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Black Bear Ursus americanus


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Black Bear, cinnamon phase
credit: HBarrison/CCSA

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Family: Ursidae, Bears view all from this family

Description Distinguished from other bears by smaller size, larger ears, pale muzzle, and a rounded back. Fur color varies geographically; most eastern animals are dark black; western populations can be brown, cinnamon, or blond. Some coastal populations in British Columbia and Alaska are creamy white (Kermode Bears) or bluish gray (Glacier Bears). Some animals have a white chest patch. Lips are prehensile. Males are larger. Often leaves its mark on trees when stripping bark to eat sap, climbing tree with claws, or rubbing and scratching to mark territory. In most areas the Black Bear hibernates through the winter in ground or tree dens; in the far south only pregnant females hibernate.

Dimensions 1.5-2.1m, 8-14cm, 47-409kg; / 1.3-1.7m, 8-14cm, 39-236kg

Endangered Status The Louisiana Black Bear, a subspecies of the Black Bear, is on the U.S. Endangered Species List. It is classified as threatened in Mississippi, Louisiana, and Texas. Numbers of this bear apparently held steady until European settlement and its attendant population explosion and large-scale habitat alteration. Black Bears were heavily hunted and their woodland habitats were logged and converted to farmland. The Louisiana Black Bear today survives primarily along the Tensas and Atchafalaya River basins in Louisiana, although it wanders farther afield. A recent threat to the Black Bear has been illegal killing and the export of its gall bladders to Asia.

Warning All North American bears can be dangerous in the following situations: when accompanied by cubs, when surprised by the sudden appearance of humans, when approached while feeding, guarding a kill, fishing, hungry, injured, or breeding, and when conditioned to human foods, as has occurred in some Canadian and U.S. parks. Do not feed, approach, or get between a Black Bear and its food or cubs; it will usually flee, but can cause serious injury or even death. Black Bears can run up to 30 miles per hour and can climb trees. Campers must firmly seal up food and place it out of reach. Bears will break into unattended vehicles if they smell food. Most of the negative interactions that take place between Black Bears and humans occur with bears that have diminished fear of humans and are habituated to human foods.

Habitat Alpine & subalpine habitats, Canyons & caves, Forests & woodlands, Swamps, marshes & bogs

Range Plains, Great Lakes, New England, Mid-Atlantic, Rocky Mountains, Southeast, Southwest, Florida, California, Northwest, Eastern Canada, Western Canada, Alaska

Discussion Populations are increasing across most of their range, and this is the bear most likely encountered in North America, even roaming into densely populated suburban areas. Unlike other bears, they are basically shy, and retreat quickly, sometimes after a brief bluff. Omnivorous, it is an opportunistic predator in woodlands and swamps, and is the only bear in eastern forests.