North American Black Bear

Ursus americanus

Last updated: January 13, 2023
Verified by: AZ Animals Staff
© BGSmith/Shutterstock.com

Short claws make them good tree climbers!


Advertisement


North American Black Bear Scientific Classification

Kingdom
Animalia
Phylum
Chordata
Class
Mammalia
Order
Carnivora
Family
Ursidae
Genus
Ursus
Scientific Name
Ursus americanus

Read our Complete Guide to Classification of Animals.

North American Black Bear Conservation Status

North American Black Bear Locations

North American Black Bear Locations

North American Black Bear Facts

Prey
Fruits, Nuts, Rodents
Name Of Young
Cub
Group Behavior
  • Solitary
Fun Fact
Short claws make them good tree climbers!
Estimated Population Size
800,000
Biggest Threat
Local hunting and habitat loss
Most Distinctive Feature
Thick fur and long, pointed snout
Other Name(s)
American Black Bear
Gestation Period
220 days
Habitat
Forest and woodland
Predators
Grizzly Bear, Fox, Birds of Prey
Diet
Omnivore
Average Litter Size
3
Lifestyle
  • Nocturnal
Common Name
Black Bear
Number Of Species
16
Location
North America
Slogan
Short claws make them good tree climbers!
Group
Mammal

North American Black Bear Physical Characteristics

Color
  • Black
  • Tan
  • Dark Brown
Skin Type
Fur
Top Speed
30 mph
Lifespan
20 - 40 years
Weight
100kg - 270kg (220lbs - 594lbs)
Height
1.3m - 2m (4.25ft - 6.5ft)
Age of Sexual Maturity
3 - 7 years
Age of Weaning
6 - 8 months

View all of the North American Black Bear images!



Share on:

Classification and Evolution

The Black Bear (also known as the American Black Bear) is a medium-sized species of bear that is found inhabiting a variety of forested habitats across North America. The Black Bear is not only the most widespread bear on the North American continent but is also the most numerous bear species in the world with possibly double the number of Black Bear individuals than all the other species put together.

It may be surprising, but the black bear is not very closely related to the brown bear or the polar bear. The black bear diverged from their shared ancestors roughly 5 million years ago. The North American black bear is genetically closer to the Asian black bear than it is to other types of bears that live on the same continent! Researchers believe that because the black bear has such a varied diet, being an omnivore, it was able to outlast other types of bears that became extinct in North America. It pays to not be a picky eater!

The Black Bear is also one of the only two out of the eight bear species that is not listed by the IUCN as being endangered as extensive conservation efforts added to their versatility have led to healthy populations throughout much of their remaining natural range (providing that there is a good source of food). There are sixteen recognized sub-species of Black Bears found across North America today, which vary mainly in their size and fur color along with the region in which they live.

Black Bear Population by State

The Black Bear is the most widespread bear in North America.

©iStock.com/christiannafzger

Anatomy and Appearance

Despite their name, Black Bears can range in color from black to dark red or brown and can even be a lighter tan in certain areas. Black bears are animals that have short thick fur covering their heavily built body and have a pointed muzzle, small eyes, and larger and more pointed ears than their Brown Bear relatives. Along with being a great deal smaller, there are a number of other notable differences between the two species including the Black Bear lacking the distinctive shoulder hump of their larger cousins. They also have shorter legs and claws which makes the Black Bear a much more agile climber than the Brown Bear so in areas where the two exist in the same place, Black Bears are able to escape danger by digging their claws into the tree trunk and pulling themselves up. Like all bear species though, the Black Bear has an excellent sense of smell which is used to detect food, and less developed hearing and sight, due to their relatively small ears and eyes.



Florida black bear

Black Bears can range in color from black to dark red or brown and can even be a lighter tan in certain areas.

©Roger Epps/Shutterstock.com

Distribution and Habitat

Although the Black Bear is an animal that is still widespread throughout much of North America today, their historical range once covered the entire continent where they would have been found in every inhabitable patch of forest. Today they are found in northern Canada, throughout western and parts of the eastern USA, and down into northern Mexico. Providing there is a forest habitat of some description these incredibly adaptable animals will try their best to survive successfully there and they are actually found in a number of very diverse regions. Black Bears are known to inhabit the hot and dry, shrubby forests of Mexico and the steamy, hardwood swamps of the south-eastern USA, right up to the coniferous forests of Canada and Alaska and the barren treeless tundra even further north. Despite local populations in some areas being affected by the loss of their natural habitats, the resilience of the Black Bear means that populations in most areas are actually increasing.

