Black Bear


The black bear is the largest and heaviest wild mammal still living in Kentucky (50"-78" long, 200-600lb).  Black bears have a long muzzle; medium-sized, rounded ears; short, stout legs; and a very short tail practically concealed by the long, heavy fur.  Color is manly glossy black with a brown muzzle and usually a small white patch on the chest.  In western populations, cinnamon phases are common, and other color phases have been observed.  Does not see very well, but hearing and smelling are excellent.  The black bear was once common throughout much of North America, but its range has been decreased dramatically by humans.  It is making a comeback, however.  Now it is common throughout Canada, the Northeastern U.S., the Appalachians, the Southeast, the Rocky Mountains and the Pacific Coast.  In Kentucky the black bear was thought to be extinct but there are probably populations in the extreme southwest of the state, and it is being introduced in parts of eastern Kentucky.  In Tennessee, the Smokies and surrounding mountains harbor large populations of bears.  Black bears live in heavily wooded areas.  Their range is from 1-10square miles, but they often travel several hunderd miles to return to their native area when trapped and released.  In colder climates, black bears feed heavily in the fall to put on fat, and go into a deep sleep for winter.  During this time they will den in a hollow tree, cave, or other sheltered spot (sometimes under homes!).  The young (usually two) are born during this sleeping period.  Black bears feed on a wide variety of foods (omnivores), including grasses, berries, nuts, roots, insects, fish, small rodents, fawns, and carrion.  They are hunted primarily for sport, although poaching bears for their gall bladders has been increasing recently.  Dried bear gall bladder is thought to be an aphrodisiac by several Far Eastern cutures.