Where they are found: American black bears are found throughout Canada and in forested areas of the United States.


Size: Adults range from 4 to 6 feet in length, are approximately 2.5 to 3 feet tall at the shoulder, and can weigh 100 to 600 pounds, although bears in the Smokies seldom exceed 350 pounds.Weight varies with the seasons.


Color: Not all American black bears are black in color.Variations include brown, cinnamon, blonde, white, and blue-gray.Some individuals have white V-shaped chest patches.Black coats are found in moist areas and throughout the Eastern United States, including the Smokies. In the Rocky Mountains, only about 50% are black.


Paws: American black bears have flat feet with 5 toes.Their short, thick, sharp claws are non-retractable and are used for digging, climbing, and handling foods. Front paw prints resemble our own hands and hind paw prints resemble our own feet.  They are plantigrade (flat-footed) walkers, as are humans.


Senses: The vision of an American black bear is reasonably good, although they are somewhat nearsighted.Their hearing is far more sensitive than ours. But the sense of smell is a bear’s most important sense; it is keener than that of any other animal.


Food: Although classified as carnivores, bears eat far more vegetation than meat.Diet varies with the seasons and the availability of foliage, roots, berries, seeds, and nuts.Insects and carrion are the main sources of meat.Bears spend a high percentage of their time foraging, and may travel many miles seeking food.


Sounds: While a bear is usually silent, it can vocalize in many ways to communicate with other bears.Sounds include chomp, cough, huff, woof, moan, bawl, snort, yawn, hum, and grunt. Sometimes, a bear uses these sounds to communicate with humans, particularly to let them know that they are invading the bears’ space.


Hibernation: In winter, when food is not available, bears enter a state of dormancy.Their body temperature drops only a few degrees, and they may awaken and move around outside the den during a warm period.They will not eat, drink, defecate, or urinate during hibernation, which can last up to 6 months in the north.  In the Smokies, the hibernation period is much shorter, lasting no more than 4 months.  Pregnant females, or females denning with cubs stay in hibernation for the longest amount of time.


Locomotion: American black bears can run at speeds up to 35 miles per hour, although this speed is maintained only for short distances. Contrary to the popular misconception, they can run uphill or downhill at the same speed.  They are good swimmers, and excellent climbers. No human can outrun a bear.


Aggression: Black bears are seldom aggressive to humans, unless threatened or cornered. Black bear attacks are extremely rare, despite the tremendous number of human-bear encounters each year.  In the last 100 years, 52 people have been killed by black bears in all of North America.  The same number of people die of bee stings in the U.S. every year. Most bears prefer to avoid humans.  The best way to avoid an adverse bear encounter when hiking is to let the bear know you are near.  Talk, sing, make noise, use bear bells, whatever it takes so that the bear will hear you coming.


Other Interesting Articles:


Bear Behavior

Bears’ Communication

Bears’ Habitat

Black Bear Yearlings

Do Bears Poop in the Woods?

I Saw a Bear That Needs Help!

Mother Bears are Single Moms!

The Family Tree of a Bear

Time for Yearling Bears to Go

What Threatens Bears?

What To Do When a Bear Comes Near Your Home

Where Can I See Bears in the Wild?

Why Do Bears Attack Humans?

Why is it Important to Learn About Bears?

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