Black bears are actually found in a number of very diverse regions.

©Mongo – Public Domain

Behavior and Lifestyle

The Black Bear is a largely solitary and nocturnal hunter, that may occasionally tolerate the presence of other individuals when a number gather around an ample food source. Black Bears spend the majority of their waking life searching for food in the surrounding forest and must eat vast quantities of plant matter every day to ensure that they build up a decent fat reserve for the coming winter. When the hostile winter conditions set in, Black Bears retreat into a den under a hollow tree or in a burrow, where they semi-hibernate through the cold months ahead. Although this is not true hibernation as their body temperature only drops minimally, it means that they are able to wake up and venture out in search of a light snack to break up their long slumber. In hotter regions in the south Black Bears may not bother denning over the winter at all (with the exception of pregnant females), but in the most northerly parts of their range, they may not emerge until 8 months later.

black bear

Black Bears spend the majority of their waking life searching for food and must eat vast quantities to ensure that they build up a decent fat reserve for the coming winter.

©Josef Pittner/Shutterstock.com

Reproduction and Life Cycles

Male and female Black Bears will briefly come together to mate in the summer, after which time they will become solitary once again and both will begin to start feasting to prepare for winter. After a gestation period that lasts for around 7 months (although this includes an almost 5-month-long period of delayed implantation), the female Black Bear gives birth to between one and five cubs at the end of winter in her den. The hairless cubs are incredibly vulnerable and rely on the warmth created in the den from their mother’s body heat to help them to survive the early days. Black Bear cubs remain with their mother until they are nearly two years old, learning the skills that they need to survive on their own, and will even share her winter den over their first winter. After around a year and a half, the female Black Bear will again be looking to mate, and cubs are often eventually scared away from her by increasingly aggressive, mature males.

Black Bear Population by State

The female Black Bear gives birth to between one and five cubs at the end of winter in her den.

©jo Crebbin/Shutterstock.com

Diet and Prey

Despite being technically classed as a carnivore, the Black Bear has a diet that is mainly comprised of plant material. Between 75% and 95% of their diet is vegetarian (depending on the food available in different locations) and it is also greatly varied. Black Bears forage for fruits and nuts in the trees which they pluck off the branches using their prehensile lips, along with eating grasses, roots, and bulbs on the ground and supplementing their diet with small animals like insects and rodents. Depending on the region and therefore the prey available, Black Bears are also known to hunt young Deer, eat carrion, and can also master the art of catching fish in rivers (a skill that is particularly used in areas where they are no Grizzly Bears to compete for food). Due to their large body size though, Black Bears must spend the vast majority of the night eating and will spend an average of 12 hours a day trying to build up their fat reserves for winter.

For a complete analysis of the diet of black bears, don’t miss ‘What Do Black Bears Eat? 20+ Foods They Feed On.’

What Do Black Bears Eat
Black bears eat grass, mammals, fish, and fruit.

Predators and Threats

Due to the relatively large size of the Black Bear, fully grown adults have few natural predators within their native habitats with the exception of Grizzly Bears in some areas. However, the Black Bear has evolved to have shorter claws and legs than their enormous and aggressive cousins, making them far more adept at climbing trees and giving them a good chance of escape. Young cubs, however, are much more vulnerable and are threatened by a variety of different predators including Foxes, Birds of Prey, and even other Black Bears.

Are They Dangerous?

Black bears

Black bears are responsible for about one fatality a year in North America.

©BGSmith/Shutterstock.com

Although Black Bears and Humans do tend to have a relatively peaceful relationship, they are often persecuted by farmers who fear for their livestock in areas where growing Human settlements are encroaching on their natural territories. A number of isolated populations are also threatened by the loss of their habitats mainly due to deforestation for logging. Black Bears are not generally dangerous to humans, but there is normally about one fatality in North America stemming from black bear attacks annually.

