The Little One
Folklore: Perhaps no other animals have so excited the human imagination as bears. References to bears are found in ancient and modern literature, folk songs, legends, mythology, children stories, and cartoons. Bears are among the first animals that children learn to recognize. Bear folklore is confusing because it is based on caricatures, with Teddy Bears and the kindly Smoky on one hand and ferocious magazine cover drawings on the other. Dominant themes of our folklore are fear of the unknown and man against nature, and bears have traditionally been portrayed as the villains to support those themes, unfairly demonizing them to the public. A problem for black bears is that literature about bears often does not separate black bears from grizzly bears.
General Description: The black bear is approximately 4 to 7 feet from nose to tail, and two to three feet high at the withers. It has small eyes, rounded ears, a long snout, a large body, a short tail, and shaggy hair. It differs from grizzly bears in being smaller with a smaller shoulder hump, a furred rear instep, a less concave facial profile, smaller claws that are more tightly curved, and longer, smoother, and more tapered ears.
Range: The American black bear is found only in North America. The population is estimated at 750,000. They live in forests as far south as Florida and northern Mexico and as far north as forests grow in Alaska and Canada. In northern Labrador, where grizzly bears no longer live, black bears range out onto open tundra where there are no trees to escape into. People are becoming more tolerant of black bears as we learn more about them. Many people are enjoying having bears live close to them where the bears were once feared and killed.
Color: Body fur usually black or brown but occasionally blonde, or rarely white as in the Kermode subspecies of coastal British Columbia. Brown muzzle. White chest patch is uncommon in most populations. Eyes brown (blue at birth). Skin light gray.
Adult Weights: Wild male black bears of breeding age usually weigh between 125 and 500 pounds, depending upon age, season, and food. Very well fed bears can be heavier. The record is 880 pounds in Craven County, North Carolina, and a close second from northeastern Minnesota weighed 876 pounds on September 5, 1994. Wild females usually weigh between 90 and 300 pounds with the heaviest known female weighing 520 pounds in northeastern Minnesota on August 30, 1993. Black bears in captivity may exceed these records.
Adult Length: 50 to 80 inches long, nose to tail, with males being larger than females.
Mating Season: Usually from late May to early July. In the eastern deciduous forest, mating season can extend into August.
Implantation: Delayed until November.
Birth: January or early February.
Number of Cubs: The number of cubs in a litter is usually 2 in the western United States and 3 in the eastern United States. First litters are often only 1 or 2. Litters of 6 have been reported in several eastern states.
Birth Weight: Cubs weigh 1/2 to 1 pound at birth.
Fall Weight of Cubs: By their first fall, cubs may weigh as little as 15 pounds or more than 165 pounds, depending on food supply.
Parental Care: Cubs usually stay with their mother for 17 months (rarely 29 months). One to six days before the mothers are ready to mate in late May or June, they force their yearlings to stop traveling with them.
Age at Production of First Cubs: 2 to 11 years, depending upon food supply. Typically 3 to 7 years.