Bear

Black Bears

Black bears are the smallest out of three species found in North America. There is the North American Black Bear (Ursus americanus) and various subspecies of Brown “Grizzly” Bear (Ursus Arctos). Careful when trying to identify a black bear! The fur on a black bear isn’t always black - it can vary from light brown to true black, and sometimes even white!

Before European colonists arrived in the Americas, black bears thrived from East to West and from Mexico to Alaska! Like many other species, such as the mountain lion, populations of black bear were heavily hunted in this New World. Pressures on black bears caused an initial decrease in their numbers. Eventually, as Grizzly Bear were heavily harvested, black bears began to fill ecological niches where Grizzly's once dominated.

 

Biology

Bears have the highest brain to body mass ratio in the carnivore family, dubbing black bears as the most intelligent of the North American mammals. They are extremely inquisitive, adaptive animals.

Female black bears begin to mate when she meets maturity at 2-8 years of age. The abundance of food, bear density, and environmental conditions will determine when a bear matures.

Summer is prime time black bears to find a mate. After a courtship, the female black bear will be pregnant for 7 months. During hibernation, she’ll give birth to between two or three cubs. When spring comes, she’ll step out of the den with her new family. The little cubs are at a perfect age for exploring how to forage. This family unit will stay together for a year and a half.

A black bear can smell 2,100 times better than humans. This incredible development allows them to smell food up to 20 miles away. Their sophisticated nose is mirrored by the part of their brain associated with smell, the olfactory bulb, which is 5 times larger than in humans. Black bears’ noses actually have hundreds of tiny muscles. They can move their nose with the same dexterity as a human finger.

Black bears are believed to be near-sighted, most likely due to how they go about foraging close-up for food. They are able to see in color and have good peripheral vision. Black bears stand on their hind legs to grab a better view or catch scent blowing in the wind. Though it may appear aggressive, they are just trying to be gather information about their surroundings.

Behavior

Scientist agree these guys are highly intelligent with an incredible memory. It takes only one interaction for a bear to remember uniforms, vehicles, or to differentiate between people. They have the ability to learn how to open doors, windows, and jars, and even high tech bear- safe containers. Curiosity plays a big role into what captures a bear attention, but the main drive of a bear is usually always food related.

Black bears have a vast array of vocalizations to share their emotions. They range from a deep low growl for fighting and attacking to a “woof” when warning others. When these large bears get angry they will snap their teeth loudly, yet whimper when communicating with their cubs. The most human sound of all is when afraid or hurt, black bears bawl.

Black bears are not described as “social” like coyotes or wolves. Nor do they appear appear to live in extended family groups, like African lions.  Still, bears live and interact in close proximity, and form friendships and alliances. To acquire the full abundance of nutrition required as the seasons change, black bears need to cover a lot of ground while foraging. In doing so, bears  often cross into the home ranges of other bears. The location of food sources change, creating many opportunities for bears to forage in zones where territories overlap and bears share resources.

Ecological role

The habits and activities of bears are valuable to Nevada’s forest and woodland ecosystems. As scavengers they clear the forest floor of decaying debris. As predators, they take animals that are weak, injured, sick or old.

Habitat

Whats makes a perfect home for a black bear? Comfy caves, rock-piles and large hollowed out trees will work! Bears are great climbers, and can find a hollow spot in a tree 40 to 50 feet above the ground, making for an epic tree house. Even underground dens are only a few degrees warmer than the soil, so the bears rely on their own fur and fat reserves for protection from the cold.

Tools for coexistence

Black bears travel between Nevada and California, among the mountainous areas and foot hills of Lake Tahoe. Because people live in bear habitat, human-bear conflicts are common. The main causes are unprotected trash cans, pet food and bird feeders. Bears are very smart and curious and can learn how to get into cars, garages, sheds and windows. Extra prevention in bear country is necessary. Remember, a bear eating trash on your lawn or finding a PB&J in your car is usually a dead bear.

In Nevada, bear-proofing your property will make for a happier and healthier co-existence between you and the black bear. A few simple steps will ensure you stay safe and your home remains free from these big visitors. The days of leaving garbage cans outside is over. Everyday things like pet food cannot be stored outside or left uneaten, and you may need to reconsider how you manage your bird feeders.

Surely we can all put in a effort in order to prevent black bears in Nevada from being trapped, killed, or relocated due to habituation. Be sure to check out our Friendly Friday blogs for tips and tricks for peaceful coexistence!

The Bear Blog

Read fun facts on bears in Nevada.
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