Black bears are one example of a large mammal that is found throughout North America. Of the bear species found in North America, they’re the smallest and most widely distributed throughout the continent. In this article, we’ll be introducing some of the many characteristics of these beloved bears.
11 characteristics of black bears
At one point, they were found virtually everywhere in North America, but with the spread of urbanization and habitat loss, they are now found mostly in northern North America with smaller populations dappled throughout the United States. Let’s learn some more about these amazing animals.
1. Their closest relatives are not other species of North American bear
While it seems like it makes the most sense for black bears to be most closely related to other bears found in North America like the brown bear and the polar bear, this is not actually the case. Actually, black bears are most closely genetically related to their asian relatives like the Asian black bear and the sun bear.
2. They are omnivorous
Black bears have a very diverse diet made up of both plant material and animals. They are known to eat insects, grasses, plant bulbs, nuts, berries and the carrion of other animals and fish. They are not generally considered to be very active hunters, but they will capitalize on the opportunity to eat deer fawn that have been left by their mothers.
3. Their diet changes with the season
As mentioned previously, their diet is very diverse. But what they eat really depends on the season. This is due to availability of their diet items and also what kind of nutrients they need during that time of year.
For example, during the fall their diet consists mostly of nuts and other nutrient-rich hardy plant material to get ready for hibernation.
4. There are many subspecies
Black bears are recognized as their own species but within this species they are further broken up into at least 16 different subspecies. These subspecies are unique to the regions and places they inhabit. While most are black, they can vary in color and shades of dark brown.
5. They might sleep for over half the year!
Bears are known for hibernating, which is essentially entering a very, very deep sleep where their metabolic rate drastically drops. Hibernation can last between three to eight months depending on the bear’s climate and geography.
6. They vary widely in size
Black bears are very variable in their size and mass. For example, black bears on the east coast are generally heavier than those on the west coast, but those in the Northwest tend to be larger than black bears in the southeast.
Males are larger than females, too. The average adult male can weigh anywhere between 126 to 550 pounds while females average between 90 to 375 pounds.
Not only do males and females differ in size, but black bears also change in mass drastically depending on the season. Before hibernating in the fall, black bears weigh 30% more than they do when they emerge in the spring.
7. They adapt their lifestyle to their environment
Many species of animals are strictly nocturnal (active at night) or strictly diurnal (active during the day). Black bears, however, learn to adapt to their environment and change their habits accordingly. For example, while black bears are typically known to be active during the day, black bears living in more densely human populated areas may become exclusively nocturnal to evade detection.
8. They use vocal and other cues to communicate
While they are not typically social animals, black bears have several methods to communicate. They make huffing sounds in times of stress or anxiety. They also make clicking noises during friendly interactions with other bears or their cubs.
In times of aggression or conflict, they may make loud pulsing growls. They also use their claws to mark trees to communicate with other bears.
9. They live relatively long lives
Black bears when compared to other North American mammals live long lives. The average lifespan is about 20 years. However, the longest living wild black bear was recorded to be 39 years old!
In captivity, they have been observed to live up to 44 years. It takes them about three years to reach maturity and start producing offspring.
10. Adult females produce litters of cubs every other year
Every other year, female black bears will have a litter of cubs. This litter can be as few as one or two cubs or as many as six cubs, but typically they have two to three cubs.
Their gestation period is just under eight months and they breed in the summers. Most cubs are born in January or February.
Once they are born, cubs are very dependent on their mom’s. Their eyes do not open for 30-40 days and don’t walk until about five weeks. Additionally, they need to be able to nurse for 30 weeks after being born.
11. They have few natural predators
Unsurprisingly, due to their large size, black bears don’t have many natural predators. However, they have been known to have fatal run-ins with grizzly bears in places where their ranges overlap.
Most notably though, however, there was a black bear in southwestern Arizona killed by the only known wild jaguar living in the United States. Most commonly, black bears are killed by humans through hunting or automobile collisions.