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Species Description

American Black Bear

Ursus americanus


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Classification

Phylum: Chordata
Subphylum: Vertebrata
Class: Mammalia
Order: Carnivora
Family: Ursidae

Description

The Black Bear has short, thick, glossy fur which is most often a bluish black. Some individuals can be brown or cinnamon in color. This is the smallest of the American bears, but it is the largest carnivore in eastern North America. An adult Black Bear is 1.5 - 1.8 m (5 - 6 ft) tall, measures 0.6 - 0.9 m (2 - 3 ft) wide at the shoulder, and weighs 90.7 - 226.8 kg (200 - 500 lbs). Large heavy body and long legs with flat feet and stout claws; a very short tail. The Black Bear is not generally aggressive toward people. However, bears should never be fed or approached for they are large, powerful animals and can be unpredictable.

Life Cycle

Mating takes place from May - July. In January or February, 1 - 5 (usually 2) young are born in a den in a hollow tree, cave, or rocky crevice. The young bears, called cubs, are born blind. They are covered in a fine coat of fur, and weigh only 226.8 - 340.2 g (8 - 12 oz). Their eyes open at 25 days. They first leave the den at 2 months and are weaned at 6 - 7 months of age. By 8 months after their birth, male cubs weigh about 9.1 kg (20 lbs), and females, about 6.8 kg (15 lbs). Cubs stay with their mother until they reach about 18 months of age, at which time they disperse. They reach sexual maturity at about 3 years of age and full adult size by about 6 years.

Natural History

The Black Bear is a crepuscular animal in spring and fall, and is nocturnal in the summer. During the winter months, the Black Bear retires to its den and becomes dormant, but does not truly hibernate, for it can be easily aroused from this dormancy. A dormant bear has a decreased heart rate and breathing rate but its body temperature declines very little. The Black Bear is omnivorous, feeding in the wild on grasses, forbs, berries, fruits, nuts, acorns, grubs, insects, small rodents, birds, eggs, and carrion. It also enjoys many of the same foods that humans favor. To reach such food, the Black Bear will overturn garbage cans and has been known to rip open tents and coolers. When one is camping in bear country, food should always be placed in a very stout, lockable container or suspended high off the ground by a rope thrown over a tree limb. Humans are the only natural predator of Black Bears. Individuals may live to be as old as 20 years, but in the wild the average age is only 7 years.

Range

American Black Bear Region Map The Black Bear once ranged throughout North America, except in the deserts of the Southwest and the tundra of the Arctic. In Georgia the largest populations remain in remote forested and swampland areas, such as the Okefenokee Swamp and the Blue Ridge Mountains.

Conservation Status

Black Bears can be common in certain areas, but they remain largely uncommon throughout most of their range. A strictly controlled hunting season is allowed in Georgia during the months of September - December, with a limit of one bear per hunter per season. In recent years Black Bear populations have come under great pressure from poachers. Unscrupulous people hunt and kill Black Bears and take only the gall bladders, which they sell to black marketeers who in turn sell them in Asia for so-called medicinal purposes.

Similar Species

No other species of large mammal can be confused for a Black Bear in Georgia.