American Black Bear

American Black Bear
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The American black bear (Ursus americanus) is a well-known medium-sized bear endemic to North America.

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It is its continent’s most widely distributed bear species and also the smallest. They are omnivorous animals, with their diets varying greatly on the location and season. It is the world’s most common bear species.

American black bear is listed on the IUCN Red List as Least Concern due to its large population, which is believed to be twice the total population of all other bears combined, and its widespread distribution.

Table of Contents

Scientific classification

DomainEukaryota
KingdomAnimalia
PhylumChordata
ClassMammalia
OrderCarnivora
FamilyUrsidae
GenusUrsus
SpeciesU. americanus

Subspecies

SubspeciesDescriptionDistribution
Olympic black bear (Ursus americanus altifrontalis)Central British Columbia, northern California and northern Idaho.
New Mexico black bear (Ursus americanus amblyceps)New Mexico, Colorado, western Texas, northern Mexico, and southeastern Utah.
Eastern black bear (Ursus americanus americanus)Common to the eastern U.S. and Eastern Canada wherever suitable habitat is found. A large-bodied subspecies; almost all individual have black fur. Some individuals possess a white blaze on the chest.Eastern Montana, Atlantic coast, Alaska south, Canada, Maine and Texas.
California black bear (Ursus americanus californiensis)Found in chaparral shrubland in the south and temperate rain forest in the north. A few individuals may possess cinnamon-coloured fur.Southern California, and southern Oregon.
Queen Charlotte Islands black bear and Haida Gwaii black bear (Ursus americanus carlottae)It found only in a black colour phase.Alaska and the Haida Gwaii (a.k.a. the Queen Charlotte Islands).
Cinnamon bear (Ursus americanus cinnamomum)Has reddish-brown and brown fur, reminiscent of cinnamon.Idaho, Colorado, Wyoming, western Montana, eastern Washington, Oregon and northeastern Utah.
Glacier bear (Ursus americanus emmonsii)Distinguished by its fur being silvery-gray with a blue luster found mostly on its flanks.Southeastern Alaska.
East Mexican black bear (Ursus americanus eremicus)U.S. borderlands with Texas and Northeastern Mexico.
Florida black bear (Ursus americanus floridanus)Has a shiny black fur and light brown nose. An average male weighs 300 lb (136 kg).Southern Georgia, Florida, Mississippi and Alabama.
Newfoundland black bear (Ursus americanus hamiltoni)It ranges from 200 to 600 lb (90 to 270 kg) and averaging 298 lb (135 kg).Newfoundland
Kermode bear or spirit bear (Ursus americanus kermodei)About 10% of the population of this subspecies have cream-coloured or white coats due to a recessive gene and are called “spirit bears” or “Kermode bears”.The central coast of British Columbia
Louisiana black bear (Ursus americanus luteolus)Louisiana, Eastern Texas, and southern Mississippi.
West Mexican black bear (Ursus americanus machetes)North-central Mexico
Kenai black bear (Ursus americanus perniger)The Kenai Peninsula, Alaska
Dall Island black bear (Ursus americanus pugnax)Dall Island in the Alexander Archipelago, Alaska
Vancouver Island black bear (Ursus americanus vancouveri)Vancouver Island, British Columbia

Characteristics

The American black bear’s skull is broad, with large jaw hinges and narrow muzzles. The total length of an adult American black bear in Virginia was found to average 10.3 – 12.5 in (262 – 317 mm).

The American black bear’s greatest skull length across its range has been reportedly measured from 9.3 – 13.8 in (23.5 – 35 cm). Females tend to have more pointed and slenderer faces than males.

Their claws are typically greyish-brown or black. The claws are rounded and short, being tapering to a point and thick at the base. Claws from both front and hind legs are almost alike in length, though the fore-claws tend to be more sharply curved.

The American black bears’ paws are relatively large with a rearfoot length of 5.4 – 8.9 in (13.7 – 22.5 cm), which is much smaller than the paws of a large adult brown bear and polar bear.

However, the American black bear is significantly larger than other medium-sized bears.

The soles of the feet are brownish or black and are naked, deeply wrinkled, and leathery. The vestigial tail is 120 mm (4.8 inches) long. They are highly dexterous, being capable of manipulating door latches and opening screw-top jars.

