American Black Bear
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.
The American Black Bear (Ursus americanus), also known as simply the black bear or cinnamon bear, is the most common bear in North America.
The black bear occurs throughout much of North America from northern Canada and Alaska south into Mexico, from the Atlantic to the Pacific. This includes 39 of the 50 U.S. states and all Canadian provinces. Populations in east-central and the southern United States remain in the protected mountains and woodlands of parks and preserves, though bears will occasionally wander outside the parks' boundaries and have set up new territories in recent years in this manner. While there were probably once as many as two million black bears in North America, the population declined to a low of 200,000 before rebounding in recent decades, partly due to conservation measures. By current estimates, more than 600,000 are living today.
The black bear is about 1.5 metres (5 feet) long. Females weigh between 40 and 180 kg (90 and 400 pounds), while males weigh between 50 and 400 kg (110 and 880 pounds). Cubs usually weigh between 200 and 450 g (between 7 oz and 1 pound) at birth. The adult black bear has small eyes, rounded ears, a long snout, a large body, and a short tail. They have an excellent sense of smell. Though these bears indeed generally have shaggy black hair, the coat can vary in color depending on the subspecies: from white through chocolate brown, cinnamon brown, and blonde, found mostly West of the Mississippi River, to black in the East (the same is generally true in Canada with the border being between Manitoba and Ontario). Further adding to the confusion, black bears occasionally sport a slight white chest blaze on either side of the river.
While black bears are able to stand and walk on their hind legs, they usually stand or walk on all four legs. (When they do stand it usually is to get a better look at something.) The black bear's characteristic shuffle results from walking flat-footed, with the hind legs slightly longer than the front legs. Each paw has five strong claws used for tearing, digging, and climbing. One blow from a powerful front paw is enough to kill an adult deer.
Habitat and behavior
Black bears prefer forested and shrubby areas but use wet meadows, high tidelands, ridgetops, burned areas, riparian areas, and avalanche chutes. They also frequent swampy hardwood and conifer forests. After emerging from their winter dens in spring, they seek southerly slopes at lower elevations for forage and move to northerly and easterly slopes at higher elevations as summer progresses. Black bears use dense cover for hiding and thermal protection, as well as for bedding. They climb trees to escape danger and use forested areas as travel corridors. Black bears hibernate during winter and may build dens in tree cavities, under logs, rocks, in banks, caves, or culverts, and in shallow depressions.
Black bears reach breeding maturity at about 4 or 5 years of age, and breed every 2 to 3 years. Black bears breed in the spring, usually in May and June, but the embryos do not begin to develop until the mother dens in the fall to hibernate through the winter months (delayed implantation.) However, if food was scarce and the mother has not gained enough fat to sustain herself during hibernation as well as produce cubs, the embryos do not implant (develop).
Black bear cubs are generally born in January or February. They are blind when born, and twins are most common, though up to four cubs is not unheard of and first-time mothers typically have only a single cub. By spring thaw, when the bears start leaving their dens, the cubs are fur-balls of energy, inquisitive and playful. When their mother senses danger she grunts to the cubs to climb high up a tree. They are weaned between July and September of their first year, and stay with the mother through the first winter. They are usually independent by the second winter.
Cub survival is totally dependent on the skill of the mother in teaching her cubs what to eat, where and how to forage (find food), where to den, and when and where to seek shelter from heat or danger.
Black bears are omnivores. They eat a wide variey of foods, relying most heavily on grasses, herbs, fruits, and mast. They also feed on carrion and insects such as
- carpenter ants (Campanotus spp.)
- yellow jackets (Vespula spp.)
- bees (Apidae)
- termites (Isoptera).
Black bears sometimes kill and eat small rodents and ungulate fawns. Unlike the brown bear, black bears like to attack and eat dead creatures, which makes humans feigning death at bear attacks ineffective. Like many animals, black bears seldom attack unless cornered or threatened. They are less likely to attack man than grizzly bears and typically have long since run for cover before one catches sight of them. Black bear predation on man is extremely rare.
