black bear (Ursus americanus americanus)

Characteristics

The black bear is a large, bulky bear, weighing an average of 300 – 400 pounds and being about 4-6 feet in length, when full grown. It has relatively small ears and eyes, with a short tail and long, uniformly glossy black fur. The muzzle is brown and there is an occasional white chest blaze. The female breeds every other year in mid June-July and produces a litter of usually 2-4 cubs in the den in late January- early February. The cubs are born very immature, hairless, and weighing 6-12 ounces (less than a pound!) They are able to leave the den in early April and they disperse during their second spring. Black bears do not reach sexual maturity until after 2 years of age and have a very low breeding potential.. The bears are mainly nocturnal, and with the exception of the female with cubs, are solitary animals. The range depends on availability of food and shelter, age, sex, season and population density changes. They have been known to travel over 95 miles in a year, and will occasionally mark trees with their claws, especially during the breeding season. They den in hollow trees or large ground cavities through the winter, and during this time they do not eat, drink, defecate or urinate. Dens are usually lined with a bed of leaf litter and they have been found up to 96 feet above the ground ( they are good climbers.) Their life expectancy is about ten years and they have no enemies except for man.

Distribution

Black bears used to occur in the entire eastern United States but their numbers and range have been declining. They can be found all along the Appalachian mountains, as well as sporadically along the coast. The bears prefer habitat that is densely wooded such as mature oak forests, and in the coastal plain are found in swampy areas.

Foods

Black bears are omnivorous and have a very diverse diet. They consume herbaceous plant parts, woody plant parts, flower/nectar/ pollen, fruit, terrestrial insects, juvenile and small mammals, juvenile and adult amphibians, and carrion. This species is not an active predator. The fat they need to hibernate is derived primarily from grasses and forbs in the spring, soft mast in the summer, and mixed hard/soft mast in the fall. The diet is flexible and varies according to habitat.