ursus americanus - the american black bear

The Black Bear (ursus americanus)

by Christina Brack & Chrystal McMillan

the letter 'T'The black bear (Ursus americanus) is a familiar sight to many British Columbians, may it be in the wilderness or wandering through the backyard; but how familiar are you with this furry resident of the forest?
To begin with, black bears are not always black which sometimes leads to the confusion of black bears and grizzly bears (Ursus arctos). Coat colours for black bears can range from chocolate-brown to cinnamon brown to blonde and even white as seen with the Kermode, or Spirit Bears, whose unique colouring is the result of a rare recessive gene. Occasionally, you may see a white v-shaped blaze on a darker bear's chest.

Black bears can be distinguished from grizzlies by their profile of a straight line running from the forehead to the tip of the nose, sometimes referred to as a "Roman" profile. Grizzlies on the other hand, have a concave profile with an obvious depression between the eyes and end of the nose. The ears on a black bear tend to be larger and rounder than the grizzly with a smaller, less pronounced shoulder hump. The distinctive hump on a grizzly bear is due to large muscles necessary for digging. Black bears, however, are agile tree climbers with short hooked claws and both species, despite their lumbering appearance, are extremely fast easily outpacing a racehorse.

While black bears are generally smaller than the grizzly, healthy males can still be a formidable presence tipping the scales at 275 kg (600lbs). Adult females weigh in anywhere from 40-180 kg (90-400 lbs) with their cubs emerging from the den as inquisitive balls of fur at 2-4 kg (4-9 lbs).

Breeding occurs in the summer months and healthy females will reach maturity at 3-4 years of age with litters every 2 years. Males are mature enough to reproduce at 3-4 years of age and sometimes younger, but may not be big enough to win fights for breeding rights until 4 or 5 years of age. Cubs are born blind and nearly helpless during the winter while the mother is in her den. They will nurse her rich milk and grow into very energetic young bears by the time spring thaw arrives. These cubs generally stay with their mother through their first winter and become independent by their second summer.

Forested and shrubby areas are the preferred habitat, but black bears can be found in a wide range of environments from Alaska to Mexico; Atlantic Ocean to Pacific Ocean. They can be found in all of the Canadian provinces (except for PEI), 41 US states and northern portions of Mexico.
Being omnivorous and opportunistic in their feeding habits, black bears include a wide range of natural foods in their diet. They predominantly forage on herbs, nuts & berries but will also dine on carrion, rodents and the young of deer and elk. Black bears are also known for their fish catching prowess and coastal bears will forage on shellfish at low tide.

As you can see, not just your average bear!

To report any wildlife-human interactions where public safety may be at risk, call the Conservation Officer Service at 1.877.952.rapp (7277)

For more Bear Smart info, questions, concerns or to volunteer please contact Dawn Boyce at 250.723.2187 or avbearsmart@hotmail.com, or Christina Brack 250.723.9200

Christina Brack is a Bear Smart BC Society Volunteer and Crystal McMillan is the Executive Director of the Bear Smart BC Society.

Bears in Tofino

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Tofino Bear Watching: www.tofinobearwatching.com

Tofino Time June 2010

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The American Black Bear (ursus americanus) is profiled in this article from the Tofino Bear Smart BC Society for Tofino Time Magazine.

tofino time june 2010