Black bears eat a great variety of vegetation and nuts as shown in the list below. The list reflects the different types of habitat in which the black bear is found, from prairie to swamps to both eastern and western types of forest.
- oak (Quercus spp.) mast
- hazel (Corylus spp.) mast
- mountain ash (Sorbus spp.)
- tree cambium
- dogwood (Cornus spp.)
- kinnikinnick (Arctostaphylos spp.)
- cranberry (Vibernum spp.)
- blueberry and huckleberry (Vaccinium spp.)
- blackberry and raspberry (Rubus spp.)
- rose hips (Rosa spp.)
- gooseberry (Ribes spp.)
- sarsaparilla (Aralia nudicaulis)
- rhubarb (Polygonum alaskanum)
- lupine (Lupinus spp.)
- northern bedstraw (Galium boreale)
- lousewort (Pedicularis spp.)
- Labrador tea (Ledum groenlandicus)
- California coffeeberry (Rhamnus californicus)
- squawroot (Conopholis americana)
- dandelion (Taraxacum officinale)
- clover (Trifolium spp.)
- thistle (Cirsium spp.)
- black walnut (Juglans nigra)
- buffaloberry (Shepherdia canadensis)
- lomatium (Lomatium spp.)
- cowparsnip (Heracleum lanatum)
- pine nuts.
- chestnut and chinkapin mast (Castanea dentata, c. pumila)
- wild grapes (Vitis riparia, v. labrusca)
- wild strawberries (Fragaria virginiana, f. californica)
- hickory mast, including pecans (Carya spp.)
- pawpaw, (Asimina triloba)
- american persimmon (diospyros virginiana)
- wild cherries (prunus spp.)
- crabapples (malus sylvestris")
- beech mast ( f. grandifola, f. mexicana")
- sassafrass (s. albidum)
- elderberry (sambucus canadensis)
Black bears will also eat salmon (Oncorynchus spp., Salmo salar), suckers, alligator eggs, crayfish and trout ("Salmo trutta", "Oncorynchus spp.") and will raid orchards, beehives, and crop fields. They may frequent garbage dumps or may go raid trash bins of businesses or private homes. Black bears may occasionally prey on domestic sheep and pigs when their natural foods are scarce.
Black bear predators include other black bears, man, and the grizzly (Ursus arctos horriblis). Coyotes (Canis latrans) and mountain lions (Puma concolor) may prey on cubs.
History and Controversy
Because their behavior has been little understood until recently, black bears have been feared and hated. Before the 20th century these bears were shot intermittently as vermin, food, and trophies being seen as either a vicious beast or an endless commodity; in many areas, bounties were paid, until recently, for black bears. The British beefeater's hat has been for centuries made of black bear fur shipped from Canada and black bear rugs are not unknown in some parts of North America. Paradoxically, black bears have also been portrayed as harmless and cuddly. For example, the "teddy bear" owes its existence to a young black bear cub Theodore Roosevelt refused to shoot. Today, black bears are as much an important game species as they are a point of debate across the continent, especially when it comes to the fact that many are finding life in the suburbs quite comfortable. Given their relatively low reproductive rate, black bear harvests must be carefully controlled and are probably inappropriate in areas where populations are feeble and habitat is no longer intact.
Their tendencies to follow their stomachs and habitat encroachment by man have created human-bear conflicts. This is true especially in areas where they may have been uncommon or absent for a long time, as in many parts of the eastern United States. An excellent example is the state of New Jersey. In New Jersey, bears were quite uncommon before the modern era as much land was cleared for homes and farming and also due to poor policies regarding hunting and forestry; by 1970 there were only 100 bears extant. However, due to changes in land usage, management, and population increases in neighboring Pennsylvania and New York, that number increased to nearly 1500 bears by 2003. The result is that the residents of this densely populous state sometimes awaken to find the garbage ripped to shreds or a birdfeeder knocked to the ground at best, and at worst a bear invading the home or attacking. (Invasion usually happens after a bear has lost its fear and has come to associate people with food and attacks occur when a human gets in the way of said food.) This is a cause for concern among civilians and scientists alike. Similar events have unfolded in other states and in Canada, and state, provincial and federal agencies are working to address the issue with trap and release programs, limited hunting, and hazing bears with rubber bullets, other aversion techniques, and dogs. In agricultural areas electric fences have been very effective.
