The American Black Bear is among the smallest and heavily distributed bears throughout North America. They have evolved and adapted side-by-side with mankind, allowing for a more-or-less peaceful co-existence with them, minor skirmishes aside. This has led to them often wandering to human settlements for food, but prefer to avoid direct contact with the former. Though this may give off the impression that the black bear is friendly, it is still wild and should be cautiously approached.
These bears inhabit most of the North American continent, including the Appalachian Mountains, Maine, northern Georgia, the northern Midwest, the Rocky Mountain region, the West Coast, Alaska, Ohio, southern Indiana, the Driftless Area of southeastern Minnesota, northeastern Iowa, and southwestern Wisconsin.
They inhabit relatively inaccessible terrain, thick understory vegetation, and large quantities of edible material, mainly in mountainous areas. Their common dwelling places include tree cavities, caves, under logs, and rocks during the hibernation phase.
Due to their versatile dietary habits, they have adapted to different habitats such as deciduous and coniferous forests.
They live for18-30 years in the wild, and 44 years in captivity.
What Do They Eat?
Being omnivorous, the adults have a varied diet of roots, berries, meat, fish, insects, larvae, honey, grass, and other succulent plants.
They exhibit the curiosity seen in most other bears, often sniffing and standing up on their hind legs to observe and smell their surroundings intently.
Black bears are relatively quiet but will occasionally get noisy to signal their fellow mates.
When threatened, they slap the ground, blow air forcefully through their nose or mouth, and snap their teeth, failing which, the bear may run towards the source and then veer away.
These territorial bears demarcate their territories by clawing, biting, and rubbing on them.
It adapts to water quickly and is a good swimmer.
Those close to human settlements are nocturnal, while the bears inhabiting dens near the brown bears are diurnal.
Of the few natural predators, these include mountain lions, gray wolf packs, and brown bears.
The American black bear has a specialized organ called the Jacobson’s organ in the roof of the mouth that enhances its taste and smell.
Its strong curved claws help it in climbing trees and even to rip logs to acquire its prey.
They can use their fur as insulation to reduce blood supply to their limbs during hibernation and fluff it to look more prominent against predators.
Their long and sticky tongue helps them in gathering honey and berries with ease.
Mating and Reproduction
Their breeding phase lasts for two to three months. Both sexes are promiscuous, i.e., they have multiple partners, with violent fights breaking out between two males to claim a female.
Cubs typically open their eyes after 28–40 days and walk after 5 weeks. They are dependent on their mother for 30 weeks and reach independence at 16–18 months.
They reach sexual maturity around three years of age and are fully grown at five.
The IUCN marks the American Black Bear as “LC” or “Least Concern”, making it another of the bear species after the brown bear not threatened by extinction.
The American indegenous people often told tales of the black bear’s divine connection, since it was thought to be created by the Great Spirit.
The beloved children’s character Winnie-the-Pooh attained its name after Winnipeg, a female American black bear cub residing at the London Zoo.