American Black Bear

Black Bear

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Black Bear

Photo of black bear
Ursus americanus
Ursidae (bears) in the order Carnivora

The American black bear is one of the largest and heaviest wild mammals in Missouri. It has a long muzzle with a straight facial profile; rounded, erect ears; rather short, stout legs; and a very short tail practically concealed in the long, heavy fur. For black bears in Missouri, the fur is predominantly glossy black; the muzzle is brown, and there is usually a white patch on the chest. The sexes look much alike, though females are usually smaller than males.

Total length: 46–78 inches; tail length: 4–5 inches; weight: 86–900 pounds.
Habitat and conservation: 
Black bears live in heavily wooded areas. In winter they den in a hollow tree, cave, an excavated hollow in the ground or another shelter. In summer they sleep in trees or on the ground. Black bears used to be abundant in the state but had become rare by 1850 and were nearly eliminated by 1931. Reintroduction efforts in Arkansas have increased their numbers in our state. Because a bear can become a danger when it learns to associate humans with food, it is important to keep them wild.
Black bears eat a variety of foods. Plant matter includes grass, berries and other fruits, various seeds and nuts, the inner bark of trees and roots. Animal food includes ants, bees and their honey, crickets and grasshoppers, fish, frogs, small rodents, fawns, bird eggs, and many kinds of carrion. Acorns are an important food source in the fall as bears prepare for winter.
Distribution in Missouri: 
Most Missouri bears live south of Interstate 44, but wandering individuals, mostly subadult males, have been seen as far north as the Iowa line. Counties adjoining the core bear range have more sightings than those north of I-44. This is the only species of bear found in Missouri.
Mostly extirpated from the state since the 1950s, black bears have been making a comeback. In 1958, Arkansas began reintroducing bears into that state, and sightings in Missouri increased beginning in the 1960s. A 2010 large-scale DNA study of Missouri's bear population suggests that our largest population, in south-central Missouri (Webster and Douglas counties), may represent a small remnant of that region’s historical population, combined with bears descended from the Arkansas releases.
Life cycle: 
Mating is in May or June but the development of eggs is arrested for 6 or 7 months. The eggs continue development about the time that bears enter hibernation, in October or November. Young are born in late January or February — sometimes while the mother is still asleep. A litter usually has 2 or 3 cubs. Winter inactivity usually extends into April, when bears leave their winter quarters and feed heavily. Cubs stay with the mother through the summer and usually den with her the next winter.
Human connections: 
In the past, bear meat provided considerable food for Indians and white settlers, and bear fat was valuable for numerous uses. Bear fur was used for bedding, coats, and rugs.
Ecosystem connections: 
Bears feed on smaller animals and thus keep their populations in check; they also kill old, injured, sick animals unfit to survive. As scavengers, they eat carrion and therefore help clean the woods.
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