Black Bear

image00The black bear (Ursus americanus) is the smallest and most widely distributed member of the bear family found in North America. In British Columbia, black bears inhabit all areas of the province except most urban cores. They are relatively numerous and tolerant of human activities and as a result are the most commonly encountered large carnivore in the province.

Black bears are not always black, and this variation is most apparent in British Columbia. Other colour phases that occur in British Columbia include cinnamon, brown, and blonde. A white-coloured morph, called Kermode or Spirit Bear, is reported most frequently on the north-central coast. The blue phase, or “glacier” bear, is sometimes seen in the extreme northwest corner of the province.

Only 18,000 years ago, British Columbia was completely covered with ice and black bears were relegated to at least two refugia: one in what is now the United States and one near the Queen Charlotte Islands. Following glacial melting, bears gradually spread back north and also re-colonised coastal British Columbia from near the Queen Charlotte Islands. Ten thousand-year-old skeletons in caves on Vancouver Island indicate that black bears arrived soon after glaciation and were larger than modern-day black bears. Scientists believe that bears on Vancouver Island and the Queen Charlottes have retained more of their ice-age characteristics than mainland bears because of a long period of isolation from continental populations. British Columbia has more races of black bear than any other part of Canada.

Black bears have a chunky body, small black eyes, a broad head, rounded ears, a short tail, and a fine, long pelage. Typically, they have uniformly black fur, except for a tan muzzle and a white V on the chest. The feet are flat-soled (plantigrade), with naked pads and five toes with relatively short curved claws. Adult size, and particularly weight, varies greatly according to sex, season, food supply, and geographic area. Adult males measure about 60 to 90 cm in shoulder height and 130 to 190 cm in length and weigh 80 to 300 kg. Females are smaller, weighing 40 to 140 kg. Black and grizzly bears sometimes look similar, but grizzlies are usually larger and are seldom completely black. Grizzlies have a prominent shoulder hump, which is lacking in black bears, and a dishshaped face instead of the straight facial profile of the black. Grizzlies have much longer claws that are adapted for digging, whereas the shorter, curved claws of black bears are well suited for tree climbing.  For More Information Visit the Ministry of Environment “Black Bears in British Columbia”.

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