- The American Black Bear is the smallest of all bear species, inhabiting the forests of North America and Mexico.
- They usually avoid being in open spaces as they like to avoid confronting other, bigger bears like the grizzlies.
- Although very rare, around 1 in 10, Black Bears can be affected by albinism and have white fur and pink nose.
Black bears are the smallest of the three bear species. And, because the American black bear, or Ursus Americanus, is so adaptable, it lives in the forests of North America and Mexico, whether wet or dry. But black bears tend to avoid open spaces like grasslands with good reason. This avoidance behavior helps to prevent meetings with the bigger brown bears or grizzlies. Despite black bears growing to around six feet tall and weighing 600 pounds, there are claims about sightings of larger black bears that may stand up to grizzlies. True or false? Let’s find out just how big the largest black bear in history is!
Black Bear Habitat
Black bears are the most prevalent of the three species of bear found in North America. Because they are adaptable, it isn’t uncommon to see them in areas up to 2,000 feet above sea level. Some black bears even live in coastal areas. But black bears tend to thrive in the tundra of northern Labrador in Canada. This region has no brown bears to threaten them, ensuring they live a peaceful existence as the apex predator in the area.
Not All Black Bears Are Black
Strangely, not all black bears are black despite what many people imagine. Also, they are known by many other names. Black bears attract different names depending on where they live and their coloring. Black bear coat colors specifically vary due to its subspecies. For instance, the Kermode, white or spirit bear, lives on the Gribbell or Princess Royal Islands in British Columbia.
Cinnamon bears live in North America, where people call them brown bears. This identification doesn’t mean that they are true brown bears because the actual brown bear is much larger. Other black bear coat colors and names are the blue-gray hue or the blue-black glacier bears.
Some Black Bear Physical Markers
Black bears are typically medium-sized with a heavy build and short tails. Most adult black bears grow to six feet and weigh up to 600 pounds. Black bears have small round heads on strong necks and walk on the soles of their feet.
Research shows that black bear sizes differ substantially. These size differences depend primarily on the quality of available food sources. So, black bears are usually smaller in areas where food is scarcer or of poorer quality. And, like most animal species, the females tend to be much smaller than the males.
But the question is, did the largest black bear in history only weigh 600 pounds? Or were larger specimens found by hunters? Claims of giant black bears have been around for a while—unfortunately, the evidence to prove their existence has been scarce. However, this rule has some exceptions, starting with a gentle giant named Ted.
Ted lives at the North American Bear Center in Ely, Minnesota. He has stayed there since the opening of the center in 2007. Ted has been in the care of the well-renowned bear researcher Dr. Lynn Rogers since 2007. Rogers currently estimates Ted’s weight to tip the scales at 800 pounds. Previous estimates place Ted at an astonishing 1,000 pounds. If correct, both estimates make Ted the largest black bear to ever live in captivity.
Bear biologist Dr. Lynn Rogers started the North American Bear Center in 2007. He realized that zoos and the Science Museum of Minnesota focused on grizzlies. But Minnesota is black bear country. So, the North American Bear Center aims to change the myths and perceptions of people in the area. Additionally, the center is also working on reversing the habitat loss of bears. This organization also prioritizes educating the general public about black bears.
Experts moved Ted and his sister Honey to the center when they were ten, rescuing them from the care of their owners. And despite being a captive bear, Ted is a gentle giant with a pleasant personality. But does Ted hold the record as the largest black bear in history?
Duke, the Giant Manitoba Black Bear
Duke was a giant black bear roaming around Manitoba Riding Mountain National Park. He lived from February 1978 until a poacher shot him in October 1992. This massive black bear became famous because of Paul Paquet, a wildlife biologist. Duke was one of the most giant black bears ever measured by Paquet and his team of researchers.
At his death, Duke weighed an astounding 812 pounds and stood almost 8 feet tall. Because of these figures, Paquet theorized male black bears in Manitoba were above-average size. Also, these measurements make them larger than some adult male brown bears in the Rocky Mountains. And a few massive bears have since broken Duke’s record for the largest black bear in history.
New Jersey Record Breaker
A surprised hunter from Morris County in New Jersey shot a record breaker in December 2011. The enormous male black bear reportedly tipped the scales at a whopping 830 pounds. This colossal bear was one of the largest ever found in Morris County, New Jersey.
Pennsylvania, Pike County Monster
In November 2010, a hunter killed a black bear in Pike County, Pennsylvania. Records show that this bear tipped the scales at 880 pounds, making it the largest black bear in the history of Pennsylvania. But this Pike County monster was only one of six black bears that the state recorded weighing over 800 pounds. However, it was also one of the largest registered in the state in 15 years.
Cattle-Killer in Arizona
In December 1921, a farmer on the Moqui Reservation in Arizona shot a colossal black bear. The bear had been killing his cattle, which the farmer intended to stop. Upon weighing the animal, they discovered that it was an incredible 899 pounds. This weight made it the largest black bear in the area at the time.
Giant Killed in New Brunswick
From 800 to 899 pounds, the largest black bears in history are impressive. But there is still one more record to examine. In November of 1972, a hunter from New Brunswick in Canada shot and killed a massive black bear. This colossal creature weighed an impressive 902 pounds after dressing, putting its estimated live weight at 1,100 pounds.
This monster bear measured 7.9 feet tall, just an inch smaller than the most significant record of 8 feet. Ultimately, this New Brunswick black bear appears to be the largest in history, beating Ted by about 100 pounds, depending on which measurements you use.
Could the Biggest Black Bear Defeat a Grizzly?
Despite the massive size of these black bears, they are unlikely to be able to compete against their colossal cousins, the grizzlies. One record shows that the biggest grizzly weighed over 2,000 pounds, so it is doubtful that even the most significant black bear in history could have stood up to this behemoth.
Another factor in this battle would be the grizzlies’ extremely aggressive tendencies. While both bears arrived in North America via the Bering land bridge, they each settled into different habitats. The black bears adapted to forest life and evolved into smaller animals that could climb trees easily to escape larger predators. Grizzlies, on the other hand, adapted to life in areas that were more open and treeless. Grizzlies have grown larger and have learned to stand their ground and fight instead of running up trees.
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- Britannica, Available here: https://www.britannica.com/animal/black-bear
- I Naturalist, Available here: https://www.inaturalist.org/guide_taxa/907907
- Travel Manitoba, Available here: https://www.travelmanitoba.com/directory/duke-the-giant-black-bear/
- Ely, Available here: https://www.ely.org/blog/post/all-about-ted-a-visit-with-the-bear-centers-largest-resident/