Classification: The Florida Black Bear belongs to the family Ursidae which includes seven different types of bears. They are the spectacled bear, the only bear of South America; the slothbear, found only in India and Ceylon; the sun bear of southeast Asia, the smallest bear; the Asiatic black bear, found in the Himalaya Mountains between India and Tibet; the polar bear, which lives all around the North Polo; the brown bear or grizzly bear, the largest bears; and the American black bear. North America has polar bears, brown bears, and the American black bear which is the most common of all the bears. The American black bear has a unique subspecies, the Ursus americanus floridanus.
Habitat: Bears are found in all types of heavily wooded terrain. In Florida, they are most often found in large tracts of swamp forest and undisturbed uplands forest.
Range: The Florida Black Bear once ranged the entire Florida peninsula, southern Georgia, and Alabama. There were an estimated 12,000 bears. Today fewer than 1,500 remain. The majority of Florida's bears occur in five major pupulations located in the Ocala/Wekiva River Basin, Big Cypress National Preserve, Apalachicola National Forest, Osceola National Forest, and Eglin Air Force Base.
Appearance: The Florida Black bear is five to six feet long and about three feet high at the shoulder. It is a heavily built, bulky carnivore with long, dense, glossy, black hair above and below. The tail is very short and inconspicuous, but well haired. The face is rather blunt and broad, the eyes are small, and the nosepad is broad. The muzzle is yellowish brown and white spotting often occurs on the throat and chest. Each foot has five toes with short, heavy, downward curved claws. If the weather is hot, some of the Florida bears shed their black guard hairs, but during the winter the black hairs grow back.
Reproduction: Most Florida black bears probably do not hibernate for extended periods, but they can be found in torpor in northern Florida during cold snaps in the winter months. Each black bear usually dens alone, but a female may be accompanied by her cubs. By late spring, the bears move around, looking for food and mates. This is the time of the year when the female bear becomes pregnant. The cubs will be born the last week in February or the first week in March. The cubs are tiny (weighing 6-8 ounces), naked, and blind at birth. When they are about two months old, the cubs leave the den with their mother for the first time. They remain with her until the spring of their second year, when they weigh about 100 pounds. Females can give birth at three years of age , but most are five or seven years old before bearing young. Black bears do not reach their full growth until six years old, and their have a life expectancy of fifteen or twenty years in the wild. In zoos, they can live twenty five or thirty years.
Feeding: Black bears eat much vegetable matter and are truly omnivorous. They are important seed dispersers for many native plants; the process of digestion actually increases germination rates in some species. The examination of nearly 600 scats showed the most commonly eaten foods are seeds of sabal palmetto, saw palmetto, and Brazilian pepper, as well as bees, ants, and the stems of pickerel weeds. A few foods uniquely available to south Florida bears include bromeliads and the fruit of wild coffee, lantana, royal palm, and marlberry. Wild logs, white-tailed deer, and armadillos are eaten infrequently. Following radio collared bears has helped scientists to determine the home range of black bears. Home range is the area an animal uses to meet its daily needs throughout the year. The average size of black bears home range was fifty to two hundred square miles for adult male, and twenty to therty square miles for adult female.
Behavior: Black bears are very shy. Whenever they meet people in the wild, they will usually turn and run away. However, if a female with cubs is surprised, or if people get between her and her cubs, she will growl and snap her teeth together, warning for the people to leave. In order to survival, the balck bear's sense of smell is most importance, its sense of hearing is second in importance, and its sense of of sight is third. Black bears use their nose to find almost all of their food and to warn them of danger from people. The bear's ability to hear allows them to either hide or leave, long before the danger comes near. Although bear's eyesight is not good, their sense of smell and hearing are enough to help them to survive.