Black bears are usually black in color with a pale muzzle and sometimes a white chest spot. Western populations are usually lighter being brown, cinnamon, or even blond. They have small eyes, rounded ears, long snout and short tail. The black bears differ from grizzly bears in that they are smaller in size with a smaller shoulder hump and longer, smoother, more tapered ears.
Black bears consume primarily grasses and forbs in the spring. They eat nuts, acorns, fruit, and insects. Meat is eaten when preferred food is scarce. Only a small portion of the diet consists of animal matter. It's usually in the form of colonial insects and beetles. Most vertebrates are consumed in the form of carrion. Black bears are not active predators and feed on vertebrates only if the opportunity exists.
Habitat / Distribution
Black bear habitat is characterized by relatively inaccessible terrain, thick understory vegetation and abundant sources of food. Streams and woodland pools provide water for drinking and cooling. Mothers with cubs like large trees with furrowed bark for bedding sites. In the southern Appalachian Mountains, bears survive in predominantly oak-hickory and mixed mesophytic forest. In coastal areas, they inhabit a mixture of flatwoods, bays and swampy hardwood sites. In the northeast, the habitat consists of a forest canopy of hardwoods such as beech, maple, birch, and coniferous species.
Reproduction / Social System
Black bear mating season ranges from late May to early July. They give birth between January or early February while the female is hibernating. They usually give birth every other year. The litter size ranges from one to five but is usually two or three. The young weigh between 200 to 450 grams each. They are the smallest young relative to adult size of placental mammals. The young are born naked and blind and nurse throughout the winter. They are weaned around six to eight months of age and remain with the mother until they are about 17 months old. Males reach sexual maturity at three to four years old and will continue to grow until they are 10 to 12 years old. Females reach sexual maturity between two and nine years of age.
Range & Population
Black bears live in forests as far south as Florida and northern Mexico and as far north as Alaska and Canada. In northern Labrador, they range out onto open tundra where there are no trees to escape into.
Black bears once lived throughout most of North America. Hunting and agriculture drove them into heavily forested areas and only residual populations survive over much of the range. They are now found in sparsely populated wooded regions and under protection in national parks. They are numerous and thriving, but continue to face threats due to habitat destructing and hunting.
Males weigh between 47 and 409kg and females between 39 and 236kg. They are approximately 4 to 7 feet from nose to tail and 2 to 3 feet high at the withers.