American Black Bear

Species Profile: The American Black Bear

Meet one of the most commonly seen and well-known bears on the North American continent: The American Black Bear.

American Black Bear
American Black Bear, Riding Mountain Park, Manitoba, Canada (Author: Diginatur/Wiki Commons cc 3.0)

The American black bear is a medium-sized bear that’s native to North America. It’s actually the smallest among the three bear species found in North America: black bears, brown bears, and polar bears. This bear is the most common and widely distributed among all bear species in that region.

In fact, it’s also the world’s most common bear species.

Unlike the grizzly bear, they don’t have a pronounced shoulder hump. Also, they don’t have retractable claws and this allows them to climb trees very well.

Though they are called ‘black,’ many variations in color exist. In the east most are black with a brown muzzle, in the west some are brown, cinnamon, or even blonde-colored. There are even some with white-bluish fur: these are known as Kermode (glacier) bears and they exist only in coastal British Columbia in Canada.

They live almost exclusively in densely forested areas, but they may leave the forests in search of food. These bears are particularly fond of human food and leftovers and this causes a lot of conflicts often leading to the bears getting killed.

The American black bear is listed by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) as a Least Concern species, because of its widespread distribution. Also its global population is estimated as twice that of all other bear species combined.

1) Scientific Name

Ursus Americanus

2) Scientific Classification

  • Kingdom: Animalia
  • Phylum: Chordata
  • Class: Mammalia
  • Order: Carnivora
  • Family: Ursidae
  • Genus: Ursus

3) Life Expectancy

Average life span of the American black bears is 20 years in the wild, unless killed by predators.

4) Average/Maximum Height

The average length of adults of this species is between 152.4 and 182.8 cm (5 to 6 feet).

5) Average/Maximum Weight

Adult males typically weigh 57 to 250 kg (126 to 551 lbs.) and females weigh 41 to 70 kg (90–375 lbs.)

6) Maximum Running Speed

48km/h (30mph)

7) Interactions With/Danger To Humans

  • Interaction with humans

Adult black bears are solitary animals. They tend to avoid humans as they are a frequent target for hunting.

Even when confronted by humans, they limit themselves to mock charges, blowing noises, and swatting the ground with their forepaws. However, in the direst of circumstances they can attack humans with fatal results.

  • Danger to humans

The American black bear is not generally dangerous to humans unless confronted. As solitary animals, they prefer to move alone.

In more recent times, human-to-black bear conflicts arise mostly because these bears are attracted to human food, leftovers, garbage, and livestock. Consequently, it’s common to find them rummaging through trash cans in residential neighborhoods looking for food.

In places where there are human populations, American black bears are attracted to human foods and livestock. This is where the conflict starts to happen.

8) Reproduction Details

Young females of this species are ready for their first litter by 3 to 5 years of age. The mating season for the American black bear peaks in May and June every year and either gender will mate with multiple partners during this period.

After fertilization, the embryo does not implant in the uterus until fall (November).

Females give birth to cubs every other year during winter in their dens. A typical litter will have anywhere from one to six cubs. After birth, the cubs are naked and blind, weighing only 7 ounces. They are taken care of by their mother and she’ll feed them until spring. When spring comes, they become ten pounds and will now begin to explore their environment.

The mother will take care of the cubs for 1.5 years until they part ways. After that, the female American black bear is ready to mate again.

9) Diet/Hunting Pattern Of The American Black Bear

Black bears are opportunistic eaters and feed mostly on grasses, twigs, roots, berries, honey, larvae, and insects. They also eat fish and mammals. In addition, they can kill young deer, elk, moose, and other hoofed animals.

They’ll also eat livestock such as sheep and this is a constant cause of friction between these bears and humans.

Human food and garbage attract black bears especially as more human development gradually encroaches into bear territory.

Hibernating American Black Bear
Hibernating She-bear With Cubs (Courtesy: National Park Service, PD)

They feed a lot during summer to gather fat in preparation for hibernation during winter. When winter comes, this bear will retreat into its den to hibernate. They’ll also stay in caves, under roots of fallen trees, crevices, hollow logs, or in any other place that it digs out.

After finding the perfect place to hibernate, it places its head in front of its paws and curls up into a ball.

Besides humans, they are no major predators of the American black bear. However, there are few confrontations with adult brown bears, jaguars, or gray wolf pack.

10) Alternative Names

  • Cinnamon Bear
  • Glacier Bear

 11) Population And Conservation Status

The American black bear is currently not protected for conservation purposes. This is because their numbers are continuously increasing. Also, there are some of their original habitats in western Texas that were once destroyed but are now being restored.

There are approximately 600,000 black bears in the whole of North America and 300,000 in the United States alone. Its overall global population is more than twice than that of the other species combined.

Their population flourished so much because of state and provincial management both in the USA and Canada in terms of hunting.

12) Ancestry And History

There are many stories about the American black bear among America’s indigenous people. One particular story talks about how the black bear is created by the Great Spirit, while the grizzly its counterpart was created by the Evil Spirit.

Asian black bears are the most closely related bear species to American black bears. This relationship is closer than what they have with the brown bear and polar bears, despite living in North America. They came from the same ancestor which is the sun bears.

13) Distribution And Habitat

Because of their diet, a black bear can thrive in different habitats. However, they do not generally live in very wide-open areas. They prefer coniferous forests or near river courses with a lot of vegetation, fish, and other prey.

American black bears live in most forest regions in North America. In the United States, black bears thrive in the North East. They live in the Appalachian Mountains and spread continuously across from Maine to North Georgia. These bears are also abundant in northern Midwest, the Rocky Mountain region, the West Coast, and Alaska.

You can find them in Wisconsin, Michigan, and the Canadian Maritimes. In the south through New England, New York, and Pennsylvania. Coming from the west, it is found from Alaska through northern California until the Rocky Mountain States and into Mexico. They are also abundant in Missouri, Arkansas, and Oklahoma.

The population of black bears in Maine is around 30,000 making it the largest single black bear population in the USA.

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