Black Bear

Black Bear

SCIENTIFIC NAME: Ursus americanus

The black bear is the only bear currently living in California. (California’s last grizzly bear was killed in 1922 and became our state animal in 1953.) The long, dense fur of a black bear isn’t always black; it may be cinnamon, dark brown. or yellowish brown. A white blaze on the chest is common; the muzzle is often golden. Bears have 5 toes on their front and back feet. They are plantigrade; they walk flat footed, just like you. The front track is 4″ long and 5″ wide; the hind track is 7-9″ long and 5″ wide. Their big toe is on the outside. Claw marks are visible in their tracks. Seemingly clumsy as they walk, black bears can run at 30 mph.

Black bears are powerful and unpredictable animals that usually avoid humans; however, a surprise encounter or an encounter with a “park” bear is a dangerous encounter for the person.

Bears do NOT really hibernate, but avoid the harsh weather in winter-rest. Their body temperature only drops about 10 degrees F with heart and respiration rates staying constant. They live off their stored fat. A diet of berries before denning acts as a laxative to cleanse the digestive tract, then the bear eats pine needles, leaves and/or hair which forms an anal plug that prevents them from eliminating while they sleep.

Black bear cubs are born in late-January to mid-February while the snow is in her winter-rest. Weighing only 1/2 pound they are blind and helpless; twins are common. They will stay with mom, nurse and grow until she comes out of her den in the spring. Mom is very protective, she trains them to escape danger by climbing the nearest tree. Bears are classified with dogs as carnivores, but they are actually omnivores. Bears have poor vision, but a keen sense of smell. By wandering with mom they learn where to find food: honey, insects and larva in tree stumps and logs; berries, nuts, twigs and leaves from bushes; how to hunt and catch small mammals and fish. The cubs will continue to nurse until 6-8 months of age. The young will stay with mom for 1 1/2 years, as cubs are born every other year. Cubs must move out and find their own territory; they will have a home range of 8-10 square miles. At the end of their first year they may weigh 50-60 pounds, but will grow to 200-500+ pounds. Males are considerably larger than females. Maturity is reached by age 3. Bears may live 20-25 years in the wild and 30-35 years in captivity. Bears are solitary except during breeding season (late spring through early summer). The fertilized egg isn’t implanted until 6-7 months later, this is called delayed implantation.

Niche: Black bears are omnivorous, they have crushing no cutting malars. They will eat anything organic: berries, nuts, other vegetables, fungi, “truffles”, insects (bees and honey), larva, mice, ground squirrels, and fish. They forage in garbage dumps and will invade apple orchards. They are not adverse to eating carrion.

Habitat: Black bears live in most of the forested areas in California and down to about 3,000 feet. In the northwaest coastal forests, they may wander out onto the beach. They are found from Canadian coniferous forests to Mexico.

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