Bear, North American Black


Ursus americanus


Head and body measure on average about 63 inches long (5.25 feet); tail is short (4 inches); head is large with long tapering nose; nose pad broad; nostril openings large; eyes small and black; ears round and prominent; legs heavily constructed; feet large, broad, and flat; five digits on both front and hind feet; each toe is equipped with a short, curved, non-retractable claw; males (250 to 500 lbs.) approximately 50% larger than females (225 to 450 lbs.).

Family

Ursidae

Order

Carnivora

Class

Mammalia

Range

Canada & Alaska east to Newfoundland, East Coast of the United States, Florida, lower California, Arizona, New Mexico, western Texas and northern Mexico. In Florida, black bears are localized in the following areas: Big Cypress Swamp, Ocala National Forest, and the Everglades.

Habitat

Upland forests, marshes, swamps, and thickets in several plant successional stages that provide forage and cover.

Life Expectancy

At zoos, Black bears can life into their 30s. Most wild Black bears pass away in their 20s. There is currently no calculated median life expectancy (MLE) for the species.

Sexual Maturity

3 to 5 years

Diet

In the wild, black bears eat almost any succulent, nutritious vegetation (tubers, bulbs, berries, nuts, and young shoots), grubs, carrion, fish, young hoofed mammals or domestic stock. In the Zoo, they are fed omnivore pellets and assorted fruits & vegetables.

Status

IUCN - Least Concern; Florida (T), Iowa (E), Missouri (T), Montana (R), South Dakota (T) CITES II. There is no AZA managed program.

Behaviors

Black bears prefer forested areas with a dense understory. Thick, “impenetrable” swamps are ideal. Access to a variety of habitats that provide an assortment of foods during different seasons of the year is important. Florida’s subtropical climate, long growing season, numerous swamps, and diverse vegetation types provide excellent conditions for this species. This activity may alter depending on temperatures and weather. Usually, they are crepuscular (active at dawn & dusk) in spring and nocturnal in autumn. Bears may travel as much as 20 miles in search of food. Hibernation: In the northern part of their range, black bears hibernate during colder months. . Most bears find or dig an earthen den. Bears in southeastern states usually den in tree cavities, banks, logs, and caves. Black bears preparing to den may devote 20 hours a day in autumn eating. They will consume approximately 20,000 calories/day, putting on a five-inch layer of fat. Denning may last 3 to 6 months, depending upon latitude Black bears that are hibernating can lower their body temperature, metabolism, breathing, and heart rate to try and use less calories. In Florida and other southern states, black bears do not hibernate. Social Structure: Black bears are solitary and only come together in the wild to breed. The adult female maintains a territory and allows her cubs free range. Overlapping female territories rarely occur. Adult males occupy larger territories that encompass two or more adult female territories. Territories usually range over 25 to 100 square miles. Males avoid one another. Young males are not tolerated because they compete for available resources that are needed for the family group. These lone males are left to wander over vast tracts of land in search of an undefended territory where they can establish themselves. When certain food items are concentrated in a particular area, such as at a berry patch or garbage dump, aggregations of black bears occur compatibly, and the social system adjusts accordingly. Mothers guard their cubs for the first year or so, driving them off when they are about 18 months old. Parental Care: Cubs will stay with their mothers for up to 16 months and then go off on their own. Fathers are not involved in taking care of cubs. The male is called a boar and the female is called a sow. Young bears are known as cubs. Reproduction: Mother bear’s milk is 10 times as rich as cow’s milk. At birth, cubs weigh between 200 and 450 g and will weigh four to seven pounds by the time they wander out of the den for the first time. However, by the age of two years they will weigh as much as 100 pounds.

Adaptions

Black bears have good eyesight, a keen sense of hearing, and an excellent sense of smell that is 15 times more sensitive than a human’s sense of smell.. Black bears also have such a sensitive sense of touch in their lips that they can take berries from a bush without tearing a leaf. The usual black bear gait is a lumbering walk. Black bears can reach speeds of up to 30 mph when running., Black bears can climb trees The black bear has claws that are shorter and more curved than those of the grizzly bear. This allows it to have great agility in climbing trees. Often, a sow will encourage her cubs to tree themselves when there is danger nearby.

Special Interests

Human and Black bear encoutners: Black bears are naturally shy and try to avoid encounters with humans. If you run into a bear in the woods the best way to scare it away is to yell and try to appear larger; but bear attacks on people are usually uncommon. The most common cause of human-bear conflict is food. Unsecure trash containers in someone’s yard can cause a bear to start to associate humans with food. This will cause a bear to become less fearful and start to act bolder and bolder when they see humans. Bears that can frequently get into trash also usually stop looking for food elsewhere and will become a frequent problem in the area. These animals usually have to be humanely killed because relocating them to another area results in the same problem. The best thing for people living in an area frequented by bears to do is to purchase bear secure trash containers, feed pets indoors, and remove any produce from near-by gardens or trees. It is illegal in the state of Florida to intentionally feed or leave trash out for black bears. It is also illegal to kill black bears without a permit and to have black bears as pets

Folklore

In the Middle Ages, bear cubs were thought to be shapeless lumps at birth, no larger than mice, without fur, eyes, hair or limbs. The mother bear would lick this mass into shape, eventually forming a bear cub, thus the origin of the phrase, “licked into shape.” The body parts of bears were often used in medicine. To prevent fits, it was once advised to take fur from a live bear’s belly, boil it in alcohol and put it on the soles of your feet. “Bear grease,” a salve made from the fat of a bear, was said to cure baldness. Many Native Americans believe that bears held supernatural powers. The Apache believed bears to be so powerful that it was taboo to touch a bear, dead or alive. Native Americans who depended on the bear for food or used its fat for cooking killed bears with great ritual and ceremony, apologizing to the bear for the indignity. Worship of the bear was based on its natural cycles: hibernation represented death and emergence in the spring represented rebirth. The bear cycle is similar to the cycle of death and resurrection that is an integral part of most religions. Americans from the Ozarks region believed that “A bad winter is betide, if hair grows thick on the bear’s hide.” Moreover, in some cultures, it was the bear, not the groundhog, which predicted if winter would vanish on February 2 or continue another six weeks. Bear legend, lore and superstition has worked its way into our everyday phrases. The old saying, “like a bear sucking his paws,” refers to someone who is working very hard. This phrase originated with the belief that bears without food would suck its paws to stay alive. To “take a bear by the tooth” means to put oneself in great danger. To describe a person in a foul mood, you might say, “He’s like a bear with a sore paw.” Settlers killed thousands of black bears for meat, fat, and fur. They cleared the forest habitats for farming. In 1902, attitudes changed drastically when President Theodore Roosevelt refused to shoot a black bear chained to a tree to ensure that the President would not miss. His mercy caught the public’s eye, and “Teddy Bears” were invented to celebrate his compassion.

Conservation

Once estimated at 12,000 animals throughout Florida, Alabama and southern Georgia, there are less than 1,500 bears today. The human population in Florida grows at a rate of 500-1000 new residents per day. This growth drives development that destroys nearly 20 acres of natural habitat every hour. In addition, the wider and more frequent roadways with increased speed limits have proven deadly to our black bear population. The black bear is perhaps the strongest symbol for Florida’s diverse wildlife. A wide-ranging omnivore, the bear shares habitat with many of Florida’s other native species. By protecting the bear and its habitat, conservationists also protect many other animals and plants.

Jacksonville Zoo History

American black bears have been part of the collection off and on since the beginning. The first one arrived in February 1915.

Exhibit

Wild Florida Exhibit Area