5 surprising facts about black bears

February 29, 2016, 11:38 a.m.
A black bear pulls a fish from a stream.
Photo: Sorin Colac/Shutterstock

1. Don't be fooled by that waddling walk; black bears can be speedy when needed. They can move at speeds of 25-30 miles per hour, using these short and powerful bursts to hunt for prey or outrun danger. So when people tell you never try to outrun a bear, believe them!

2. Black bears aren't just swift on land. They're also proficient swimmers. They have no trouble swimming across rivers or lakes. According to Bear Life, "North American Black bears like to swim. If there is water where they live they will exploit it for food. Since bears like to hunt fish, they are not shy of water. In fact, their baby cubs take to the water quickly."

3. Black bears have a bit of a misleading name. The species often has a black coat, but not always. Black bears can also be brown, cinnamon or blonde. A small population of black bears in coastal British Columbia are completely white, and are known as Kermode bears. The lighter coat colors are usually found in western populations of bears, and according to the North American Bear Center, "Light-colored fur reduces heat stress in open sunlight and allows the bears to feed longer in open, food-rich habitats. The lighter-colored fur may also camouflage them from predators in those open areas."

4. Black bears vary in size, with males weighing anywhere from 150 pounds to 550 pounds and females being a bit smaller. They usually measure between 4-7 feet long from nose to tail. However larger (much, much larger) individuals have been recorded. The largest wild black bear recorded was killed in 1972. The bear measured 7.9 feet long and weighed an estimated 1,100 pounds. It's no wonder that sometimes people mistake black bears for grizzly bears, especially when their fur is on the lighter side.

5. In October or November, black bears begin looking for a place to hibernate. Most often they select places like tree cavities, spaces under logs or rocks, deep in caves or in dens they dig out themselves. But, as is the case with many wild animals that live near humans, they sometimes choose less convenient locations. One bear was found hibernating in the basement of a New Jersey home! Because black bears can be found sniffing around yards in search of food from compost to fallen birdseed, it's important to know how to be bear aware in suburbia. After all, you don't want to discover a bear under your deck on some cold January morning!


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Jaymi Heimbuch is a writer and photographer at Mother Nature Network. Follow her on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.