Due to their great physical strength, they are able to turn over flat-shap0ed rocks weighing 141 – 147 kg (310 – 325 pounds).

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They have good eyesight and can also run at speeds of 40 – 48 km/h (25 – 30 miles per hour). They are able to quickly learn to distinguish different shapes, such as circles, triangles, and squares.

The American black bear weight tends to vary depending on sex, age, season, and health. Adult males usually weigh between 126 to 551 lb (57 to 250 kg), while females weigh 90 to 375 lb (41 to 170 kg), which is 33% lesser than males.

Some studies carried out in the state of California indicated that the average mass is 190 lb (86 kg) in adult males and 128 lb (58 kg) in adult females.

In Yukon Flats National Wildlife Refuge located in east-central Alaska, adult American black bears were found to average 192 lb (87.3 kg) in males and 140 lb (63.4 kg) in females. On Kuiu Island in southeast Alaska, they averaged 254 lb (115 kg).

In Great Smoky Mountains National Park, adult females averaged 104 lb (47 kg), and adult males averaged 247 lb (112 kg). Bears in British Columbia averaged 162 lb (73.7 kg) in 89 females and 227 lb (103.1 kg) in 243 males.

Black bears in north-central Minnesota averaged 154 lb (69.9 kg) in 163 females and 275 lb (124.95 kg) in 77 males. In Waterton Lakes National Park in Alberta, adults reportedly averaged 276 – 282 lb (125 – 128 kg).

Adults typically range from 47 to 79 in (120 – 200 cm) in head-and-body length and 28 to 41 in (70 to 105 cm) in shoulder height. The typically small tail is 3.0 to 7.0 in (7.7 to 17.7 cm) long.

The fur is soft, with long, coarse, thick guard hairs and dense underfur. The fur is not as coarse or shaggy as that of brown bears. Individual coat colours can range from blonde, white, silvery-grey, light brown, cinnamon, jet black, and dark chocolate.

Behaviour

American Black Bear
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American black bears are solitary animals. They roam large territories; however, this does not protect them from other bear species. Male might wander a 15 – 80 sq mi home range.

When the winter season arrives, the American black bear remains dormant in their den (hibernate). During this period, they rely on the body fat they have stored up by eating all fall and summer ravenously.

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They make their dens in burrows, caves, brush piles, or any sheltered spots. Sometimes they make dens in tree hole high above the ground.

Reproduction

Females (sows) usually produce their first litter at the age of 3 – 5 years. The mating period usually occurs between the June and July period, though it can be as last as August. The mating period lasts for 2 – 3 months.

Both males and females are promiscuous. After mating, females (sows) tend to be short-tempered with their mates.

The fertilized eggs are not implanted in the womb until November (delayed development). The gestation period may last 235 days, and the litters are born in late January – early February.

Litter size is usually between 1 to 6 cubs, averagely 2 or 3. At birth, cubs weigh 0.62 to 0.99 lb (280 to 450 g) and measure 8.1 in (20.5 cm) in length. They are born with underdeveloped hindquarters and fine, grey, down-like hair.

Cubs are born with their eyes closed but open them after 28 to 40 days. They begin to walk after 5 weeks. Cubs feed only on their mothers’ milk for 30 weeks and become independent at 16 – 18 months.

At the age of 6 weeks, they attain 2.0 lb (900 g), by the age of 8 weeks, they reach 5.5 lb (2.5 kg), and by the age of six months, they weigh 40 – 60 lb (18 – 27 kg). They become sexually mature at the age of 3 years and reach their full growth at the age of 5 years.

The average life expectancy of an American black bear in the wild is 18 years, though wild individuals can survive for more than 23 years. The record age of a captive specimen was 44 years, while that in the wild was 39 years.

Diet

The American black bear is a very opportunistic eater. Its diet mostly consists of roots, grasses, insects and berries. They will also eat mammal (including carrion) & fish and easily develop a taste for human garbage and food.

Bears that become habituated to human food at cabins, campsites, or rural homes are said to be dangerous and are often killed. It is best to avoid feeding the bears.

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American Black Bear
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Adenaya Damilola
Adenaya Damilola is a content creator and an aspiring biochemist. He is interested in music, poetry, and tech. He is also an animal lover.
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