The Black Bear

The Black Bear

Ursus americanus

The Black Bear is the smallest of the 3 bear species that live in the continent of North America. They can be found in many regions of the Untied States, including the Great Swamp. They live in hardwood and coniferous-forested areas with thick ground cover and vegetation that they need for warmth and bedding. They do not travel far; the female range is 2 to 6 miles. The male range can be up to 15 miles. The male range may overlap the range of some females. They are territorial and mark their territory with their urine and by using their claws to scratch and mark trees.

Black bears have a shaggy coat, which is usually black but can be dark brown, yellow brown or cinnamon. They have a large body, small brown eyes, round ears a long snout and short tail. The adult male weighs 130 to 500 pounds and females weigh an average of 90 to 370 pounds. When they stand on all four legs they are about 3 feet tall. They are 5 to 7 feet tall when standing on their hind legs and 4 to 7 feet long from their nose to their tail. They can see in color. They have excellent hearing, 2x better than humans and their sense of smell is 100x better. Despite their size they are fast runners, at a speed of up to 35 miles per hour. They are agile and great at climbing trees and swimming.

Black bears adapt their diet to the season. They eat berries, fruit, grass, roots, herbs, seeds and nuts. Although they are mostly vegetarian they will eat fish, small mammals, dead animals and garbage. They love honey.

Black bears hibernate in the wintertime. Their heart rate, respiratory rate and body temperature drop during this time they live off of their body fat that they have spent the summer months storing. They may hibernate for as long as 3 to 8 months. They do not urinate or defecate while hibernating; their kidneys reabsorb the urine. Their body recycles metabolically and uses the waste as a source of protein and water.

Black bears are mostly solitary animals except when raising their young and gathering together at feeding sites. The position of a bear’s ear communicates it intention. Curious bears will hold their ears erect and forward. Playful bears spread their ears so they stick out to the side. Aggressive or defensive bears put their ears back flat against their heads.

Black Bears begin to produce young at the age of 3 or 4 years old. After the first litter they will mate about every 2 years. They mate in June and July. The fertilized egg does not begin to develop until the bear goes into hibernation. The gestation period is 60 to 70 days. The mother gives birth while in hibernation in January or February. There are an average of 2 to 3 cubs per litter, but there can be as many as 5 or 6. The cubs weigh less than a pound, about the size of a squirrel. They are born blind and toothless. They nurse until the spring when they are weaned. They stay with their mother for about two years so they can learn to hunt and take care of themselves before leaving to find their own territory. She will then raise another family.

Black bear are shy and tolerant of human activity. They usually do not attack humans unless people approach them and to try to pet or feed them. If you are in the presence of a bear make loud noises to let them know of your presence. Do not corner them and do not feed them.

The average lifespan of a black bear is 20 to 35 years. The predators of black bear cubs are wolves, bobcats, coyotes, lynx and cougars.

Conservation Status: Least concern

Bear Mythology:

In many cultures the bear is a symbol of strength, wisdom, fearlessness, protection and dreamtime. The constellation Ursus Major, The Great Bear, was named for the bear. It is one of the seven stars residing in the Big Dipper.

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