Black Bear (Ursus americanus)

Texas Status
U.S. Status

See Bear Safety in Mind: Hunter's Edition for ways to deal with bears.

The Black Bear is a stocky, large animal, one of the largest mammals in North America. Adults reach a length of 5 to 6 feet, height at the shoulder of 2 to 3 feet, and weigh 200-300 pounds. Although called a "black" bear, colors can range from black to the occasional cinnamon brown. Front claws are generally longer than hind claws. The fur is long and coarse. Although appealing and generally harmless, Black Bears can injure humans when provoked and should be treated with caution.

Life History
At home in the woods and forests, Black Bears are capable of climbing trees, but adult bears generally prefer remaining on the ground. Although classified as a carnivore, the Black Bear is a true omnivore, opportunistically feeding on a wide range of food items. Analysis of scat (bear droppings) shows that vegetable material almost always comprises over half the bear's diet, with insects and other animals comprising a small percentage. In particular, fresh leaves, fruits, berries, nuts, roots, and tubers are favorite foods seasonally, with insects and small mammals eaten when the opportunity arises.

It's easy to see where bears have been. They frequently break the branches of nut-bearing trees while feeding and tear up the ground looking for insects, roots, or tubers. Black Bears in Texas especially relish the succulent base of the sotol plant (Dasylirion). In desert environments, it's common to find partially eaten sotol plants where bears have been. Bears will also strip the bark from trees while looking for insects or juicy pulp, and will often rub themselves on rough bark.

Breeding occurs in June and July. Some biologists believe female Black Bears in Texas hibernate (a prolonged sleep-like habit when body temperature and respiration are drastically reduced), while males do not. The young are born in January or February, while the mother is "hibernating". She normally gives birth to two-to-three cubs every two years.
The American Black Bear is found throughout North America in habitats ranging from swamps to desert scrub. Black Bears were once found through out North America, mostly in forests, but also in deserts and swamps. At least two subspecies of Black Bear are thought to occur in Texas: the Mexican Black Bear (Ursus americanus eremicus) and the New Mexico Black Bear (subspecies U. a. amblyceps). Both are found in West Texas in desert scrub or woodland habitats within scattered mountain ranges, predominantly the Chisos and Guadalupe Mountains. Both subspecies are state-listed as endangered in Texas. The Louisiana Black Bear (subspeciesU. a. luteolus) is on the federal threatened species list. It is not known to be found in Texas, although potential habitat exists in the eastern part of the state.
Today, Black Bears are found predominantly in the Appalachian area of the eastern U.S. across Canada to the Northern Pacific Coast. In addition, Black Bears are found in most of the Gulf Coast states and the Rocky Mountains.
If you judge by recent reported sightings, the Black Bear is making a significant comeback in Texas. However, public interest in an animal often has a way of fueling additional sightings, especially during poor visibility conditions. This is true not only with bears, but many other elusive and intriguing animals, such as Mountain Lions or sharks. In other words, some of the bear reports could be false.

From the Big Bend to Austin, bear sightings have surprised biologists and the public alike. On the other hand, at least one sighting per year of Black Bears in the Hill Country is not uncommon. These individuals may be truly wild animals looking for suitable habitat or mates, but it is entirely possible that they are released or escaped captive animals. In any case, the chances of a recently established population of Black Bears in the Hill Country are remote. Central Texans are probably seeing wandering individuals from farther west.

Black Bears are not as dangerous as some people think. For one thing, most of their diet is vegetation, so they may pose less of a threat to livestock than some other predators. And like most animals, they will seldom approach people.

The Black Bear, Ursus americanus, is on the state endangered species list. TPWD biologists encourage people to report recent bear sightings to Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. Research is currently underway by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department to determine the status of Black Bears in Texas. A study is also underway in East Texas to determine habitat suitability in that part of the state.