American black bear

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American black bear
American black bear

American black bear

Order : Predators (Carnivora)
Subordination : Canine (Caniformia)
Family : Bears (Ursidae)
Subfamily : Ursinae
Genre : Ursus
Type : American black bear
Scientific name
Ursus americanus
Pallas , 1780

The American black bear ( Ursus americanus ), also known as baribal , is a species of predator from the bear family (Ursidae) that lives in North America . In his homeland he is mostly referred to as a black bear or a baribal . Compared to the rather feared grizzly bear , the black bear is considered less dangerous.


American black bears have the typical bear body structure. The trunk is massive, the limbs strong. The paws each have five strong claws, which the bears use to tear, dig and climb. As with all bears, the tail is just a short stub. The large head is characterized by the rather long, hairless muzzle, the small eyes and the round, erect ears.

With a head body length of 1.5 to 1.8 meters, a shoulder height of up to 91 centimeters and an average weight of around 100 kilograms, the black bear is significantly smaller and lighter than the grizzly. However, there is a clear difference in weight between the sexes: while females weigh between 40 and 230 kilograms (average: 80 kg), males are significantly heavier with 50 to 400 kilograms (average: 120 kg).

Despite their name, not all American black bears are colored black. There are also silver-gray and reddish-brown variants, and some baribals have a coat color almost identical to that of grizzlies. The color of the fur is related to the habitat: while animals that live in dense forests with a cooler climate (in the north and east of the distribution area) tend to be black, the black bears in the southern and western parts of the distribution area tend to live in open, drier ones Terrain living, a rather brownish color. In the New England states , New York, Tennessee and Michigan, only black-skinned bears are found. In the coastal regions of Washington state, 99 percent of the bears have a black coat, while in the interior of Washington 21 percent of the black bear population have a brown-tinted coat. In Yosemite National Park, on the other hand, only 9 percent had black fur, according to a study. 91 percent of the population have brown or even blonde shades of fur. A specialty are the Kermode bears that live on the Canadian west coast and are characterized by their whitish fur. But these are not albinos . The color of the fur also varies over the year. After shedding the winter coat, the new top coat is darker. Shortly before the change from summer to winter, on the other hand, the color is lighter and almost faded, especially in the case of brown and light specimens.

Characteristics that distinguish the American black bear from the brown bear are, in addition to the smaller size, the lack of muscular neck hump, the flatter forehead, the shorter claws of the front paws and the shorter rear legs. In the case of black bears, the region from nose to snout is also more brightly colored than is the case with grizzlies.

distribution and habitat

Distribution area of ​​the American black bear

The range of the American black bear covers large parts of North America . They live in almost all of Alaska and Canada with the exception of the far north, in the core area of ​​the United States (the 48 contiguous states ) they are also widespread and were originally missing only in the south-western, dry part of the country. In Mexico they occur mainly in the area of ​​the Sierra Madre Oriental and Sierra Madre Occidental mountain ranges .

Due to the colonization of the continent by the Europeans, their area of ​​distribution has changed somewhat. On the one hand, their numbers have decreased significantly in the densely populated eastern and southern parts of the United States, where often only relic populations remain. On the other hand, they have gained an advantage through the widespread extermination of the grizzly bears, which were superior food competitors and predators to the baribal, and they have migrated to new habitats. Today they are common in all provinces of Canada, in 39 US states and in Mexico. The American Bear Association estimates its current population at 286,600 to 328,000 in the United States alone and over 600,000 animals in all of North America.

Black bears inhabit a number of habitats , but need sufficient food and vegetation to protect themselves from view. They live primarily in forests with a very dense undergrowth, but sometimes inhabit open areas such as grasslands and tundras, especially where there are no grizzly bears (any more).

Way of life

Head view of an American black bear
Black bear in Sequoia National Park


The usual way of locomotion of the black bears is a leisurely pass , whereby they always touch the sole of the foot; like all bears, they are sole walkers . If necessary, they can run very quickly. Sometimes they stand up on their back legs, especially to get a better overview. When in danger, they climb trees and they can swim well.