Black Bear Interesting Facts and Features

Bears differ from other carnivores as the special molar teeth that they possess have not been specially adapted to shearing meat, but to instead grind down vegetation. However, for such a large animal to sustain itself successfully on a predominantly vegetarian diet the Black Bear must spend an enormous amount of time eating and is known to consume tens of thousands of nuts and berries in a day. As they spend around half of the day foraging for and eating food, the average Black Bear consumes a nut or berry every second of this time. Although Black Bears normally move around slowly on all fours on the flat soles of their feet, they are not only able to run at speeds of up to 30mph but when they feel threatened, Black Bears will stand up on their hind legs to make themselves look even bigger in an attempt to intimidate a predator or rival, which leads to aggressive fighting if neither side backs down.

Black Bear on road Mt Rainier, Washington

Black Bears normally move around slowly on all fours on the flat soles of their feet.

©iStock.com/Mark Lee

16 Types of Black Bears:

  • Ursus americanus altifrontalis – This species can be found in the U.S. Pacific Northwest.
  • U. a. amblyceps – These bears live in the Southwestern U.S.
  • U. a. americanus – This species of black bear cover a larger range, from the Atlantic to Alaska.
  • U. a. californiensis – It may be obvious from their name, and these bears are found in California.
  • U. a. carlottae – These black bears can be found in the Queen Charlotte islands of British Columbia.
  • U. a. cinnamomum – Also known as the “cinnamon bear”, this species dwell in Canada (Alberta and southern British Columbia) and the western U.S. (Wyoming, Colorado, Idaho, and Montana).
  • U. a. emmonsii – This bear is sometimes called the “glacier bear” and is found from the Alaskan coast from Prince William Sound to Glacier Bay and the surrounding area.
  • U. a. eremicus – These black bears live in the area of southwestern Texas and northeastern Mexico.
  • U. a. floridanus – As the name suggests, this species of bear are found in the deep U.S. south, from southern Georgia and Alabama to Florida.
  • U. a. hamiltoni – This black bear is located in Newfoundland.
  • U. a. kermodei – These bears are called the “Kermode bear” and are found in British Columbia along the coastal lands.
  • U. a. luteolus – This bear’s habit ranges in the U.S. from southern Mississippi to southern Louisiana.
  • U. a. machetes – These black bears can be found in the northwestern part of Mexico.
  • U. a. perniger – These species is located specifically in Alaska on the Kenai Peninsula.
  • U. a. pugnax – These bears can also be found in Alaska but more to the southeastern area.
  • U. a. vancouveri – Another subspecies that gives away its location, this black bear lives on Vancouver Island in British Columbia.

Relationship with Humans

Black Bears would have once roamed throughout every forested area on the North American continent but although they are still widespread today, the hunting of them by people and the loss of their natural habitat in some areas has led to declines in population numbers. However, these incredibly versatile and adaptable animals have managed to continue surviving successfully and their placid nature has led to them not being scared of people, they have adapted to living close to growing settlements and have been known to raid cars and outbuildings in search of food. Black Bears are also common in a number of national parks with raids on campsites by Black Bears sometimes causing problems when food is left in or around tents. Although the shooting of Black Bears is legal in many states, it is said to be so well-regulated that populations throughout much of their natural range appear to actually be increasing.

black bear cub

Black bears’ placid nature has led to them not being scared of people and they have adapted to living close to growing settlements.

©Susan Kehoe/Shutterstock.com

Conservation Status and Life Today

Today, the Black Bear is listed by the IUCN as an animal that is of Least Concern of becoming extinct in its natural environment in the near future. Although a few remote populations are threatened by increasing levels of both hunting and habitat loss, Black Bears remain common and widespread throughout much of North America’s forest. The regulation of Black Bears is also well-managed and although between 40,000 and 50,000 individuals are killed every year (depleting up to 20% of the population in some areas), the general population trend is increasing.

View all 65 animals that start with N

Share on:
About the Author

Heather Ross is a secondary English teacher and mother of 2 humans, 2 tuxedo cats, and a golden doodle. In between taking the kids to soccer practice and grading papers, she enjoys reading and writing about all the animals!

North American Black Bear FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) 

Are North American Black Bears herbivores, carnivores, or omnivores?

North American Black Bears are Omnivores, meaning they eat both plants and other animals.

What Kingdom do North American Black Bears belong to?

North American Black Bears belong to the Kingdom Animalia.

What phylum do North American Black Bears belong to?

North American Black Bears belong to the phylum Chordata.