Black Bear Encounters
When encountering a bear in the wild (particularly in Canada and the Western U.S.), first identify what type of bear it is as that will determine your defensive measures. Black bears are generally smaller and have no large hump on their back like grizzly bears. For black bears, you are better off trying to scare them off rather than playing dead. To do this, huddle together if in a group, raise your hands or backpack in the air to make yourself appear larger, and make plenty of noise. You will probably scare it away unless you are separating it from cubs (or just unlucky). Do not look it dead in the eye. If it rears up, it does not necessarily mean aggression: a black bear's range of view is three feet off the ground whereas a human's is between five and six. It is trying to get a look at what you are and if you are a threat. You can assess its mood by seeing if it makes a popping sound with its jaw. If it does, it is a warning that it is uncomfortable. That is a sign to slowly back away (if possible) and leave. If it does charge, unlike grizzly bears, you should fight back! Using whatever gear you have close on hand attempt to injure it such that it no longer finds you worth the fight. In particular, aim for the nose as it is a sensitive part of the bear. Its thick skull makes blows to the top and side of the head nearly useless. It is not uncommon for black bears to disengage after being injured' pepper spray in the eyes has been known to work. If fighting the bear does not seem like a wise choice, consider other options. If you play dead, black bears, unlike grizzlies who may leave you alone, will eat you or drag you away. You cannot outrun a black bear (they are faster than you think). Also, if you climb a tree, you will soon see the bear coming up after you as black bears also climb trees. Good luck!
When camping, it is wise to take steps to avoid negative encounters with bears:
- Do not bring food into the tent. It invites more than just ants into your bedroom.
- Clean all pots, pans, and grills thoroughly with unscented soap and water making sure no trace of food is left for animals to smell.
- Do not leave food lying around. Clean up everything right away after a meal and contain uneaten food in plastic bags or containers.
- Do not assume food and supply are safe in a car. If you must keep supplies in a car, lock it up in the trunk-It is not unknown for bears to try to break into cars through the windshield or windows!
- Do not go to bed in the same clothes you were cooking in. Keep dirty clothes and packs outside the tent.
- If possible, use a bear canister to keep foods safe or hoist your food in a tree ten feet off the ground and four feet out in a bear bag.
- Be cautious of how you dispose of garbage. Try to dispose of garbage at a designated facility away from the campsite.
- If possible, try not to bring any sweet smelling items with you, like scented soap or cough syrup. (bears can't read the label and assume it is food.) If you must bring it at all, hoist it up in a tree in a bear bag or bear canister. Try not to wear anything with a scent after 4pm.
- If the bear gets to the food anyway, do not attempt to get it back. It is not worth the fight.
- Do not feed hand feed a bear or attempt to do so. (What would you do if he found out you don't have any more?)
- If you have brought a pet with you, make sure that it is secured and on leash at all times. Rover and bears don't mix well.
Taxonomy and subspecies ranges
The American black bear is classified as being in the class Mammalia, order Carnivora and family Ursidae.
