The name black bear is not a very accurate name for this species of bear. They can come in many colors such as black, brown, gray, silvery-blue, and cream. Most black bears are, in fact, black but often a black colored bear will have brown cubs and brown colored bears may have black cubs. The black bear’s habitats range from the far northern tundra of Canada and Alaska to the forests of Central America and Mexico.
Black bears have small eyes, long noses, round ears and a short tail. They are considered to be large to medium sized (males weighing between 56.7-226 kg or 130-500 lbs.), males being larger than females, and the different sub-species are similar in their body shape, footprints and diets. There are small differences in appearance that make each sub-species special, such as a furrier face, thicker fur, sleeker fur, and their size. The Kodiak bear is said to be the largest sub-species of black bear. This is because they live along the Pacific coast and eat a lot of salmon. The Newfoundland bear gets quite large as well, since they eat more meat than other bears.
The typical diet of a black bear is similar to other species of bear. They like nutrition and protein rich foods like termites, bees and moths. They eat berries, nuts, acorns, honey and fruit. Because bears are not active predators they prefer to eat carrion. Carrion is especially important for bears that have just come out of hibernation and are in great need of protein.
Black bears have been given the reputation of attacking people. This is not true. Black bears, like most other bears, will rarely attack humans. They will try to scare off danger by standing on their back feet, baring their teeth, and growling. They may attack if their cubs are in danger but only as a last resort and sometimes not even then.
Mating happens in spring but the females have an ability called ‘delayed implantation’, which allows the egg to be fertilized later. This is so that the cub, or cubs, will be born during hibernation.
The 16 sub-species are:
- Kermode or Spirit bear (Western Canada)
- Vancouver black bear
- Queen Charlotte black bear
- Newfoundland black bear
- Glacier bear or blue bear (Alaska & British Columbia)
- Kenai black bear (Alaska)
- Dall black bear (Alaska)
- Cinnamon bear (central U.S. And Canada)
- Olympic black bear (western coast of Canada & U.S.)
- Florida black bear
- New Mexico black bear
- East Mexico black bear
- West Mexico black bear
- Louisiana black bear
- Minnesota black bear
- Eastern black bear
Interestingly, 8 of the 16 sub-species of black bears can be found in British Columbia, Canada.
The Spirit, or Kermode, bear is a sub-species of the Black Bear. It is a really interesting bear and so it gets special mention!
The Kermode bear is found only in British Columbia, Canada, and is black, most of the time. About 1 out of every 10 Kermode bears is pure white. They are not Polar bears, nor are they sub-species of the Polar bear. These rare white bears are called Spirit Bears. In every other way they are like all the other black bears except that they carry a special gene that causes their hair to be white rather than black.
The name “Spirit Bear” may have come from the First Nations people, which would mean that this bear had special, spiritual meaning to them. First Nations legend says that the Spirit Bear was made pure white, by the creator, to remind people of the Ice Age, when the earth was covered in snow and ice, and the problems of that time.