American Black Bear

Order:  Carnivorashutterstock_135454310

Family:  Ursidae

Genus:  Ursus

Species:  Ursus americanus

Where Found

Northern Mexico, throughout the USA and Canada

Other names

Kermode, glacier, and cinnamon bear all refer to particular color phases of the American black bear.

Appearance

The American Black Bear is a medium-sized bear with a brown muzzle.  Black bears have strong curved claws for climbing, digging, and tearing logs. Teeth are specialized for feeding on plants and animals (Parkhurst, 2009). The American black bear’s fur is uniform in color and can range from black to various shades of brown. Eastern populations generally have black fur, while western populations are usually brown, cinnamon or black (Pattie, 2015). The Kermode bear is a species of black bear with a white coat, unique to the coast of British Colombia. The Glacier bear has a blue-grey coat and is found in northwestern British Colombia and along the coast of Alaska. These differences in color are related to the bear’s ability to survive and adapt in different areas, depending on the type of habitat and weather they experience (Garshelis et al., 2016). Their facial profile is relatively straight to slightly convex.

Size

Adult males usually weigh from 150 to 650 pounds (68 to 295 kg), and females from 100 to 400 pounds (45 to 181 kg). Adults will grow to an average of 45 – 75 inches in length (114 cm to 191 cm), from nose to tail. Black bears in many eastern populations are larger than their western counterparts due to their access to fruiting trees like beechnut and oak. Longevity in the wild can be over 30 years old, though females stop reproducing in their mid-to-late 20s.

Reproduction

Females typically reach sexual maturity between the ages of three to five years old, and generally reproduce every other year. However, breeding intervals can reach up to three years, depending on food availability (Garshelis et al., 2016). Mating occurs between May and July, while embryonic development only occurs in late November or early December. This process of delayed implantation allows for two to four cubs to be born the following year in late January or February. Cubs remain with their mothers until they are about 16 to 17 months old. Male cubs typically disperse, whereas female cubs often share home ranges with their mothers (Parkhurst, 2009).

Social Life

American black bears are solitary except for females with cubs.  However, bears will feed in close proximity to each other, sometimes in large numbers, if food is abundant and concentrated in a small area.

Food

American black bears are opportunist omnivores and will consume foods depending on seasonal availability. They feed on a wide range of vegetation, fruits, nuts, insects and other animals. In spring, American black bears generally feed on emergent green vegetation. During summer, herbaceous material and fruits are generally the preferred food items, while fall berries and seasonal mast are preferred in autumn (Larivière, 2001). Depending on their location, fall mast resources allow for bears to increase their fat reserves in preparation for winter denning (Garshelis et al., 2016). The unique ability for bears to modify their diet based on habitat and resource availability has helped allowed them to persist in a wide range of habitats and highly fragmented forested areas (Garshelis et al., 2016).

Habitat

American black bears are native to Canada, Mexico and the United States, at elevations ranging from sea level to 3500 m. American black bears are found mainly in temperate forests, boreal forests and even subtropical areas. Although they are known to occupy a variety of habitats, black bears tend to live in forested areas with thick vegetation and food resources including fruits, nuts and vegetation (Garshelis et al., 2016). Current range includes northern Mexico, over 40 states in the USA, and all provinces and territories of Canada except Prince Edward Island.

Wild Population

Based on population estimates, there are currently between 850,000-950,000 black bears in North America (Garshelis et al., 2016).

Conservation

The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) lists American black bear as a species of least concern. Although the species is not threatened and continues to increase, some smaller, isolated populations of American black bears may be at risk due to their small population size, fluctuation in natural food resources, and/or human-caused mortality. The main challenges facing black bear conservation include habitat fragmentation, habitat loss, and human-bear conflict (Garshelis et al., 2016).

Information on this page compiled by Stephanie Chan, photo courtesy of Shutterstock

References Cited

Dewey, T., & L. Ballenger. (2002). Ursus arctos. Animal Diversity Web. Retrieved from http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/site/accounts/information/Ursus_arctos.html

Garshelis, D. L., Scheick, B. K., Doan-Crider, D. L., Beecham, J. J., & Obbard, M. E. (2016). Ursus americanus. (errata version published in 2017) The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2016: e.T41687A114251609. Retrieved from http://www.iucnredlist.org/details/41687/0

Larivière, S. (2001). Mammalian Species Ursus americanus. American Society of Mammalogists, (647): 1-11.

Parkhurst, J. (2009). Managing Wildlife Damage: Black Bears (Ursus americanus). Retrieved from https://vtechworks.lib.vt.edu/bitstream/handle/10919/50269/420-200.pdf?sequence=1

Pattie, D. (2015). Black Bear. The Canadian Encyclopedia. Retrieved from
http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/black-bear/

Powell, R.A., Zimmerman, J.W., Erran Seaman, D., & Powell, C. (1996). Ecology and Behaviour of North American Black Bears. Available from https://books.google.ca/books?hl=en&lr=&id=FjIU8-OK_pIC&oi=fnd&pg=PR9&dq=american+black+bear+behavior&ots=Pi7Dfg4-iH&sig=NIsn3yO96Y0RQG1VvqxgUgXXKnk#v=onepage&q=american%20black%20bear%20behavior&f=false

Reimchen, T. E. (1998). Nocturnal foraging behavior of Black Bears, Ursus americanus, on Moresby Island, British Colombia. Canadian Field-Naturalist, 112(3): 446- 450.

Project Initiatives

Bear Trust focuses on 4 primary project initiatives: 1) Conservation Education 2) Bear Research & Management 3) Habitat Conservation 4) Conservation Policy

Contact Info

PO Box 4006
Missoula, MT 59806
Phone: (406) 523-7779
info@beartrust.org