Louisiana Black Bear Ecology and Habitat

 

The black bear is a large, bulky mammal with long black hair and a short, well-haired tail.  The facial profile is blunt, the eyes small, and the nose pad broad with large nostrils.  There are five toes with short, curved claws on the front and hind feet. Like all bears, they are plantigrade (flat-footed) and the front claws are longer than the rear claws.  Weight varies considerably throughout their range.  Average weight of adult males generally ranges between 300-400 pounds,  however adult males can weight more than 500 pounds. Average weight of adult females ranges from 120-200 pounds,  generally weighing less than 300 pounds.  Black bears are good swimmers and can also climb trees. They have a good sense of smell but have poor eyesight.

Bear activity revolves primarily around the search for food, water, cover, and mates.  Bears are best described as opportunistic omnivorous feeders, as they eat almost anything that is available. Their diet varies seasonally and includes primarily succulent vegetation during spring, fruits and grains in summer, and hard mast (such as acorns and pecans) during fall.  Black bears are usually not conventional predators like wolves or mountain lions.  Meat they consume is generally either carrion or that of an opportunistic kill.  Black bears utilize all levels of the forest for feeding; they can gather foods from tree tops and vines, but also forage in fallen logs for insects.  The growth rate, maximum size, breeding age, litter size, and cub survival of black bears are all correlated with nutrition. 

Black bears do not truly hibernate, but go through a dormancy period termed “carnivoran lethargy,” which is a period of inactivity which helps them survive food shortages and severe weather during the winter.  In warmer climates, such as in Louisiana, bears can remain active all winter.  Bears den in heavy cover or tree cavities during the winter months and den type may vary depending on the habitat.

Louisiana Black Bear Reproduction

Females reach sexual maturity at 3 to 4 years of age and mating takes place in June, July and August. Gestation is approximately 220 days and the cubs are born in their mother's winter den in January or February. Bears may den between November and early January depending on latitude, available food, sex, age, and local weather conditions.  Adult females generally den first, followed by subadults and adult males.  At the end of the dormancy period, females with cubs are usually the last to leave the den.  Cubs are weaned at around 8 months but may remain with their mother the first year, den with her the following winter, and search for their own territory in their second summer.

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Louisiana Black Bear Habitat and Home Range

Like other black bears, the Louisiana black bear is a habitat generalist.  Large tracts of diverse bottomland hardwood (BLH) forest communities can provide for the black bear’s life requisites (e.g., escape cover, denning sites, and hard and soft mast).  The term BLH forest means hardwood (oak, hickory) forest situated on river flood plains such as the Mississippi and the Atchafalaya.  Other habitat types may be utilized, including marsh; upland forested areas; forested spoil areas along bayous, brackish marsh, freshwater marsh, salt domes, and agricultural fields.  Den trees are an important component of bear habitat.  Den trees are trees with diameter of 36" or greater and generally are cypress or tupelo gum trees that are in close proximity to water.

Home range is the amount of area a bear occupies during a specified period of time.  Female range size may be partly determined by habitat quality, while male home range size may be determined by the distribution of females (i.e., to allow for a male's efficient monitoring of a maximum number of females).  Male black bears commonly disperse, and adult male bears can be wide-ranging with home ranges generally three to eight times larger than those of adult females encompassing several female home ranges.  Dispersal by female black bears is uncommon but when it occurs, typically is a short distance.  Females without cubs generally have larger home ranges than females with newborn cubs, although this difference varies seasonally, with movements more restricted in the spring.  Following separation of the mother and yearling offspring, young female black bears commonly establish a home range partially within or adjacent to their mother’s home range.  Young males, however, generally disperse from their maternal home range.  Limited information suggests that subadult males may disperse up to 136 miles.  Except females with young, black bears are relatively solitary animals.  Bears will leave territorial signposts both through scent marking and by leaving long claw marks in tree bark.

                                      

 

              Den Tree                                   Bear Inside of  Den Tree                      Ground Den

                                                             Click on den images to enlarge