Florida Black Bear Facts

Scientific Name: Ursus americanus floridanus

Close-Up Of Black Bear

Kenneth Higgins / Getty Images

Florida black bears are part of class Mammalia and are found throughout Florida, southern Georgia, and Alabama. Their scientific name, Ursus americanus floridanus, is derived from the Latin words meaning Florida American bear. They are a subspecies of the American black bear. In 1970, the Florida black bear population only numbered in the 100s. Their numbers have now rebounded to the 4,000s thanks to conservation efforts.

Fast Facts: Florida Black Bear

  • Scientific Name: Ursus americanus floridanus
  • Common Names: Florida black bear
  • Order: Carnivora
  • Basic Animal Group: Mammal
  • Size: 5 to 6 feet long and 3 to 3.5 feet high at the shoulder
  • Weight: 250 to 300 pounds for males and 130 to 180 pounds for females
  • Life Span: 15 to 25 years for males and up to 30 years for females
  • Diet: Berries, acorns, fruit, grass, nuts, honey, insects, deer, raccoon, and wild pig
  • Habitat: flatwoods, swamps, scrub oak ridges, and bayheads
  • Population: More than 4,000 adults
  • Conservation Status: Not Evaluated
  • Fun Fact: Adults are fairly reclusive and live at low densities over large landscapes.

Description

Florida black bears are large mammals, growing as long as 6 feet and as tall as 3.5 feet. They have glossy black hair with a wooly brown under-coat and a brown muzzle. Their ears are round, and their tails are very short. Some individuals may have a diamond-shaped white chest patch as well. Males weigh between 250 and 300 pounds, while females weigh between 130 and 180 pounds. Their body weight may increase by as much as 40% in the fall to survive the winter.

American black bear sitting in an oak tree
Philip Dumas / Getty Images

Habitat and Distribution

Florida black bears are found across Florida, in extreme southern Alabama, and in southeast Georgia. They live primarily in forested areas but can also be common in swamps, scrub oak ridges, and bayheads. They thrive best in habitats that provide annual supplies of food and secluded areas for denning. Florida black bears live mostly solitary lives with females establishing large home ranges based on resource availability. The more productive the habitat, the smaller the home range. Male black bears establish home ranges based on the availability of females.

Diet and Behavior

Florida black bears are omnivorous, eating a variety of plant material, insects, and animal matter. About 80% of their diet consists of berries, acorns, fruit, grass, seeds, and nuts. Another 15% includes insects and 5% consists of animals such as armadillos, white-tailed deer, and raccoons. Most animal matter comes from scavenging and not from predation.

Black bear snoozing
This black bear catches a nap in the shade of a tree. sstaton / Getty Images Plus

Florida black bears go into dens between late December and late March. These dens may be along the forest floor or in trees. Despite going into winter dens, Florida black bears do not hibernate. Their behavior is actually called “winter lethargy.” Many Florida black bears may be active during the winter months, with activity varying between individuals. The exception to this behavior is pregnant females, who must den and give birth to up to five cubs.

Reproduction and Offspring

Adults reach sexual maturity between 3 and 4 years old. Breeding season occurs from as early as mid-June and ends in mid-August. Pregnant females must den in the winter from late December and emerge in mid-April. The average denning period lasts from 100 to 113 days. During this denning period, pregnant females will give birth to 1 to 5 cubs in late-January to mid-February. At birth, these cubs are relatively undeveloped and are just 12 ounces. When they reach 10 weeks old, the cubs will weigh 6 to 7 pounds and will continue to gain weight. Cubs remain with their mothers and may even den with her again until the following May or July when the cubs are 15 to 17 months old.

Conservation Status

The Florida black bear subspecies have not been evaluated by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). However, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission declared this subspecies to be endangered after hunting and habitat destruction reduced the population to just 300 adults. After a robust conservation effort, the Florida black bears have been taken off their list of endangered species, as there are currently over 4,000 adults in the wild. Today, there are more Florida black bears present than in the last 100 years.

Florida Black Bears and Humans

Black Bear in a paddling pool
This black bear is cooling off in a paddling pool in Naples, Florida. Emma Grundlingh / Getty Images Plus

Due to the increased number of human-bear encounters in Florida, the state has made it illegal to feed bears and issued a food storage order, prohibiting residents from leaving food, refuse, or other bear attractants outside if they are not stored in a bear-resistant container. Attractants include food, beverages, toiletries, pet food, bird and livestock feed, and garbage. The state advises people to clean up after outdoor activities, hang food up at least 10 feet off the ground if bear-resistant storage is not available, and to never run but walk away slowly if a bear is encountered.

Sources

  • Be Bear Awake : Florida Black Bear Fact Sheet. 2009, pp. 1-2, https://www.fs.usda.gov/Internet/FSE_DOCUMENTS/stelprdb5192598.pdf.
  • Florida Black Bear. 2018, pp. 1-2, https://www.fnai.org/FieldGuide/pdf/Ursus_americanus_floridanus.pdf.
  • "Florida Black Bear". Bear Conservation, 2017, http://www.bearconservation.org.uk/florida-black-bear/.
  • "Florida Black Bear Population Continues To Increase". U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, 2017, https://www.fws.gov/southeast/news/2017/04/florida-black-bear-population-continues-to-increase/.
  • Moyer, Melissa A., et al. “Factors Influencing Home-Range Size of Female Florida Black Bears.” Journal of Mammalogy, vol. 88, no. 2, 2007, pp. 468476., doi:10.1644/06-mamm-a-165r1.1.
  • "The Florida Black Bear (Ursus Americanus Floridanus) Is A Subspecies Of The American Black Bear. | Imagine Our Florida, Inc". Imagine Our Florida, https://imagineourflorida.org/florida-black-bear/.
  • Ward Jr., Carlton. "Florida Black Bear Facts". National Geographic, 2015, https://blog.nationalgeographic.org/2015/11/02/florida-black-bear-facts/.