The American black bear Ursus americanus is the smallest and the most widespread bear species found in North America.
Its ancestors are believed to have crossed into North America over the Bering Land Bridge
about 500,000 years ago.
In Canada, black bears still inhabit 85 percent of their historic range from Northern Alaska to the east coast. They then become more
and more dispersed across the United States as you go farther south. They are known to inhabit at least 40 of the states and can be
found as far south as the Sierra Madre Mountains in Mexico.
Black bears are very adaptive and can be found in a variety of environments, though they prefer heavily forested areas. In the
east, they are found primarily in forests and swamps. In the west, they are found mostly in forests and wooded mountains. Rarely
are they found at altitudes any higher than 7,000 feet. Black bears are very solitary animals and are territorial. A male bear's
territory is anywhere from 8 to 15 square miles and is about twice that of a female's.
Most black bears are black with a light brown muzzle and often have a white V-shaped fur patch on their chest. However, many subspecies
can also be found in other colors, such as the cinnamon bear in
reddish brown, the kermode bear in creamy white, or the glacier bear in gray blue. They have small eyes
and their ears are rounded and erect. Their claws which are shorter, sharper and more curved than the average bears are well designed
for digging and climbing trees.
On average, adult black bears stand from 35 to 40 inches high and from 54 to 72 inches in length (tip of nose to end of tail). Their
weight can range anywhere from 125 to over 600 pounds. Size and weight can vary to the extreme depending on food availability. Male
black bears (boars) are usually 30 to 40 percent larger than females (sows). The largest black bear officially on record was shot in
North Carolina in November of 1998, weighing 880 pounds. In December of 1921, a black bear reportedly weighing 900 pounds was killed
in Arizona, but the report was unsubstantiated. Black bears in captivity may weigh even more being that they have a steady diet.
Like most bears, the American black bear is considered omnivorous feeding both on vegetation and animals. Most of its diet consists of
vegetation such as nuts, roots, fruit, insects, honey, and bee larvae. It is capable of killing animals as large as an adult elk,
though the animals that the black bear feeds on are usually limited to fish, small rodents, and carrion.
Females become sexually mature at 3 to 5 years, and males at 4 to 6 years. Mating usually occurs in May or June. Bears at more
northern climates, however, might wait until July or August. After being fertilized, the egg freely floats inside the female's uterus
for about 6 months before beginning to develop. Then after another 2 months, in January or February, the mother gives birth to usually
2 cubs. When born, the cubs usually weigh between 8 and 12 ounces. They are blind, hairless, and can't walk until they are 4 or 5
weeks old. At 6 months, they weigh from 55 to 65 pounds. They will usually stay with their mother for their first 1 to 2 years.
It is estimated that there are between 767,000 to 914,000 black bears in North America and over 450,000 in the United States alone.
They have no serious enemies other than humans. Over 90% of black
bear deaths after the age of 18 months are the result of hunting, trapping, motor vehicle accidents, or other interactions with
humans. They have lived to be over 35 years in captivity. However,
the average life expectancy in the wild is 15 to 20 years.