Florida Black Bears

The Florida black bear, Ursus americanus floridanus, is an American black bear subspecies.  There are six other species of black bears native to North America.

Florida black bear in search of food knocks over trash.

Habitat

Florida black bears inhabit mostly forested areas where there is an abundance of food. Though they could be found all throughout Florida, including the keys, these days their habitat is a bit more spread out.

For the most part, they can be found in protected areas such as Ocala National Forest, Big Cypress National Preserve, Everglades National Park, Apalachicola National Forest, Osceola National Forest, and Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge.

However, smaller bear populations may be found isolated and scattered throughout other parts of Florida. For example, Chassahowitzka, Highlands and Glades counties.

Florida Black Bear Distribution Map

Florida black bear distribution map.
Florida black bear distribution map
  • A primary bear range is defined as an area that contains a core bear population, habitat that is important to bear movement, and evidence of reproduction.
  • A secondary bear range is defined as an area important to bear movement and habitat use, but less optimal than a primary range.

Description

On average, the Florida black bear is 2.5 to 3.5 feet tall (shoulder height). Standing on their hind legs, they can reach heights between 4.5 to 6.5 feet tall.

Adult males can weigh between 250 to 350 pounds. However, there have been instances where some have been discovered to weigh over 600 pounds. Females, on the other hand, can weigh between 130 to 180 pounds. As with all bear species, the females are smaller than the males.

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A Florida black bear’s fur is glossy black and remains black throughout the entire year. However, many have brown fur on their muzzles. 30% of the black bear population in Florida is known to have a white chest patch, called a blaze.

They have small eyes, round and pointed ears, and short and curved nails on their feet that are non-retractable.

Diet

These types of bears prefer to eat berries, acorns, insects, saw palmetto and sabal palm fruits, honey and bee larvae. A small part of the bear’s diet includes meat, such as armadillos, wild pigs, and deer. Bears are omnivorous mammals. The typical black bear diet is made up of 80 percent plants, 15 percent insects, and 5 percent animal matter.

Reproduction

Female Florida black bears are mature enough to reproduce from 4 to 5 years while male Florida black bears mature at 5 to 6 years.

Their gestation period lasts about 235 days and they give birth to 2 or 3 cubs (though, usually on one if its the first time). The cubs weigh approximately 12 ounces at birth.

The mother and cubs remain together for 16-17 months. Then, the family members separate, the mother mates again, and the 2-year cycle repeats.

Status

The Florida black bear was once an endangered species. The population had decreased to 300 and 500 bears in the 1940s and 1950. However, it has grown to 2,500 to 4,000 as a result of conservation efforts.

On August 24, 2012, they were removed from the Florida state threatened species list. However, due to habitat loss, road kills, and human contact, the species remains under threat.

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Habitat Loss to Development

Nearly 20 acres of wildlife habitat is being lost to development every hour in Florida, one of the most rapidly urbanizing states in the nation. To ensure the survival of this subspecies, it is critical that bear habitat, adjacent to and serving to link existing public lands, be purchased as public lands or managed by private landowners in a manner compatible with the long-term survival of the Florida black bear.

Road Kill

More than 1,356 bears are documented to have been killed by vehicles since 1976. Well over 100 bears are killed on Florida roads each year, with the record number, 132, occurring in 2002. Roadkills are considered the leading known cause of Florida bear mortality.

According to the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT), the state’s high-speed paved roads have increased at the rate of 4.5 miles per day over the last 50 years. Road-widening projects and more traffic increase the danger of vehicle-caused mortality which can lead to the extinction of small subpopulations and the long term problem of isolating individuals from food, shelter, and mates.

Human/Bear Interactions

A growing problem threatens to undermine bear conservation. The FWC reports that the annual number of human/bear interactions rose from one in 1978 to 1,563 in 2004. In 2006, Floridians experienced the highest number of conflicts in almost 25 years. There have been numerous cases of bears in buildings, causing property or crop damage, bears taking livestock and pets, and other serious problems.

No bear attacks on humans have been documented in Florida, but as the state’s human population continues to grow and encroach upon the remaining bear habitat, and as bear populations hopefully recover and expand, confrontations are anticipated to grow. 

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Interesting Facts About Florida Black Bears

  • Florida black bears are not true hibernators. Instead, they experience what is often called “winter lethargy” or “denning.”
  • Florida black bears eat the heart and berries from palmettos.
  • It is illegal to injure or kill a bear in Florida.

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