The American black bear is known as a medium size bear native to North America. It is the smallest and most widely distributed bear species. Their diet varys greatly depending on the season and location in which they live. They usually live in forested areas, but do leave forest in search of food. They are often attracted to human areas because of the availability of food. They are the most common species.
The American black bear is listed as the least concern species because of its widespread distribution and a large population estimated to be twice that of all other bear species combined. It is one of only two of the eight modern bear species not considered to be globally threatened with extinction. The American black bears often will mark trees using their teeth and claws as a form of communication with other bears.
They are often found in areas with relatively inaccessible terrain, thick under story vegetation and large quantities of edible food. Although found in the largest numbers in the wild, undisturbed areas and rural regions, the American black bear can adapt to surviving in large numbers in peri-urban regions, as long as they contain accessible food some vegetative coverage. In most of the United States, the American black bear today are usually found in heavily vegetated mountainous areas, from 1300 to 9800 ft in elevation.
In the Northeast part of the range (United States and Canada) their habitats consists of a forest canopy of hardwoods such as beech, maple birch and coniferous species. Corn crops and oak-hickory mast are also common sources of food in some sections of the Northeast, small thick swamp areas provide excellent refuge cover largely in stands of white cedar. Within these Northern forest types are early successional areas important for American black bears. such as fields of bush, wet and dry meadows, high tidelands, and a variety of mast-producing hardwood species.
The American black bears weight tends to vary according to age, sex,health and season. Seasonal variations in weight is very pronouced; in autumm, their pre-den weight tends to be 30% higher than in spring, when back bears emerge from their dens. The American black bear on the East Coast tend to be heavier on average than those on the West Coast, although black bears follow Bergmann’s rule and bears from the Northwest are often slightly heavier than the bears from the Southeast. Adult males weigh between 126-551 lbs, while females weigh 33% less at 90-375 lbs.
The biggest wild American black bear ever recorded was a male from New Brunswick, shot in November 1972, that weighed 902 Lbs after it had been dressed, meaning it weighed an estimated (1100 Lbs) in life and measured 7.9 feet long. Another outsized wild American black bear, weighing in at 899 Lbs in total,was the cattle-killer shot in December 1921 on the Moqui Reservation in Arizona.
The fur is soft, with dense underfur and long, coarse, thick guard hairs. The fur is not as shaggy or coarse as that of brown bears. American black bear skins can be distinguished from those of Asian black bear by the lack of a white blaze on the chest and hairier foot pads. Despite their, American black bear show a great deal of color variations. Individual coat colors can range from white, blonde, cinnamon, light brown or dark chocolate brown to jet black, with many intermediate variations excisting. Silvery-gray American black bear with a blue luster ( found mostly on the flanks) occur along a portion of coastal Alaska and British Columbia.
An American black bear has better eyesight and a better sence of hearing when compared to humans. Their keenest sense is their sense of smell, which is about seven times greater than a domestic dog’s. American black bears are excellent and strong swimmers, doing so for pleasure and to feed largely on fish. They regularly climb trees to feed, escape enemies and hibernate. Four of the eight modern bear species are habitually arboreal ( the most arboreal species, the American and Asian black bears and the sun bear, being fairly closely related.) Their arboreal abilities tend to decline with age. American black bears may be active at any time day or night, although they mainly forage by night. American black bears living near human habitations tend to be more extensively nocturnal and American black bears living near brown bears tends to be more extensively diurnal. Their social behavior is somewhat similar to that of canids.
American black bears tend to be territorial in nature. However, at abundant food sources, American black bears may congregate and dominance hierarchies form, with the largest, most powerful males dominating the most fruitful feeding spots. They mark their territories by rubbing their bidies against trees and clawing at the bark. American black bearsmay communicate with various vocal and non-vocal sounds. Tongue-clicking and grunting are the most common sounds and are made in cordial situations to conspecifics, offspring and occasionally humans. During times of fear or nervousness, bears may moan, huff or blow air, Warning sounds include jaw-clicking and lip-popping. In aggressive interactions, Amercan black bears produce deep-throated pulsing sounds. Cubs may squeal, bawl or scream when in distress and make motor-like humming when comfortable or nursing.
Black Bear Reproduction
Sows (Female Bears) usually produce their first litter at the age of three to five years, with those living in more developed areas tending to get pregnant at younger ages. The breeding period usually occurs in the June-July period, though it can extend to August in the species northern range. The breeding period last two to three months. Both sexes are promiscuous. Males try to mate with several females, but large, dominant ones may violently claim a female if another male comes near. Sows tend to be short tempered with their mates after copulating. The fertilized eggs undergo delayed development and do not implant in the female’s womb until November. The gestation period lasts 235 days and litters are usually born in late January to early February. Litter size is between one and six cubs, typically two or three.
Lifespan Of A Black Bear
The average lifespan in the wild of an American black bear is 18 years, though it is quite possible for wild specimens to survive for more than 23 years. The record age of a wild specimen was 39 years, while that in captivity was 44 years.
American black bears were once not considered true or deep hibernators, but because of discoveries about the metabolic changes that allow American black bears to remain dormant for months with-out eating, drinking, urinating or defecating, most biologists have redefined mammalian hibernation as specialized, seasonal reduction in metabolism concurrent with scarce food and cold weather. American black bear are now considered highly efficient hibernator.
American black bears enter their dens in October and November. They will spend their time in hollowed-out dens in tree cavities, under logs or in rocks, in banks, caves, or culverts and in shallow depressions. Although naturally-made dens are occasionally used, most dens are dug out by the bear itself. Females have been known to be pickier in their choice of dens in comparison to males.
The body temperature of the American black bear does not drop significantly, like other mammaliam hibernators ( staying around 35 degrees c (95 degrees f ) and they remain somewhat alert and active. If the winter is mild enough, they may wake up and forage for food. Females also give birth in February and nurture their cubs until the snow melts. During the winter, American black bear consume 25 to 40 degrees of there body weight. The foot pads peel off while they sleep, making room for new tissue.
Many of the physiological changes an American black bear exhibits during hibernation are retained slightly post-hibernation. Upon exiting hibernation, bears retain a reduced heart rate and basal metabolic rate. The metabolic rate of a hibernating bear will remain at a reduced level for up to 21 days after hibernation. After emerging from their winter dens in the spring, they wander their home ranges for two weeks so that their metabolism accustoms itself to the activity.
Up to 85% of the American black bear’s diet consists of vegetation, though they tend to dig less than brown bear, eating far fewer roots, bulbs, corms and tubers than the latter species. When initially emerging from hibernation, they seek to feed on carrion from winter-killed animals and newborn ungulates. As the spring temperature warms, American black bears seek new shoots of many plant species, especially new grasses, wetland plants and forbs. Young shoots and buds from trees and shrubs during the spring period are also especially important to American black bears emerging from hibernation, as they assist in rebuilding muscle and strengthening the skeleton and are often the only digestible foods available at that time. In the summer its fruits, berries and soft masts such as buds and drupes. During the autumn, feeding becomes the full time tasks of American black bear.
The hibernation has been one of my favorite. When I owned my bear hunting camp in Northern Maine, I found many bear dens in the area. My nephew got to see first hand a Mother bear with cubs in a den about 200 yards from my camp. This was a sight that will stay with him for years to come!
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