Activity times

American black bears are predominantly crepuscular in the wild. However, the times of activity vary with the seasons, in times of increased need for food they also go looking for food during the day. Interacting with people can change their rhythm. They are often active during the day when they are being fed, and when there are opportunities to reach garbage cans or storage facilities, they are often out and about at night.

Like other bears, they hibernate in a self-dug burrow, cave, or sometimes in a pit during the cold months . Your breathing rate and heartbeat decrease significantly, but your body temperature only drops by about 4 to 7 ° C. They are also relatively easy to wake up, which is why one does not speak of real hibernation . The timing and duration of hibernation depend on the habitat; in cold regions it can last from September to May. They do not consume food or fluids during the rest period, nor do they urinate or defecate. During this time, they lose around 23 to 30% of their body weight. This percentage is slightly higher in lactating females. If there was sufficient food available in autumn, they will still have sufficient body fat after wintering. Weight loss usually lasts until berries are ripe in summer or autumn. As a rule, they find food that is so rich in calories in their habitat that they build up fat reserves for wintering.

Social and territorial behavior

Like all bears, American black bears are solitary. In areas with abundant food supply, however, many animals sometimes come together. The size of the territory depends, among other things, on the food supply, gender and habitat. The territories of females are generally smaller. The districts in the US state of Washington are only 500 hectares (males) and 200 hectares (females), in other parts of the United States 10,000 to 20,000 or 2,000 to 4,000 hectares and in northern Canada up to 100,000 hectares. Territories can overlap, especially that of a male with those of multiple females, but the animals avoid each other outside of the mating season. Black bears often go on long hikes in pristine areas.


Like most bears, American black bears are omnivorous . However, plants make up more than 75 percent of their diet, including fruits, berries, nuts, grasses and roots. Although bears, unlike other carnivores, have an elongated intestine, they cannot fully utilize nutrient-poor plants. American black bears, like other bears, therefore mainly eat plants that are fully ripe and easily digestible. In spring, however, this food is not yet available. They then prefer to eat freshly grown plants that still have a low cellulose content. When black bears eat animal food, it usually consists of insects such as ants , short-headed wasps , bees or termites and insect larvae. Carrion often plays a role in the black bear diet. For example, they eat large mammals that have died in the early winter, such as mountain sheep, goats or red deer, whose carcasses have survived in the snow. Because of their very keen sense of smell, they are able to track down newborn ungulates, even though they have little body odor. In some regions of North America, up to 50 percent of deer calves and 42 percent of elk calves fall victim to black bears. These young animals are particularly endangered in the first days of life. After that they are too fast to be easy prey for the black bears. Adult large ungulates usually only become prey to black bears when they are sick or wounded. Small mammals such as ground squirrels, marmots and other rodents as well as birds and lizards complete the menu. At the time of the salmon migration, fish are also part of the black bear diet.


She-bear with cub in Yoho National Park ?

The mating season usually falls between June and July. For this purpose the solitary animals come together to form short-lived partnerships and mate several times. As with other bears, American black bears delay their implantation, i.e. the fertilized egg cell remains free in the uterus for some time . The nidation takes place only at the beginning of the winter dormancy, usually in November or December. The length of time between mating and birth is around 220 days, but the actual gestation period only lasts 60 to 70 days.

During hibernation, usually in January or February, one to five, but usually two or three young animals are born. Newborns are blind and appear naked even though they are covered with a thin layer of fur. They weigh only around 225 to 330 grams and, like all bears, are among the higher mammals with the greatest difference in weight between the mother and her litter. They are weaned at six to eight months, but stay with their mother at least until the second spring. This can reproduce again around one to four years after birth.

