American Black Bear
- Scientific Name: Ursus americanus
The American black bear is a medium-sized bear native to North America. It is the continent's smallest and most widely distributed bear species.
Description: The skulls of American black bears are broad, with narrow muzzles and large jaw hinges. Females tend to have slenderer and more pointed faces than males. Their claws are typically black or grayish-brown. The claws are short and rounded, being thick at the base and tapering to a point. Claws from both hind and front legs are almost identical in length, though the foreclaws tend to be more sharply curved.
American black bear weight tends to vary according to age, sex, health and season. Seasonal variation in weight is very pronounced: in autumn, their pre-den weight tends to be 30% higher than in spring, when black bears emerge from their dens. Adult males typically weigh between 57–250 kg (126–551 lb), while females weigh 33% less at 41–170 kg (90–375 lb).
The fur is soft, with dense underfur and long, coarse, thick guard hairs. Despite their name, American black bears show a great deal of color variation. Individual coat colors can range from white, blonde, cinnamon, light brown or dark chocolate brown to jet black, with many intermediate variations existing.
Habitat: Throughout their range, habitats preferred by American black bears have a few shared characteristics. They are often found in areas with relatively inaccessible terrain, thick understory vegetation and large quantities of edible material. The adaptation to woodlands and thick vegetation in this species may have originally been due to the American black bear having evolved alongside larger, more aggressive bear species, such as the extinct giant short-faced bear and the still-living grizzly bear, that monopolized more open habitats and the historic presence of larger predators, that could have preyed on American black bears. Although found in the largest numbers in wild, undisturbed areas and rural regions, American black bears can adapt to surviving in some numbers in peri-urban regions, as long as they contain easily accessible foods and some vegetative coverage.
In most of the contiguous United States, American black bears today are usually found in heavily vegetated mountainous areas, from 400 to 3,000 m (1,300 to 9,800 ft) in elevation. For American black bears living in the American Southwest and Mexico, habitat usually consists of stands of chaparral and pinyon juniper woods. In this region, bears occasionally move to more open areas to feed on prickly pear cactus. At least two distinct, prime habitat types are inhabited in the Southeastern United States. American black bears in the southern Appalachian Mountains survive in predominantly oak-hickory and mixed mesophytic forests. In the coastal areas of the Southeast (such as Florida, the Carolinas and Louisiana), bears inhabit a mixture of flatwoods, bays and swampy hardwood sites.
In the northeast part of the range (United States and Canada), prime habitat consists of a forest canopy of hardwoods such as beech, maple, birch and coniferous species. Corn crops and oak-hickory mast are also common sources of food in some sections of the Northeast; small, thick swampy areas provide excellent refuge cover largely in stands of white cedar. Along the Pacific coast, redwood, Sitka spruce and hemlocks predominate as overstory cover. Within these northern forest types are early successional areas important for American black bears, such as fields of brush, wet and dry meadows, high tidelands, riparian areas and a variety of mast-producing hardwood species. The spruce-fir forest dominates much of the range of the American black bear in the Rockies. Important nonforested areas here are wet meadows, riparian areas, avalanche chutes, roadsides, burns, sidehill parks and subalpine ridgetops.
In areas where human development is relatively low, such as stretches of Canada and Alaska, American black bears tend to be found more regularly in lowland regions. In parts of northeastern Canada, especially Labrador, American black bears have adapted exclusively to semi-open areas that are more typical habitat in North America for brown bears (likely due to the absence here of brown and polar bears, as well as other large carnivore species)
Food: American black bears are omnivorous so they eat plants, fruits, nuts, insects, honey, salmon, small mammals, and carrion.