The American Black Bear

Ursus americanus

Name: American Black Bear
Scientific name: Ursus americanus
Range: In all but six states with Alaska having the largest number; also found in most of Canada and northern Mexico.
Habitat: Hardwood and coniferous forests where a plentiful supply of nuts, berries, game and shelter is available, as well as a plentiful water supply.
Status: Not threatened, however the Louisiana black bear, one of the 15 subspecies, is listed as threatened.
Diet in the wild: Omnivorous- diet includes nuts, berries, grass roots, vegetation, fruit, animals, fish and occasionally carrion.
Diet in the zoo: Omnivorous diet
Location in the zoo: Located in the Piney woods & Swamps Region in the all-new Texas Wild! Exhibit.

Physical description: 

Height varies. On all fours, black bears may stand anywhere from 3 to 4 feet. When standing upright on their hind legs, they may reach a height of 4 to 7 feet. Body length varies with age and sex, but commonly 50 to 80 inches from nose to tail Weight also varies with age, sex, and season. Males can range from 125-500 pounds. The heaviest male ever recorded tipped the scales at 880 pounds! Females generally range 90-300 pounds. The record weight for a female black bear is 520 pounds. Captive bears often exceed the typical weight of the species because of their constant and abundant food supply. The black bear has several variations in its coloring. Black and brown is the most common color, however blonde is occasionally seen, and in British Columbia, there is even a white subspecies. 

General Information:

Black bears are very successful animals with no natural enemies except other bears and man. Black bears are tolerant of other black bears, but occasionally skirmish over territory and food. Grizzlies and black bears do not get along and often avoid one another. The biggest threat to black bears is habitat loss. Bears are being forced to adapt to living close to man. In recent years, many bears have begun to associate people with food, often times getting into garbage cans and into homes in search of tasty scraps of food. The bears are not always a welcomed guest and lead to many problems. Younger bears that are new at being on their own are the most susceptible to becoming so-called “nuisance bears” because they soon discover the relative ease at obtaining food from human sources. Once bears begin relying on people for food, their natural fear of humans is diminished and often leads to confrontations with people and their property. Wildlife officials destroy many nuisance bears each year because it is difficult to curb their behavior. Relocation is another alternative, however many bears return to their original location. There have been accounts of relocated bears traveling over 150 miles back to their place of origin. The behavior of nuisance bears is not at all the bear’s fault. Humans are the ones that create nuisance bears. The best way to avoid bears into nuisance bears is to keep all food in cabins, campsites, houses, garbage cans, etc. inaccessible to bears, and under no circumstance should people feed bears scraps or morsels of food. Bears are more than capable of making it on their own without our handouts! Though descended from carnivores, bears feed primarily on berries, nuts, bark, and vegetation. They are capable of hunting however, and it is not uncommon for them to stalk and kill deer, antelope and occasionally a sick or wounded elk. Black bears are also skilled anglers. Each year during the salmon run, bears can be seen wading in rivers near Yellowstone and other parts of the Rockies catching large, wriggling salmon. 

Special anatomical, physiological or behavioral adaptations: 

Bears are excellent climbers and will take to the trees as a means of escape, to reach food, or simply to relax. One bear has been observed making its den 96 feet above the ground in a tree! Bears are also excellent swimmers. They will swim without hesitation and are notorious for swimming to island campsites in search of food. On land the bear is also a swift runner, far faster than a human. Many people are fooled by the bear’s bulk and perceive it to be a slow runner. A lean bear can run in excess of 30 m.p.h. and can run uphill without losing speed. In winter, however they are considerably slower due to the excess weight gained for hibernation and winter survival. In winter they often tire quickly during a chase. In places where the winter climate is cold and snowy, bears, as mentioned, will hibernate. The hibernation period varies with location and available food supply and ranges from a few weeks to seven months. During this period the bear does not urinate or defecate, which has led to research on how the bear disposes of toxins during this long “sleep.” It is hoped that this research will aid in future kidney treatments. Bears are thought to have color vision, and possess a very acute sense of smell. 

Background Information: 

T.J. and Boudreaux, the bears of the Fort Worth Zoo 

The black bears make their home in the zoo’s newest exhibit, Texas Wild! Their enclosure is located in the Piney Woods& Swamps region. Boudreaux is a male that was captured by the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries Enforcement Office. Boudreaux was taken into custody, so to speak, because he was labeled a nuisance bear; getting into trash cans, eating foods inside of cabins and houses, scaring the people he encountered, and just mischief in general. Although he never harmed anyone, the Department felt that his fearlessness might lead to humans or the bear himself being harmed. So they trapped him (humanely, of course) and held him in their care trying to think of what to do with Boudreaux. The zoo learned of his plight and decided to give him a second chance. He is paired with another native of his home state, T.J., (short for Tejas) a two-year old female that was rescued at the age of just two weeks by the Fort Worth Zoo. She was hand raised and cared for by the staff of the zoo hospital and is now a healthy, active and very playful animal. She and Boudreaux are getting along fine, much to the delight of the zoo personnel. 


Personal Observations: 

The bears were very active the day I was there to see them. They were both snuffling the ground with their snouts and eating pieces of fruit that had been left in their habitat by the keepers. One of the bears even climbed a tree that is in the middle of their enclosure. It was actually quite amazing to see how quickly it could climb. The bears seem to be adjusting well to their new environment and they are very fun and interesting to watch. On another occasion, I observed the two playing and wrestling around and having a pretty good time. The bears would bite each other softly and chase each other. By the way they were behaving, it was pretty clear that they were just playing and not actually fighting each other. 

Source Materials and Related Links: 


Page author: J. Nathan Davis

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