Female animals reach sexual maturity on average at around four to five years of age, males one year later. Both the time at which sexual maturity is reached and the number and size of litters are strongly influenced by the nutritional status. In a study conducted in Minnesota, for example, it was found that no female black bear weighing less than 80 kilograms on October 1 raised offspring the following year. Out of 30 black bears, who weighed over 150 kilograms, 27 bears gave birth to cubs in the following year. Black bears, who found their food mainly on rubbish dumps and therefore reached a high body weight very early, became pregnant for the first time at the age of 4.4 years and thus 1.2 years earlier than those black bears who lived mainly on natural food.


Next to humans, the grizzly bear is the greatest enemy of the American black bear. Pumas , coyotes , wolves and also male black bears occasionally tear off young animals. Young black bears climb trees in the event of imminent danger. Young animals that are only a few weeks old have mastered this ability. They are able to climb very high and hold on to very thin branches that can no longer bear the weight of a full-grown black bear. They show this behavior up to an age of one year. Older bears, on the other hand, rarely climb trees. They show this behavior especially when they are caught by a pack of hunting dogs.

American black bears and people

American black bear hunting

The bearskin hats worn by several regiments of the British Army are from Canadian black bears

American black bears have been and are hunted by humans for a variety of reasons. These include the fear of torn grazing animals and destroyed agricultural land and beehives, the need for fur and meat as well as sport hunting. Studies have shown that the damage to grazing animals is negligible, but that they can certainly cause damage to agricultural fields. Sport hunting is widespread, according to an estimate from 1995 around 40,000 animals are shot every year. The use of bearskin and meat has largely declined today; with the Indians this was the most important reason for hunting. The bearskin hats , which are part of the parade uniform of various British regiments, are still made from the fur of Canadian black bears.

A relatively new aspect of hunting is the export of bile to East Asian countries, where it is said to have medicinal properties. As a rule, Asiatic black bears are hunted or even kept there for this purpose, but due to the associated decline in population, more and more North American animals are used. The United States, for example, is the second largest exporter of bear gall fluid to South Korea , and it also supplies China, Japan and the Asian populations in North America themselves.

For the first time in the USA in Florida in 2016, the hunt for black bears was canceled for three years due to the successful protests of animal rights activist Adam Sugalski. Around 600 bears were shot annually in Florida by hobby hunters, which aroused reluctance among the population, as many hunters were often very unprofessional and among other things hunted indiscriminately suckling bears and their young. Sugalski's aim is to better educate the population in areas with black bear populations on how to handle the animals.

American black bear killings of humans

Black bear attacks on humans are rare. Behavioral scientist Stephen Herrero, who specializes in bears, lists 500 incidents between 1960 and 1980 in which people were injured by black bears. As a rule, clashes with black bears are comparatively harmless. Between 1900 and 1980, 23 incidents were recorded in which people were killed. The number of people killed by grizzlies during this period was about twice that, although black bears are about ten times as common as grizzlies. In 18 of the 20 black bear deaths studied by Stephen Herrero, however, it played a role that the black bear viewed humans as prey. Children in particular can fall into the prey scheme; In at least two of the fatal incidents, playing and running children aroused the bear's prey instinct.

Only one of the deaths known to have been attributed to black bears occurred in a national park. In contrast, the majority of the confrontations recorded between 1960 and 1980, in which people were injured, took place here. In the Great Smoky National Park alone , 107 people were injured over a period of twelve years. Most of the incidents occurred while trying to feed black bears. In three cases, visitors even tried to pet the black bears. American black bears generally behave less aggressively than grizzly bears and tolerate human behavior which, in the case of grizzly bears, would in all probability lead to an attack. However, visitors regularly underestimate both physical strength and behavior that is unpredictable for a person. Some black bears have become a problem in American national parks. Their keen sense of smell leads them to the tents and cars of visitors on their forage, which they then feed with a misunderstood love of animals. This has resulted in some baribals becoming dependent on such feedings. Bears that are so used to humans are often killed for safety reasons.

American black bear and the teddy bear

The teddy bear popular with children was named after the former US President Theodore "Teddy" Roosevelt , who is said to have refused to shoot a baby black bear while hunting. However, there are different stories about the exact course of the naming.


