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Who Are Black Bears?

The black bear is the most common species of bear found in North America and the only one found in Florida. The black bear population outnumbers that of all other species of bears combined. The black bear is smaller and less aggressive than the brown bear and the polar bear that also inhabit North America.

American black bears are mammals in the Carnivora order that belong to the Ursidae family, the family of all bears. There are five total genera of bears and the black bear shares the Ursus genus with the brown bear, the polar bear, and the Asiatic bear. American black bears are classified as the Ursus americanus species. There are 16 subspecies within this species, with the Ursus americanus floridanus being the one that exists in Florida.

How Are Black Bears Classified?

Class: Mammalia
Order: Carnivora
Family: Ursidae
Genus: Ursus
Species: americanus
Subspecies (Florida): floridanus

What Do They Look Like?

The American black bear is built for strength, with its large body and four powerful legs. It has a round head with a straight profile, small eyes, and two large, rounded ears. The black bear also has a short tail that is between three and six inches in length. The coat of an American black bear consists of two layers: a soft, dense undercoat and a thick, coarse outer layer. Many people have the misconception that all black bears are black, but these animals can actually be brown, cinnamon, blonde, and even white. This variety of colors is more commonly observed on bears in the western United States, while almost all black bears in the east are black. The black bear tends to have lighter colored fur around its muzzle and may have a blonde or white patch of fur on its chest.

There is a high variance in the weight of black bears, which can range anywhere from 100 to 600 pounds. This is because there are many factors that affect a bear’s weight including age, gender, season of the year, availability of food, and genetics. Generally, females weigh 175 pounds and males weigh between 250 and 300 pounds. American black bears usually measure up to three feet at the shoulder when standing on all fours, and between five and six feet when standing upright on their hind legs. A black bear is usually between fifty and eighty inches in length, from nose to tail.

What Are Their Senses Like?

The U. americanus has 42 teeth; including four canines, twelve incisors, sixteen premolars, and ten molars. The black bear has colored vision, it can see in the dark, and it has good depth perception. Black bears are nearsighted, which serves as an advantage when it comes to finding food, but is a limitation when it comes to distinguishing objects that are farther away. These animals can hear noises from far distances and can hear a much higher range of frequencies than humans.

A bear’s strongest sense is its sense of smell. The nasal mucosa area of an American black bear is about 100 times larger than that of a human, giving it a stronger sense of smell than even a bloodhound. It uses this keen sense of smell to find food, detect danger, and communicate with other bears. Black bears are good swimmers and moderately fast runners, reaching up to 30 miles per hour when they sprint. A black bear will exercise its excellent ability of climbing trees to escape potential danger when it is scared.

What Kind of Tracks Do They Make?

Black bears have the ability to stand on their hind legs but they usually walk plantigrade, or flat-footed, on all fours. They are curious creatures, though, and will stand on their hind legs when necessary in order to explore or access food. Each of a black bear’s four feet has five toes with five long, sharp claws. The claws are often visible in black bear tracks, where the front claws appear longer than the back claws. These prints indicate that the black bear’s elongated back feet are significantly larger than their stocky front feet. The length of the front tracks is usually between 3.75 and 8 inches, while the width of the front tracks is usually between 3.25 inches and 6 inches. The length of the back tracks is generally between 5.25 inches and 8 inches, while the width of the back tracks is between 3.5 inches to 6 inches wide. In the front track, the heel pad sometimes appears as a separate circle, whereas it is fused together with the metacarpal pad in the back track.

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