Has A Den, But Does Not Truly Hibernate
Our largest native land mammal, the Florida black bear (Ursus americanus floridanus), has come back from only several hundred bears in the 1970s to more than 4,000 today. This subspecies of the American black bear is one of Florida’s biggest conservation success stories. It has a shiny, black coat of fur with a light brown nose and snout. Its long, razor sharp claws do not retract.
It is a powerful climber and swimmer and can run up to 30 mph for short distances. It has an excellent sense of smell, acute hearing, good eyesight, and sees in color. When a black bear sees a human, it will often do a lot of sniffing, and may stand up. This is not a sign of aggression; it helps the curious bear to catch the scent and to get a better look. The black bear is a very shy animal, whose normal nature is to flee human encounters.
Adult males normally weigh 250 to 350 lbs., and adult females 130 to 180 lbs. The largest male bear on record in Florida weighed 760 lbs.; the largest female weighed 400 lbs. Except during mating season from June to August, these bears are solitary by nature. Adult females typically breed every other year, producing one to three cubs in January/February, each weighing about a half pound. Cubs stay with their mother for about 18 months. Half die before a year of age. In Florida, male bears typically have a home range of 60 square miles; females just 15 square miles. black bears prefer forests of sand-pine scrub, oak scrub, forested wetlands and upland hardwoods like the Ocala National Forest.
The black bear is an omnivore, which means it eats both plants and other animals. It’ll eat just about anything, including fruits, berries, acorns, the hearts of the sabal palm or saw palmetto, honey, bees, walking sticks (a favorite insect), armadillos, wild pigs, fawns and garbage.
Loss of habitat due to development has increased the potential for more encounters between bears and people. The presence of a black bear does not necessarily represent a problem. Many residents living in black bear country enjoy observing them from a distance, of course. Never offer a bear food! Keep food sources like pet food and garbage away from them by securing or removing the temptations.
Column & photos by Sandi Staton – firstname.lastname@example.org
Read the full Nature’s Reflections article in the November 2017 SECO News.