The American black bear, Ursus Americanus, is the most common bear species native to North America. These bears live throughout the continent with a range that stretches from Alaska all the way south into Mexico. They can also be found from the Ocean to the Pacific Ocean. This range includes 41 of the 50 United States, all of the Canadian provinces except Prince Edward Island, and some of Mexico.
The majority of bears found in the Southern United States remain in the protected mountains and woodlands of parks and nature preserves. Occasionally, bears will wander outside of a park’s boundaries. In some cases which bear is the most dangerous, bears have set up new territories on the margins of urban environments. This has occurred more frequently as the bear population increases.
Prior to colonization, there were probably as many as 2 million black bears in North America. Unfortunately, the population declined to a low of 200,000 bears as a result of habitat destruction and unrestricted hunting. Current estimates place the population around 800,000. The black bear is a close relative of the Asiatic black bear. It is suspected that the bears may share a common European ancestor.
The American black bear is typically 5 to 6 feet long from nose to tail with a height of 2.5 to 3 feet at the shoulder. When the bear stands up, the bear can stand up to 7 feet tall. Male bears are typically one-third larger than female bears. Females typically weigh between 90 and 400 pounds while males weigh between 250 and 600 pounds. Adult black bears have been known to reach 660 pounds while exceptionally large males have been recorded at weights up to 800 pounds, a length of almost 8 feet. Cubs typically weigh between 7 ounces and a pound at birth.
Adult bears have small eyes, rounded ears, a long snout, a large body, and a short tail. Like all bears, black bears have an excellent sense of smell. While they typically have shaggy black hair (hence the name black bear), their fur can vary from white through chocolate-brown, cinnamon-brown, and blonde. Blonde black bears are found mostly west of the Mississippi River in the United States and in the Canadian provinces west of Ontario. Occasionally, a black bear will have a v-shaped white chest blaze.
While black bears can stand and walk on their hind legs, it is more normal for them to walk on all four legs. If a bear is standing, it is typically to get a better look at something or to figure out from where a scent is coming. The shuffling gait we all associate with bears is a result of their flat-footed walk. In addition, the hind legs are slightly longer than the forelegs. In addition to the flat-footed walk, bears also use a pacing gate. Unlike many other quadrupeds, the legs on one side of the bear’s body move together instead of alternating.