Louisiana Black Bear
Scientific Name:Ursus americanus luteolus
The black bear is a large, bulky mammal with long black hair and a short, hairy tail. Black bears have a blunt facial profile, small eyes, and a broad nose pad with large nostrils. Like all bears, they are plantigrade (flat-footed). They have five toes on each foot, with short, curved claws on the front and hind feet. The front claws are longer than the rear claws. Their weight varies considerably. Adult males average between 300 and 400 pounds but can weigh more than 500 pounds. Adult females average 120 to 200 pounds.
Range and Habitat
Found primarily in the forested wetlands of the Mississippi Alluvial Valley; however, have been sighted in almost every parish in Louisiana. Range has expanded into upland areas including piney woods habitat west and east of the Mississippi River. Generally require the dense cover and diversity of food resources that healthy forests provide. Food quantity and quality are important factors in determining where black bears live.
Although classified as carnivores, black bears are best described as opportunistic omnivores because they eat almost anything that is available, including vegetation, berries, insects, and nuts that naturally occur in forests and other productive ecosystems. In Louisiana, black bears rely heavily on soft mast such as blackberries, dewberries, and leaf buds during spring and early summer. In late summer, Louisiana black bears still forage on berries but also eat agricultural crops. In fact, a study in the Tensas River Basin suggested that corn, a non-native agricultural crop, comprised the majority of black bear diets during late summer (33.3%) and early fall (30.6%). In late fall, bears mainly feed on hard mast (fruit of forest trees) such as oaks and hickories, as well as palmetto fruit and corn. During winter, there is very little hard mast available. As a result, bears that are active during winter primarily eat grass and herbaceous vegetation; they also scavenge for leftover acorns and pecans.
Throughout all seasons, Louisiana black bear frequently eat beetles and other insects. From examining bear scat, researchers found evidence that bears in the Tensas River Basin subpopulation feed on wild hogs and white-tailed deer in the fall. Bears living at southern latitudes also often eat colonial species such as honeybees and their nests.
Black bears typically breed during the summer (May through August). Females first reproduce around 2 to 3 years of age; males typically do not reach reproductive maturity until they are 3 to 4 years old. The average litter size for Louisiana black bears is two, although litters three to five cubs have been documented.
Black bear activity revolves around the search for food, water, cover, and potential mates. Black bears are good swimmers and can also climb trees. They have a good sense of smell but have poor eyesight.
Black bears do not truly hibernate. Instead, they go through a dormancy period called “carnivoran lethargy”—a prolonged period of inactivity that enables bears to survive food shortages and adverse weather conditions during the winter (December through March). During this time, a bear’s body temperature drops, metabolism decreases by half, and heart rate is reduced. Dormant bears do not eat, drink, urinate, or defecate. At southern latitudes with warmer climates, such as Louisiana, where some natural foods are available during the winter, some males remain active. Pregnant females give birth to cubs in their dens, forcing them to den during the winter regardless of food availability or weather conditions.
In Louisiana, bears den in heavy cover or tree cavities during the winter. They select dens based on habitat type and proximity to water. They enter dens between November and early January, depending on latitude, food availability, gender, age, reproductive status, and weather conditions. Adult females that are expected to give birth to cubs generally enter dens first, followed by adult females with yearlings (cubs less than two years old), female subadults, male subadults, and finally adult males. At the end of the dormancy period (March through April), females with cubs are usually the last to leave the den. Cubs den with their mother the following winter as yearlings and remain with their mother until they are 15 to 18 months old.
Ranked as S2 (imperiled) in Louisiana. Threats to population include habitat loss and degradation due to agricultural, industrial, and residential development and poaching.