Currently accepted subspecies (with their respective ranges) include:
|Ursus americanus altifrontalis||the Pacific Northwest coast from central British Columbia through northern California and inland to the tip of northern Idaho and British Columbia|
|Ursus americanus amblyceps||Colorado, New Mexico, west Texas and the eastern half of Arizona into northern Mexico; southeastern Utah|
|Ursus americanus americanus||from eastern Montana to the Atlantic; from Alaska south and east through Canada to the Atlantic and south to Texas|
|Ursus americanus californiensis||the Central Valley of California, north through southern Oregon|
|Ursus americanus carlottae||Queen Charlotte Islands and Alaska|
|Ursus americanus cinnamomum||Idaho, western Montana, and Wyoming, eastern Washington and Oregon, northeastern Utah|
|Ursus americanus emmonsii||southeastern Alaska|
|Ursus americanus eremicus||northeastern Mexico|
|Ursus americanus floridanus||Florida, southern Georgia and Alabama|
|Ursus americanus hamiltoni||the island of Newfoundland|
|Ursus americanus kermodei||the central coast of British Columbia|
|Ursus americanus luteolus||eastern Texas, Louisiana, southern Mississippi|
|Ursus americanus machetes||north-central Mexico|
|Ursus americanus perniger||Kenai Peninsula, Alaska|
|Ursus americanus pugnax||Alexander Archipelago, Alaska|
|Ursus americanus vancouveri||Vancouver Island, British Columbia|
Current legal protections
More than 50 bears are killed on Florida roads each year
Today, a major threat to the American black bear is poaching, or illegal killing, to supply Asian markets with bear galls and paws, considered to have medicinal value in China, Japan, and Korea. The demand for these parts also affects grizzly and polar bears. The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), a treaty among more than 120 nations, provides measures to curb illegal trade in wildlife and wildlife products across international boundaries, helping to protect the black bear from poaching.
Black bears are abundant in much of the West, in portions of the Midwest and in most of Canada (for example, Ontario is home to about 100,000 bears, while Minnesota has a very healthy poulation of 30,000 bears.) Conversely, Iowa, where land is heavily used for agriculture, has virtually none. Most eastern populations in the United States are seeing a marked, steady increase in population with bears moving back into places where they may not have been present for over a century as suitable habitat has come back. In North Carolina there were 11,000 bears at last count in 2004, Pennsylvania estimates 15,000 bears currently, and even tiny Rhode Island has seen evidence of bears moving into areas where they haven't been in decades. Unfortunately, not all is well. Two populations are at critically low levels. Two subspecies, the Louisiana black bear and the Florida black bear, still face decline mainly due to habitat loss and degradation. In Mexico, the indigenous black bear population is listed as endangered and is mostly limited to increasingly fragmented habitat in the northern parts of the country.
In 1992, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service listed the Louisiana black bear subspecies as "threatened" under the Endangered Species Act, meaning it could be in danger of extinction throughout all or a significant portion of its range in the near future. The American black bear also is protected by legislation in the affected states (Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas) due to its close resemblance to this subspecies. The Florida black bear is a candidate for protection under the Endangered Species Act.
- The sports teams of the University of Maine are known as Black Bears.
- Ursus americanus kermodei, commonly known as the "spirit bear", is a rare white (not albino) subspecies found in temperate rain forests on the Pacific coast of North America. Native tradition credits these animals with supernatural powers.
- Smokey Bear, mascot of the United States Forest Service is based on an actual black bear cub found in New Mexico, ironically after a forest fire.
- In August 2004, the New York Times reported that a wild black bear was found passed out after drinking about 36 cans of beer in Baker Lake, Washington, USA. The bear opened a camper's cooler and used its claws and teeth to puncture the cans. It was found the bear selectively opened cans of Rainier Beer and left all Busch Beer unconsumed.
- The largest Black Bear ever was one that had been hunted in Wisconsin in 1885. The reported weight was 365 kg (802 pounds.)
- In 2005, wildlife officials set up a trap in Washington for a wayward bear using, what other than, Krispy Kreme doughnuts.
- Winnie the Pooh was inspired by an orphaned black bear cub from the Canadian city of Winnipeg. During World War I, the bear was adopted by a member of the Royal Winnipeg Rifles of the Canadian Infantry and later became the mascot for the company.