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What Is Their Place in Nature?

American black bears are animals that consume both plants and other animals, also known as omnivores. They are important to nature because they help control the populations of insects and they also disperse the seeds of the plants they eat. Sometimes black bear cubs become prey to other animals, but the biggest threat to this species is mankind.

What Do They Eat?

Although they are classified as omnivores, black bears are mostly vegetarian and only a small part of their diet consists of animal matter. Since they are not very active predators, American black bears prefer to feed on carrion, the carcasses of dead animals. Bears in this species receive most of their protein from insects and larvae, such as ants, termites, beetles, and bees. However, they will catch fish, squirrels, chipmunks, salamanders and other small animals to eat when they are able to do so with ease. Meanwhile, the majority of a bear’s diet is made up of plants, such as grasses, nuts, berries, acorns, fruit, and roots. Even though black bears consume a great deal of carbohydrates, they prefer high protein and fat, which is why they often resort to digging in trash cans and stealing human food from campsites. Bears eat more in the summer and fall time to prepare for hibernation; they eat less in the springtime, when food is more scarce. Bears are driven by food, and will travel miles to find the source of food recognized by their keen sense of smell.

What Dangers Do They Face?

Humans pose the biggest threat to American black bears and are responsible for the majority of their deaths each year. Most of the time, bears cross humans in their search for something to eat, as they are attracted to the smells of human food and garbage. When a black bear enters civilization to seek food, it becomes vulnerable to being hit and killed by an automobile. If the animal happens to be successful in acquiring food left by humans, danger arises for both bear and the people. The people are in danger because if the bear feels threatened by them, it may become aggressive. The bear is in danger because if it becomes aggressive and harms people, it may be euthanized. Also, the bear may become reliant on the leftover food and have a harder time surviving in the wild when the food source disappears.

Another way humans harm black bears is through deforestation because tearing down forests involves the destruction of their homes. Hunters and trappers sometimes target the American black bear, which is the final way that humans jeopardize this animal. Black bears have been hunted for their trophy value, for meat and fat, and for their coat, which has been used for clothes or rugs. There are now more regulations that limit the hunting of black bears and the selling of their hide, but they are still subject to regulated hunting. Besides humans, there are no predators for an adult black bear, but black bear cubs are sometimes hunted by wolves and bobcats.

Are Black Bears Threatened?

Back in the 1970s, the population of black bears in Florida dwindled to a mere 300 bears, earning them a spot on Florida’s threatened species list. However, with efforts made by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, the number of these animals has currently increased to about 3,000 bears. This ten percent increase has led the FWC to consider taking the Ursus americus floridanus off of the threatened list.

On a larger scale, the whole species of American black bears is on the Least Concern list of the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN). Black bears have a population that outnumbers all other species of bears combined. It has been determined that over the past two decades, the numbers of American black bears have risen significantly. The IUCN estimates that the population of the U. americanus is somewhere between 850,000 and 950,000 bears. Similar to the case in Florida, there are some areas where the population of black bears is threatened, but all together, American black bears have a stable population.

For more information, see the References and Further Reading page.