Kinds of Bears

Several species of bears are found in Europe, Asia, and North America. The only species native to South America is the spectacled bear. Bears are now extinct in Africa; they were formerly found in the Atlas Mountains in the north. Australia has no bears; the koala "bear" is a marsupial, or pouched animal, related to the opossum but resembling a teddy bear. The panda "bear," or giant panda, of China is a large mammal with black and white markings. Some zoologists consider it a member of the bear family; others place it in its own family.

The American Black Bear

is the most common species in North America. It weighs about 300 pounds (135 kg) on the average, although some males reach 900 pounds (410 kg). These bears were once found throughout the continent, but now live only in mountainous or heavily wooded areas in the South, the Appalachians, the Adirondacks, the Great Lakes region, the Rocky Mountains, and Canada. Black bears are not necessarily black. Some are white; others, called cinnamon bears, are reddish brown. Yellowstone National Park is famous for black bears that beg food from tourists.

Female black bears mate every other summer, usually during June. After breeding, the male wanders off, leaving the female to care for the cubs that will be born in winter. The cubs are blind for four weeks; they are helpless and furless, usually weighing less than one pound (450 g). For about 40 days they do nothing but eat, sleep, and lie curled up with the mother in the den. They then leave the den with the mother and soon learn to climb trees and hunt for food. By fall they weigh about 40 pounds (18 kg). They spend their first full winter in the den with the mother. Males mature in about two years; females, usually in three.

Are American Black Bears Always Black?

Believe it or not, American black bears are not always black. In fact, they come in many different colors. Some have black coats, brown noses, and white patches on their chests. Others are rusty brown. They are known as cinnamon black bears.

Then there are Kermode’s (KUR mohdz) bears. These American black bears are often creamy-white, but sometimes they are pure white. They even have white claws.The rarest American black bear is the glacier bear. It has a mix of gray and black hairs. This mix makes the bear look blue.

American black bears are smaller and lighter than grizzlies. An American black bear is about 5 feet (1.5 meters) long and weighs 200 to 300 pounds (91 to 140 kilograms). These bears are great tree-climbers. In fact, climbing trees is one way they avoid danger.