American Black Bear

Category: Animal Info Pages

Black BearThe American black bear (ursus americanus) is found across more habitat than any other bear species.  Their range here in the United States is constant throughout the northeast, south through the Appalachian Mountains, the Rocky Mountains, the northern midwest, through much of the west coast, all the way to Alaska.  That's a lot of range, and we haven't even mentioned the Newfoundland, Vancouver Island, or Asian black bears!  In fact, Mexico is the only country where black bear are classified as endangered.


There are, in fact, many sub species of black bear and despite their name, there is quite a bit of variation in their coloration.  Individual coloration can range from blond, and cinnamon, to dark brown, jet black, and many shades between.  The Kermode or "Spirit Bear" is a rarity, and earns its name from a full-white pelt.  While black bear can have brown coats, they can easily be distinguished from brown bear due to their shorter claws, a less concave profile, and their lack of a shoulder hump. 


The average lifespan for wild black bear is about 18 years, though the record lifespan has been documented at 31 years. Captive species live much longer, exhibiting a lifespan of more than 40 years in some cases.  Surveys from the early 90's conclude that black bear populations are either stable or rising everywhere except Idaho and New Mexico.  Their estimated population here in the states is somewhere between 339,000 and 465,000, excluding populations from Alaska, Idaho, South Dakota, Texas, and Wyoming.  


The black bear has better eyesight and hearing than humans, and their sense of smell is roughly 7 times better than that of dogs.  Black bear are very dexterous, and are capable of opening screw-top jars and door latches.  They have amazing strength, and can run at speeds of 25 to 30 miles per hour.  Black bear have also been proven through experimentation to learn visual tasks based on color faster than chimps, and as fast as dogs.  They are known to learn very rapidly, and can distinguish between shapes like triangles, squares, and circles.


There are many famous black bears in American history.  The creator of the teddy bear, Morris Michtom, was inspired to make the popular children's toy when he came across a cartoon of Theodore Roosevelt refusing to shoot a treed bear cub.  A bear cub rescued from the Capitan Gap fire in Spring, 1950 was made to be the living representative of Smokey the Bear, the mascot of the US Forest Service.  Also, Winnie the Pooh was  named after Winnipeg, a female black bear cub that lived in the London Zoo between 1915 and 1934.