What class do North American Black Bears belong to?

North American Black Bears belong to the class Mammalia.

What family do North American Black Bears belong to?

North American Black Bears belong to the family Ursidae.

What order do North American Black Bears belong to?

North American Black Bears belong to the order Carnivora.

What genus do North American Black Bears belong to?

North American Black Bears belong to the genus Ursus.

What type of covering do North American Black Bears have?

North American Black Bears are covered in Fur.

Where do North American Black Bears live?

North American Black Bears live in North America.

In what type of habitat do North American Black Bears live?

North American Black Bears live in forests and woodlands.

What are some predators of North American Black Bears?

Predators of North American Black Bears include grizzly bears, foxes, and birds of prey.

How many babies do North American Black Bears have?

The average number of babies a North American Black Bear has is 3.

What is an interesting fact about North American Black Bears?

Short claws make North American Black Bears good tree climbers!

What is the scientific name for the North American Black Bear?

The scientific name for the North American Black Bear is Ursus americanus.

What is the lifespan of a North American Black Bear?

North American Black Bears can live for 15 to 30 years.

What is a baby North American Black Bear called?

A baby North American Black Bear is called a cub.

How many species of North American Black Bear are there?

There are 16 species of North American Black Bear.

What is the biggest threat to the North American Black Bear?

The biggest threats to the North American Black Bear are local hunting and habitat loss.

What is another name for the North American Black Bear?

The North American Black Bear is also called the American black bear.

How many North American Black Bears are left in the world?

There are 800,000 North American Black Bears left in the world.

How fast is a North American Black Bear?

A North American Black Bear can travel at speeds of up to 30 miles per hour.

How to say North American Black Bear in ...
Bulgarian
Черна мечка
Catalan
Ós negre americà
Czech
Medvěd baribal
Danish
Amerikansk sortbjørn
German
Amerikanischer Schwarzbär
English
American Black Bear
Esperanto
Amerika nigra urso
Spanish
Ursus americanus
Finnish
Mustakarhu
French
Ours noir
Hebrew
דוב שחור אמריקני
Hungarian
Fekete medve
Italian
Ursus americanus
Japanese
アメリカグマ
Latin
Ursus americanus
Dutch
Amerikaanse zwarte beer
English
Amerikansk svartbjørn
Polish
Baribal
Portuguese
Urso-negro
English
Ursus americanus
Slovenian
Ameriški črni medved
Swedish
Svartbjörn
Turkish
Amerikan kara ayısı
Chinese
美洲黑熊

Thank you for reading! Have some feedback for us? Contact the AZ Animals editorial team.

Sources
  1. David Burnie, Dorling Kindersley (2011) Animal, The Definitive Visual Guide To The World's Wildlife
  2. Tom Jackson, Lorenz Books (2007) The World Encyclopedia Of Animals
  3. David Burnie, Kingfisher (2011) The Kingfisher Animal Encyclopedia
  4. Richard Mackay, University of California Press (2009) The Atlas Of Endangered Species
  5. David Burnie, Dorling Kindersley (2008) Illustrated Encyclopedia Of Animals
  6. Dorling Kindersley (2006) Dorling Kindersley Encyclopedia Of Animals
  7. David W. Macdonald, Oxford University Press (2010) The Encyclopedia Of Mammals
  8. Black Bear Facts, Available here: http://www.bear.org/website/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=168&Itemid=38
  9. About Black Bears, Available here: http://nationalzoo.si.edu/publications/zoogoer/1999/2/fact-americanblack.cfm
  10. Black Bear Conservation, Available here: http://www.iucnredlist.org/apps/redlist/details/41687/0

Newly Added Animals

A Cobalt Blue Tarantula
Cobalt Blue Tarantula

Cobalt blue tarantulas spend most of their time in self-dug burrows and only emerge when it's time to eat

A Dried Fruit Moth
Dried Fruit Moth

In the event of adverse environmental conditions, dried fruit moth larvae will become dormant and stop developing.

Most Recently Updated Animals

A Cobalt Blue Tarantula
Cobalt Blue Tarantula

Cobalt blue tarantulas spend most of their time in self-dug burrows and only emerge when it's time to eat

A Dried Fruit Moth
Dried Fruit Moth

In the event of adverse environmental conditions, dried fruit moth larvae will become dormant and stop developing.