The Louisiana black bear is an endangered subspecies

The following subspecies are currently recognized with the specified range:

  • I.a. altifrontalis is distributed from the Pacific coast of British Columbia to Northern California and inland from the northern border of British Columbia to Idaho .
  • I.a. amblyceps lives in Colorado , New Mexico , western Texas and the eastern half of Arizona to northern Mexico and southeastern Utah .
  • I.a. americanus is the most common subspecies. It is distributed from eastern Montana to the Atlantic coast and from Alaska south and east through Canada to the Atlantic and Texas .
  • I.a. californiensis inhabits the Central Valley of California, to the north its range extends to southern Oregon .
  • I.a. carlottae lives on Haida Gwaii and in Alaska.
  • I.a. cinnamomum is native to Idaho, western Montana, Wyoming , eastern Washington , Oregon, and northeast Utah.
  • I.a. emmonsii lives in southeast Alaska, engl. Glacier bear, sometimes also German "blue bear"
  • I.a. eremicus lives in northeastern Mexico.
  • I.a. floridanus lives in Florida , southeast Georgia, and southern Alabama . Due to the increasing loss of habitat, the species is threatened, the total population is estimated at 500 to 1000 animals.
  • I.a. hamiltoni lives on the island of Newfoundland .
  • I.a. kermodei , the kermodebear or ghost bear , which is characterized by its often white fur, lives in the central coastal region of British Columbia.
  • The Louisiana black bear ( including luteolus ) is native to eastern Texas, Louisiana, and southern Mississippi . The subspecies was placed on the list of endangered animals by the US Fish and Wildlife Service in 1992 and is therefore under complete protection.
  • I.a. machetes lives in northern and central Mexico.
  • I.a. perniger lives in the Kenai Peninsula in Alaska.
  • I.a. pugnax is endemic to the Alexander Archipelago .
  • I.a. vancouveri lives on Vancouver Island, part of British Columbia .


  • Stephen Herrero: Bears - Hunters and Hunted in America's Wilderness. Müller Rüschlikon Verlag, Cham 1992, ISBN 3-275-01030-1 .
  • Serge Larivière: Ursus americanus. In: Mammalian Species . No. 647, 2001, p. 111.
  • Ronald M. Nowak: Walker's Mammals of the World . 6th edition. Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore 1999, ISBN 0-8018-5789-9 (English).

Individual evidence

  1. Stephen Herrero: Bears - Hunters and Hunted in America's Wilderness. P. 190
  2. Stephen Herrero: Bears - Hunters and Hunted in America's Wilderness. P. 192 and p. 193
  3. Stephen Herrero: Bears - Hunters and Hunted in America's Wilderness. P. 207 to p. 208.
  4. Stephen Herrero: Bears - Hunters and Hunted in America's Wilderness. P. 213.
  5. Stephen Herrero: Bears - Hunters and Hunted in America's Wilderness. P. 204 and p. 205.
  6. Stephen Herrero: Bears - Hunters and Hunted in America's Wilderness. Pp. 253-255.
  7. Florida cancels bear hunt. In: National Geographics. 2016.
  8. ^ The travesty of the black bear hunt in Florida. In: .
  9. Interview with animal rights activist Adam Sugalski. Jacksonville, Florida.
  10. Stephen Herrero: Bears - Hunters and Hunted in America's Wilderness. P. 132.
  11. Stephen Herrero: Bears - Hunters and Hunted in America's Wilderness. P. 143.
  12. Stephen Herrero: Bears - Hunters and Hunted in America's Wilderness. P. 143, p. 132 and p. 135.
  13. see Lemma Glacier bear in the English Wikipedia, with picture. However, the German literal translation Gletscherbär has a butterfly as its theme.

Web links

Commons : American black bear ( Ursus americanus )  - Collection of images, videos, and audio files
This version was added to the list of articles worth reading on May 12, 2006 .