Discover Nature: Biology of Black Bears
Discover nature this week in Ursus americanus, or the American Black Bear – the largest and heaviest wild mammal in Missouri.
The black bear is the only bear found in Missouri and most of them live south of the Missouri River.
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. Males and females look alike, though females are usually smaller than males. Black bears can weigh anywhere from around 100 to 900 pounds.
Black bears live in heavily wooded areas. In winter they den in hollow trees, caves, excavated hollows in the ground or any kind of other shelter they may find suitable. In summer they sleep in trees or on the ground.
Bears enter hibernation in October or November and their 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 will stay with the mother through the summer and usually den with her the next winter. This is when bear sightings are most common.
Bears are valuable to our ecosystem because they 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.
Because a bear can become a danger when it learns to associate humans with food, it is important to keep them wild. You can help in this effort by disposing of all trash when you leave a campsite and never, ever, leaving food for bears in the wild.