American Black Bear Facts

Scientific Name: Ursus americanus

American Black Bear - Ursus americanus

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The American black bear (Ursus americanus) is a large omnivore that inhabits the forests, swamps, and tundra throughout the more northerly reaches of North America. In some areas such as the Pacific Northwest, it commonly lives at the edges of towns and suburbs where it has been known to break into storage buildings or cars in search of food.

Fast Facts: American Black Bear

  • Scientific Name: Ursus americanus
  • Common Name: American black bear
  • Basic Animal Group: Mammal
  • Size: 4.25–6.25 feet long
  • Weight: 120–660 pounds
  • Lifespan: 10–30 years
  • Diet: Omnivore
  • Habitat: Forested areas in Alaska, Canada, the United States, Mexico
  • Population: 600,000
  • Conservation Status: Least Concern

Description

Black bears vary considerably in color throughout their range. In the east, bears are usually black with a brown snout. But in the west, their color is more variable and can be black, brown, cinnamon, or even a light buff color. Along the coast of British Columbia and Alaska, there are two color morphs of black bears that are distinct enough to earn them nicknames: the whitish "Kermode bear" or "spirit bear" and the blue-gray "glacier bear."

Although some black bears may be colored like brown bears, the two species can be distinguished by the fact that the smaller black bears lack the dorsal hump characteristic of the larger brown bears. Black bears also have larger ears that stand more erect than brown bears.

Black bears have powerful limbs and are equipped with short claws that enable them to break apart logs, climb trees, and collect grubs and worms. They also claw apart beehives and feed on the honey and bee larvae they contain.

Habitat and Range

The American black bear lives in forested areas throughout North America, from Canada to Mexico and in at least 40 states in the U.S. They used to live in almost all forested areas of North American, but now they are restricted to areas that are less densely populated by humans. In Canada, the American black bear still lives in most of its historic range, other than the central plains. These bears also once inhabited the mountainous regions of northern Mexico, but their numbers have dwindled in this region.

Black bears are one of three bear species that live in North America; the other two are the brown bear and the polar bear. Of these bear species, black bears are the smallest and most timid. When encountered by humans, black bears often flee rather than attack.

Diet

Black bears are omnivores. Their diet includes grasses, berries, nuts, fruit, seeds, insects, small vertebrates, and carrion. In northern regions, they eat spawning salmon. American black bears will also occasionally kill young deer or moose calves.

In the colder parts of their range, black bears seek refuge in their den for the winter where they enter a winter sleep. Their dormancy is not true hibernation, but during their winter sleep, they refrain from eating, drinking, or excreting waste for as long as seven months. During this time, their metabolism slows and heart rate falls.

Reproduction and Offspring

Black bears reproduce sexually. They reach reproductive maturity at 3 years of age. Their breeding season occurs in spring but the embryo does not implant in the mother's womb until late fall. Two or three cubs are born in January or February.

The cubs are very small and spend the next several months nursing in the safety of the den. Cubs emerge from the den with their mother in spring. They remain under the care of their mother until they are about 1½ years old at which time they disperse to seek out their own territory.

Conservation Status

The IUCN classifies the American Black Bear's conservation status as "least concern." And, the black bear is the most common bear in North America. However, all large mammals who eat meat—big cats, wolves, and bears—face threats stemming from the loss of prey and habitat. This includes black bears, though they are less affected because 95 percent of their diet is plant-based.

American Black Bears and Humans

American black bears across North America are also facing a decline in forest areas where they once lived due to the rapid expansion of urban areas. Indeed, most of the challenges black bears face in North America come from humans.

American black bears are intelligent and learn quickly where they can find garbage left by people as well as where human food is easily accessible. This makes for the "perfect conditions for human-bear conflict," according to the Wildlife Conservation Society. The problem is particularly pronounced in backcountry areas where humans hike and camp as well as populated forest areas, leading to dangerous conditions for black bears and humans alike.

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