New series, everyone! Pitchblende deserves credit both for the idea of doing a series about bear species as well as the name of the series. I confess I was reluctant to start writing about bears, because honestly they scare the shit out of me, more than any of the other predators I’ve written about. However, maybe learning about them will make me less afraid of them, or at least fear them a reasonable amount. Also, it seems weird to have written about large predators like felids, canids, hyenas and crocodilians, and neglect writing about bears.
The American Black Bear (Ursus americanus) are omnivorous animals that can be found in North America, and is the most numerous bear species in the world. Its total population is estimated to be more than twice that of all other species combined. Though they share the continent with brown bears and polar bears, they are more closely related to the Asiatic Black Bear, believed to have diverged from a common ancestor about 4 million years ago. There are currently sixteen recognized subspecies.
As bears go, American Black Bears are medium-sized, but individual animals vary in size and weight based on a number of factors, including on the season, their overall health, age and sex. They weigh the most before they go into their dens for the winter, and are about 30% lighter when they come out in the spring. Like other predators, the size of American Black Bears tends to follow Bergmann’s Rule, which postulates that members of a species are larger the closer they are to the poles, and smaller the closer they are to the equator. Adult males can weigh around 550 pounds (250 kg), while adult females weigh only 375 pounds (170 kg).
American Black Bears don’t always have black coats. In fact their coat color can vary widely, including blonde, white, cinnamon, light brown, dark brown, and black. Ursus americanus kermodei is a subspecies in British Columbia that has a high incidence of blonde bears, about one in ten.
The diet of American Black Bears is extremely diverse, but in general up to 85% of what they eat is some kind of vegetation. They are crepuscular, meaning that they are usually most active during the twilight hours, but they could be out foraging at any time during the day or night. The plant foods they eat include fruit, the young shoots of grasses, and nuts. When they eat things that aren’t plants, they usually eat insects. They love honey, and aren’t really affected by bee stings. They will also eat fish and prey on young ungulates, like moose and elk.
Female bears are called sows, and male bears are called boars. The mating season usually takes place in June and July, and both sexes will mate promiscuously. Boars will become violently possessive of a sow if another boar comes near while they’re mating. The fertilized embryos do not implant immediately, but are delayed until around November. Gestation is about 235 days, meaning that the cubs are born in January and February, during the hibernation season. This gives sows an opportunity to care for their cubs in relative safety before having to venture out for food. There are typically two or three cubs in a litter, but there can be as many as six in rare cases.
American Black Bears play a large part in the culture and mythology of the indigenous peoples of North America. In fact, the Kermode bear species mentioned above are also called spirit bears. Teddy bears were invented by Morris Michtom in 1902, after he heard a story about Theodore Roosevelt being unwilling to shoot and kill a black bear cub he had treed. Another well-known cultural image is that of Smokey the Bear, the U.S. Forest Service’s mascot that educates kids about the dangers of forest fires. In general, American Black Bears avoid humans, preferring to make threat displays when confronted. The majority of attacks have occurred in parks and forests in which bears have become accustomed to humans, which is why it is important not to feed wild animals and to keep human food out of their reach.
Source for all images used in this post.