Black bears can be found throughout much of the United States including Alaska but not Hawaii. Historically, black bears were much more numerous but hunting reduced their numbers in many states particularly on the East Coast. In North Carolina, bears are most abundant in the mountains and on the coastal plain.
Black bears get their name from their thick coats that are usually dark but may also contain brown and reddish hues with occasional patches of white. Bears have a very noticeable shuffling gait that results from their “flat-footed” style of walking. However, when motivated they can run 30 mph for short distances and also climb trees. Female bears usually weigh less than 400 pounds while males may approach 600 pounds. The largest black bear ever measured was found in North Carolina and weighed 880 pounds.
Black bears are omnivorous and consume a wide variety of plants and animals. They can use their large claws to dig out insect nests and bee hives. They may also take larger prey like deer and young elk on occasion. Seasonal foods like acorns and wild berries are also favorite treats of the black bear. At the Museum, bears eat bear chow and fresh fruits and vegetables.
Black bear females reach maturity between 2-4 years of age depending on the quality of their diets. Although mating occurs in late spring or early summer, the fertilized eggs do not undergo implantation and begin development until the fall. Usually, one to three cubs are born in January or February. Cubs usually stay with their mother through their first winter.
Black bears are not threatened or endangered and their numbers are large enough to support hunting in many states. Unfortunately, many other bear species around the world are not so lucky and are endangered due to hunting and habitat loss.
At the Museum, the bears have many opportunities to exhibit their natural behaviors, from wading in a stream to digging through rocks or dirt and climbing trees. An environment comparable to the bear exhibit in Explore the Wild is rarely found in zoos and other captive settings.