American black bear Diane Krauss Image Source
The American black bear is the smallest and most common species of bear in North America. They usually weigh between 150 and 400 pounds. They are found on the Pacific coast all the way across the Rockies up through the Great Lakes and over to the east coast down to Florida. Bears live primarily in the forest and they have a remarkable way of adapting to people moving in to their territory.
Black bears eat berries, nuts, tubers, roots, honey, worms, buds, leaves, fruit, twigs, grubs, fish, insects, and small mammals. In the spring, black bears even eat the inside layer of young trees. They must eat between 11 and 18 pounds of food each day to stay healthy.
Black bears hibernate during the winter months. This means that they rest or go to sleep for a long time, without even needing to eat. Before hibernation, the bears need to store up extra fat so they can survive the winter. They try to stuff themselves full of high energy foods like nuts, berries, and salmon to build up the fat layer. Black bears also need to find shelter for the winter in caves, holes in the ground, cracks in rocks, or under down trees. They usually find these shelters, or dens, in October and November. Then they rest and stay sleeping until the spring.
Hibernating is an important adaptation for many different animals living in places with cold winters. These animals sleep during the winter when food is difficult to find. Their bodily functions slow way down and even their body temperature drops. This drop in body temperature allows the bears to survive on fewer calories per day. Bear cubs are born during the winter. In the spring, the bears emerge from their den, hungry and ready to roam the forest.
Map of the American black bear’s range Image Source
Schmidt, A., and C.R. Schmidt. 1991. Bears and their forest cousins. Gareth Stevens Children's Books, Milwaukee.
Stensaas, M. 1993. Canoe country wildlife: A field guide to the North Woods and Boundary Waters. Pfiefer-Hamilton, Duluth.
Whitaker, J.O. 1998. National Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Mammals. Alfred A. Knopf, New York.