|The black bear is the smallest North American bear
and is said to be the least aggressive. Not all black bears are black; some
have rusty brown or gray and black coats. The American black bear is timid,
yet it is frequently sighted. Once widely hunted for sport, the black bear
is now protected in some areas of the United States and Canada. Although
some hunting continues, it is more abundant than the larger grizzly bear.
Habits: The American black bear lives
primarily in woodland habitats and spends much of its active life looking
for food. The female ranges over an area of 1 to 35 square miles, whereas
the male may have a territory of up to 200 square miles. The female does
not share her territory, but the territory of a male may overlap with those
of other males. Confrontations are rare, and black bears are thought to avoid
open country, where they are more likely to encounter the stronger, more
aggressive grizzly bear.
As cold weather approaches, the American black bear searches for a protected spot for its den. It may be under a fallen tree, in a hollow log, in a cave, or in a burrow that it digs, sometimes under the snow. Although its body temperature drops, its respiration slows, and its metabolic rate is depressed, the bear is not a true hibernator; it remains semiconscious the entire winter. When it emerges from its den in May it is thin and extremely hungry.
Food and Hunting: Although the American black bear is classified as a carnivore, it only occasionally eats meat. It feeds primarily on vegetation, including twigs, buds, leaves, nuts, roots, fruit, corn, and plant shoots. In spring, when it is particularly hungry after having spent an inactive winter, it tears the bark from trees to eat the layer known as cambium located just beneath the surface. It also rips into rotting logs with its claws, looking for small insects and grubs. Black bears often climb trees to raid birds’ nest for eggs and to tear open beehives to eat honeycombs, bees, and larvae. They also eat small mammals like porcupines. Black bears hunt fish in streams and rivers.
They fish by diving or wading in the water, where they catch the fish with their paws or teeth. Bears often disturb the landscape in areas where they feed. While searching for food, they turn over logs and stones, rip open tree stumps, and tear branches off trees. The agile black bear climbs trees to raid the nests of both birds and bees. A beaver is no match for the powerful paws and sharp teeth of the black bear.
Breeding: The American black bear mates in June and July. The female gives birth only every two to four years. Although the egg is fertilized during mating, it is not implanted into the uterus until fall, which means that the embryo develops only during the last 15 weeks of the gestation period. Since the birth takes place in January or February, the cubs are mature enough to leave the den in the spring. The female gives birth to two to three cubs weighing no more than 12 ounces.
They are born naked and blind, and they spend the cold winter months in the den where they are fed and kept warm by their mother. By May, their coats are grown and their eyes are open. They are not weaned until they are six to eight months old, and they spend their second winter in their mother’s den, becoming independent the following spring or early summer. The cubs spend their first two winters in the den.
Black Bear and Man: The American black bear was hunted widely in the past, although it is now a partially protected species in Canada and the United States. It is especially popular with visitors to Yellowstone National Park, where it roams among their cars and trash cans, looking for food. The black bear’s reputation as the original teddy bear dates back to the beginning of this century. President Theodore (Teddy) Roosevelt captured a black bear on a hunting trip. He kept it as a pet, and a toy manufacturer used it as a model for the first teddy bear.
Key Facts: Sizes, Breeding, Lifestyle, Related Species
Related Species: There are 7 species grouped in 5 genera, in habitats ranging from polar regions to tropical forest
Distribution: Found in many states, especially Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, and in all Canadian provinces
Conservation: Now a partially protected species. Although numbers have decreased from former days, they are again increasing in national parks. Still, hunting for sport remains widespread.
Features of the Black Bear:
Climbing: The bear climbs by wrapping its front legs tightly around the trunk and climbing up. To descend, the bear always comes down backwards, hindquarters first.
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