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Black Bear

Black Bear Facts

Size 60-70 inches (150-180 cm) (body length)
Speed 31-34 mph (50-55 km/h)
Weight 176-264 pounds (80-120 kg)
Lifespan 10 years
Food Fruit, berries, nuts, insects, carrion
Predators Cougars, coyotes, wolves
Distribution North America
Habitat Tundra, forest, grassland
Order Carnivores
Family Ursidae
Scientific name Ursus americanus
Characteristics Bear with dark fur, likes to climb

Main Characteristics

Black bears are large and heavy predators. They are related to the brown bear, but are considered less aggressive and less dangerous. Their most striking features are the black fur, round ears and short legs.

North American Black Bear North American Black Bear - Photo: Tom Reichner/Shutterstock

Species

There are 16 subspecies. Most are black, but there are exceptions such as the cinnamon bear. It is named after its fur color. The most unusual subspecies is probably the Kermode bear. It is a white black bear. That's no joke. Around 10% of Kermode bears have white fur due to a natural change in their genetic makeup (= gene mutation). They are also called “spirit bears” because of their color. However, they're not albinos, because they don't have red eyes.


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North American Black Bear North American Black Bear - Photo: Prakash Mandalia (left), NaturesMomentsuk (right)/Shutterstock

Relatives

North American black bears and brown bears are related, but their closest relatives are actually the Asian black bears. This is interesting because they live on two different continents: North America and Asia. The background is: The common ancestors developed separately from each other around 4.5 million years ago.

North American and Asian Black Bear North American and Asian Black Bear - Photo: Constance Mahoney (left), MOLPIX (right)/Shutterstock

Distribution and Habitat

Black bears live in North America, Alaska and Canada. They primarily inhabit forests and rough terrain with dense undergrowth as well as open landscapes like grasslands and tundras.

Life Style

Black bears are solitary animals active at dusk and at night. They spend a lot of time looking for food as they feed primarily on plants. Before winter they build up fat reserves. They feed on it during winter rest. They're very adaptable, which is why they're one of the few bear species that are not yet threatened.


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Black Bear Characteristics Black Bear Characteristics - Photo: SCStock/Shutterstock

Anatomy and Appearance

Size and Weight

Black bears have a body length of 60-70 inches (150-180 cm) and a shoulder height of 35 inches (90 cm). When they stand on their hind legs, they are up to 70 inches (180 cm) tall. The females weigh an average of 176 pounds (80 kg) and the males 264 pounds (120 kg). The largest black bear is said to have weighed over 990 pounds (450 kg). Though its actual weight was only estimated, it isn't uncommon for a large male to weigh over 880 pounds (400 kg). This applies especially in the north of the USA, where the bears are significantly larger and heavier than in the south.

Fur

Black bears that live in the north have darker fur. In the south they have lighter, brown fur. Can you imagine why? Here is the answer: Dark color absorbs the heat of the sun faster and retains it longer while light fur reflects the sunlight. A dark coat is therefore more practical in the cold north and a lighter one in the south. Think about how it feels when you wear a dark T-shirt on a hot summer’s day. Hang on! Why is the polar bear white then? Well. Its fur isn’t actually white, it’s see-through. And the polar bear has black skin that sunlight reaches by traveling through the hair.

Paws

The black bear's paws are around 5-8 inches (13-22 cm) in length.

Ears

The ears are large, round and erect.

Brown Bear or Black Bear – What’s the Difference? Brown Bear or Black Bear – What’s the Difference? - Photo: Erik Mandre (brown bear), Dolores M. Harvey (black bear)/Shutterstock

Black Bears and Brown Bears – What's the Difference?

• Appearance

Only 70% of black bears actually have black fur. This is why the color isn't a reliable characteristic to tell a black bear from a brown bear. Additionally, black bears don't have a hump, their claws and hind legs are shorter, their forehead is flatter and their nose is lighter.

• Behavior

While brown bears are considered more aggressive and dangerous, black bears are more likely to flee and climb trees to get to safety. They like to stay in trees anyway to eat, rest and sleep. Adult brown bears almost never climb.

Diet

Black bears are predators, but not pure carnivores. They're omnivores. Meat only makes up a small part of their diet. 75-85% of their diet consists of fruits, berries, nuts, grasses and roots. They also eat small insects such as ants, bees, termites and carrion.

Behavior

Are Black Bears Dangerous?

Brown bears tend to be more aggressive and outgoing compared to black bears, who are generally more calm and reserved. However, at the end of the day, both are wild animals. If you threaten them - even if you do this by accident - or otherwise stress them out, an encounter can be very dangerous, even fatal. People sometimes unknowingly harass bears by feeding them, thinking they are harmless. However, the animal may react unpredictably and suddenly attack.

Black Bear Photo: Tom Reichner/Shutterstock

Hibernation

Hibernation or Winter Rest?

Black bears don't truly hibernate, but rather rest during winter time. They sleep most of the time, but they're awake every now and then.

Preparing for Winter

In autumn, black bears use their powerful paws to dig a den that protects them from the harsh winter cold. To build up enough fat reserves, they eat for up to 12 hours every day. Before their hibernation they're 30% heavier than in spring when they leave their cave again.

During Winter Rest

Black bears breathe only once per minute during their hibernation and their body temperature drops by 4-5 degrees Celsius. They don't drink or eat during this time. They don’t defecate either.

Senses and Abilities

Sense of Smell

Black bears have an amazing sense of smell. They can smell seven times better than dogs.

Dexterity

Black bears aren’t just intelligent, but also very skilled with their paws. They use them to open doors and unscrew jars.

Swimming

Black bears are excellent and strong swimmers. They also enjoy splashing around in the water.

Climbing

Black bears are significantly lighter than brown bears. And have straight claws, making it easy for them to climb trees. They climb to look for food or to get to safety from predators. However, large and heavy males rarely climb.

Black Bear Photo: Debbie Steinhausser/Shutterstock

Life Expectancy

Black bears can live up to 30 years. However, most don't live longer than 10 years because they're hunted and killed by humans.

Enemies and Threats

Natural enemies

Black bears prey on grizzly bears, cougars, coyotes and wolves.

People

Black bears are hunted to use their fur for clothing or to eat their meat. Sadly, they are frequently killed because people are afraid of being attacked by them. An increasing number of animals is being kept in captivity and are subjected to the worst possible conditions to get their biliary fluid. In Chinese natural medicine the biliary fluid is said to have healing powers. However, there is no scientific proof of its effectiveness.

Are Black Bears an Endangered Species?

No. The black bear is the most common bear in the world. Together with the brown bear they're the only bear species that aren't (yet) threatened.

Importance for the Ecosystem

Black bears eat a variety of fruits and berries. While on one side, they prevent excessive plant growth, on the other side, they facilitate the growth of new plants by dispersing seeds through their droppings.

Reproduction

Black bears usually mate between June and July. However, the fertilized eggs “rest” for up to five months and only begin to develop during hibernation. The actual gestation period is only 60-70 days. At birth, the cubs weigh only 280-450g. They are independent after 16-18 months and fully grown at 5 years old.

The Black Bear Is Related To:

Animals in the Same Biome:


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