they, for the most part, search for food at night. Bears residing close to humans are a lot more nocturnal.  

The 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, and the decomposing trunks of wood. Their preferred place to stay during the day is large trees with immense and open branches.

How Long Does a Black Bear Live?  

The lifespan of a black bear is about 18 to 20 years in the forest, but there was a captive bear who lived 39 years. The reason for his long life was that he would eat natural and organic food, while the bears who eat non-natural human food tend to die early in captivity.

Anatomy 

What Color Is A Black Bears Fur?

The American black bears have soft fur, with thick underfur, and large, bristly, hairy, and dense guard pelage. In spite of their name, they display a variety of colors as they appear in white, blue-tinted, blonde, cream, cinnamon, light brown, chocolate, or pitch dark, along with distinct contrasts existing.

These moderate-size bears are normally black with a brown snout and white marks on the upper body.

There are some black bears, which 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. 

The American black bears have multiple layers of dense and shaggy fur that helps them stay warm in the cold months of winter although their fur is more prolonged, deeper, rough, a bit bristly, and coarse in contrast to a dog’s coat.

The bears often have a white blotch under their throats or through the chest.

What Do Black Bears Use Their Claws For?

American black bears possess rugged, greatly bent claws and their faces have a curved outline in an outward direction, in comparison to other bears with an inwardly profile.

Black bears usually walk on their four legs but can stay in an upright position on their two back legs to search for food, climb, or to inspect their surroundings. They also have a fantastic sense of hearing and sight in comparison to human beings. 

How Many Toes Does A Black Bear Have?

The American black bear’s 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.

Their front feet are more rectangular compared to their back feet. The heel pads are so strong that when they put their feet on the muddy surfaces, the track marks of the heel pads become visible. The measurement of the front feet is 4 to 8 inches long and 3.25 to 6 inches broad. The back feet measurement is 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 to 28 inches length of pace and 8 to 14 inches path width. While in a sprint, the length of pace is typically 25 to 30 inches. The length of all 4 feet altogether is generally 38 to 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 to dig up stumps and chunks of wood.

Tongue 

The American black bears possess pliable lips with a long and willowy tongue, which helps them to assemble small food like berries and ants.

Are Male Bears Bigger Than Females?  

The adult black bear males have the length and weight of  130 to 190 cms (50 to 75 in.) and 60 to 300 kg (130 to 660 lbs) respectively. The 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 when they stand on two feet in an upright position, they may look up to 7 feet tall.

How Big was the Largest Black Bear?

The largest American black bear was a male residing in New Brunswick, which was shot dead in November 1972, weighed around 409 kilograms or 902 pounds and heightened about 2.41 meters or 7.9 feet long.

How Big is a Black Bear Cub?  

Commonly the black bear cub weighs around 1/300th to 1/500th of their mother’s weight when born. However, newborn cubs weigh a little higher than 10.5 ounces or 300 grams and are about 9 inches or 23 centimeters long.

What is the Average Size of a Black Bear?  

The black bear ranges from 1.2 to 1.9 meter, with males typically larger in size 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? 

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

They have thick coats which defend them from getting hurt by bees.  This means they can consume the honeycombs without any rush.  

Some resourceful bears additionally travel into areas with a population of humans to get food from trash cans or dumpsters.

During the autumn season, when they make themselves ready for hibernation, they devour on masses of small insects like ants or bees to consume a lsrgegood amount of protein. They also, from time to time, capture small deer, cows, and elks.  These are generally the carcasses from other agile predators such as wolves, American jackals, and panthers. 

The protein they get from hunting and consuming the meat assist them in storing fats for their lengthy and yearly hibernation.  For the upcoming hibernation, the black bears sleep during the winter and have to 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 frequently become vulnerable once the spring comes around.

Black bear’s preferred food after waking up are the shoots of trees, and nuts taken from the caches of the squirrels.  These are plentiful incorporate lots of essential and vital vitamins. These food items assist them in getting their energy, and one month later, they continue 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 frame and drop an extra 40% of the body mass throughout the slumber.

How Much Water do Black Bears Drink?  

American black bears can swim, and if they find water within their range, they make use of it to hunt food.  Black bears love hunting fish, and will not think twice about going into the water to get to them. Bear cubs are shown water within the first few months of life and show no fear of it.  Black bears drink about 4 gallons of water every day.

Characteristics 

There are various characteristics which create a distinction between the black bear and other bears.  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 mother bears are devoted, defensive, affectionate, gentle, and alert when it comes to their cubs. 

Cubs take part in social activities and show conventional methods to meet someone they don’t know and determine their behavior towards them. Bears can differentiate between frightening and friendly demeanour 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.

The black bear’s world is defined by scents in nature. They rely on their sharp sense of smell for knowledge about their surroundings. Their ability of smell is extraordinarily sensitive, with about 2,100 times strongly nasal mucosa.

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 more precise idea, the black bears may run 50 feet per second.

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

Why We 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.

The black bears are not presently a sustentation concern species, listed as least concern by the IUCN.  The populations of black bears in Florida and Louisiana are now growing. The territories in Western Texas have been recolonizing bears, after almost total annihilation.  This has lead to an increase in their numbers.

Regions having a great human population may become a cause of conflict to the bear.  As the bears get drawn towards the food of humans, the 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 managed to create a place for themselves in the imagination of human beings as they have become a part of legendary myths and anecdotes.
  • They have become essential for human beings in many ways, such as First Nations services, legends, and 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 tiny and rounded ears, which lie at the back over their heads. 

The 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.

Adaptations

When it comes to adaptations, black bears possess both physical and behavioral adaptations that are as follows:

What Physical Adaptations Do Black Bears Have?

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

Bears who locate less food in their home range will migrate to other regions to find food, also looking in dumpsters in urban areas.

They have got teeth that are extremely good for breaking up food with massive canine molars for tearing through fish.

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 in comparison to human beings.

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

They have an extraordinary smelling ability 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 but five times the size of the humans.

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

How Strong Is A Black Bear?

As soon as the bear’s sense of smell allows them to locate the food items, they have outstanding adaptations for finding and consuming the items. They have big, robust legs that allow them to change their position.  They can also move huge items like rocks, trunks, or branches that obstruct them while finding food. The huge, packed toes and strong, bent claws allow them to climb trees to get edible items.

Behavioral Adaptations

As the black bear’s physical adaptations make them good at searching for food, their adjustments in terms of behavior lead them to be more effective hunters. They can share their home range with other wild animals and are 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.

Reproduction

Black bears remain solitary most of the time of the year.  However, they will come together to mate during the summer season. Baby bears (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. The black bear 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 that would have few chances of success due to the physical state of the bear.

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

Female bears deliver a cub every two years if sources of food are agreeably abundant. During the years, while the food sources are limited, a female bear can skip two years for reproducing the second offspring. 

The cubs get born in the den of their mothers and stay in the same shelter until the next winter. In the upcoming spring, when the babies get about two years old, the female bears separate the cubs to reproduce again. 

The American black bear young can give birth to 1-5 cubs; however, most young bears have only two cubs. Also, black bears may age about 30 years in the forests, but many of them die before their early 20s.
If you would like to know where you can see black bears in North America, I have written a guide here.

Bryan Harding

Bryan has spent his whole life around animals. While loving all animals, Bryan is especially fond of mammals and has studied and worked with them around the world. Not only does Bryan share his knowledge and experience with our readers, but he also serves as owner, editor, and publisher of North American Mammals.

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