Black Bear - Ursus americanus
Black bears come in a variety of colors, including black, rust, various shades of brown, and even white; and can be found throughout North America. Brown bears include grizzlies and Kodiak (believed by some to be the same species). Once common in California, the last grizzly was killed in 1922. Black bear populations in North America are estimated to be around 200,000; down from an estimated 2 million at the time European explorers first arrived.
Males, known as boars, and females, called sows, first mate when around four years of age. Gestation lasts for a period of 220 days and females normally bear young only every second or third year. Black bear mothers have 1 – 2 offspring, which will stay with her for up to two years. When born they are blind, deaf and nearly hairless. They weigh only 200 – 450 grams (the smallest ratio of offspring to adult in mammals). Much richer than cow’s milk, the milk their mother provides will help them grow quickly. Emerging from their winter den they follow their mother constantly to learn, first-hand, the skills of survival. Despite her efforts, infant mortality is high. In the wild, cubs that survive have a life expectancy of approximately 10 years. In captivity bears often live well into their twenties.
Black bears do not truly hibernate but can go into a “dormant” state, during which time they can go without food for months. When food is available they are big eaters, consuming as much as 45 pounds of food a day. Omnivorous in habit, bears eat a variety of foods including grasses, leaves, nuts and seeds, eggs, fish, insects, small animals and even carrion. Although bears are often associated with a love of honey, wild bears are really more interested in the protein rich larvae within the hive. Of course the delicious honey is a nice accompaniment.
In the wild, bears will tolerate others only when food is plentiful. Generally they lead solitary lives, with the exception of mating. Warnings of displeasure may be with vocalizations such as growls, grunting, huffing or roars. Bears also have an extensive range of body language. A lowered head or opening and closing the mouth quickly are both signs of an unhappy bear. (A group of bears, though uncommon, is called a sleuth or sloth.)