The American Black Bear or "ursus americanus" is the most common bear found in the United States. Despite the name, the Black Bear comes in a variety of colors including cinnamon brown, pale white and even a bluish hue.
The weight of a Black Bear can very widely depending on the age, sex, and geographic location of the bear. Generally, however, they can weigh anywhere between 150 and 600 pounds. Unlike the Brown Bear, the Black Bear displays no hump on its back which makes it easily discernible from its larger and more dangerous cousin. The Black Bear's claws are also much darker and shorter than a Brown Bear's claws...another distinguishing feature. Although the Black Bear possesses color vision, their eyesight is very poor so they rely upon their keen, directional sense of smell to navigate the wilderness and forage for food.
The diet of a Black Bear consists mainly of berries, nuts, grasses, insects and occasionally small mammals. While the bears are generally vegetarians, they have been known to feed on animal carcasses and will eat virtually anything especially right before hibernation when they need to put on their winter weight. Black Bears do hibernate, but most often, they do not sleep the entire winter. They are know to wake up during hibernation and "sleep walk" to find some food, drink some water and even go to the bathroom. It is not necessary for them to eat, drink or go to the bathroom during the hibernation period, but bears in warmer climates are often awoken by warm weather which signals a false end to their hibernation. Upon realization that winter is still in full gear, the bears will retreat to their dens to fall back asleep until they wake again. The hibernation period generally lasts around 7 months.
Black Bears are graceful, powerful and can outrun any human. They can reach land speeds of over 35 mph and are made to climb trees. They are also excellent swimmers. If approached by a Black Bear, DO NOT RUN. Running will kick in the bear's defense instinct and there is no escape from a black bear chase. Instead, stand your ground and remain calm. Speak in a mellow voice and back away slowly. Try to avoid prolonged eye contact and give the bear its space. If the bear stands up on his hind legs, this is not an attack signal. He or she is simply trying to get a better "smell" of you to satisfy its own curiosity. If the bear charges, smacks his jaw or stomps his paw on the ground, that means he feels threatened and it is time for you to back away.
If you are attacked by a Black Bear, do not play dead. Fight back by kicking, punching or hitting the bear with rock. If you are attacked by a Brown / Grizzly Bear, always play dead. Always take great care with your food and toiletry items while camping. Keep them sealed appropriately and hung high on a tree while you are not using them. Never sleep with food or toiletry items in your tent. If a Black Bear gets a taste for human products, it won't be long until that bear is euthanized. Remember, it's not the bear's fault for wanting a beer and burger...it is our fault, and having a bear euthanized is no laughing matter.