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The American Black Bear, also known as the American Bear, is still the most common North American bear, despite heavy hunting abuses and an unusually high juvenile mortality rate.

CLASSIFICATION
All bears belong to the Ursidae family, and are found mostly in North America, Europe and Asia. The American black bear lives primarily in the North American region.

CHARACTERISTICS
The American Black Bear is commonly found in heavily wooded areas in North America. Adults range in size, but are most often 5-6 feet in length and considered "medium sized" by bear standards. The male is most often twice the size of that of the female, weighing close to 600 pounds.

The American black bear is identified by a white, star-shaped marking on its chest. Actual fur color ranges from black to brown, beige, cinnamon and white. The bears face appears small and delicate, covered with a thin layer of brown fur. The bear's body fur is coarse and thick, giving a deceptive bulky appearance to their large bodies.

This bear has massive hindquarters and short, strong limbs, which give them a slow, ambling gait. Despite their slothly appearance, the American black bear is capable of moving at up to 35 miles per hour. They are also able to climb trees and swim with ease.

Much like the Polar Bear, the American black bear has plantigrade feet, which allow his heel and sole to touch the ground while walking, giving him an almost human gait. With five short, sharp, curved, non-retractable claws on each foot, this bear is able to move with ease in many environments.

The American black bear lives in a wide range of habitats, including scrub forests in the subarctic, near jungles and deep within North American forest areas. This bear can also move into open tundra areas, and is commonly found roaming plains and streams. Unlike other bear however, the black bear tends to stick close to home, never traveling more than 15 miles during his lifetime.

Adult black bears are solitary animals, interacting with others mainly during mating season. At times, groups may feed together where large quantities of food are readily available, but even then, there is little social contact.

Like most others in the bear family. the black bear has a poor sense of sight and only fair hearing skills. Due to their keen sense of smell, however, the bear is able to stand on its hind legs and pick up drifting scents at will, making him a powerful hunter and predator in its natural environment.

Contrary to common myth, the American black bear does not hug human victims to death. The only exception to this rule is if a bear is interrupted while feeding or tending to young cubs. Unlike its fierce grizzly bear cousin, the American black bear is considered a fairly docile animal.

BIRTH
Female bears reach sexual maturity between the ages of 5-6 years, and commonly give birth to two cubs every 2-3 years. The female is able to produce until they reach the age of 25 years. The gestation period for the American black bear is 100-215 days, after which time two hairless, 8-ounce cubs emerge. Blind at birth and through the first week of life, survival in the wild is difficult for bear cubs. Those that do survive, nurse for two months and stay with the mother until the next breeding period begins two years later.

EATING HABITS
The American black bear is omnivorous, feeding mostly on acorns, various nuts, herbs, berries, fish, carrion and insects. When food is abundant, bears may consume as much as 45 pounds a day. As food becomes scarce, the black bears begin to hibernate, sleeping in dens for up to seven months a year.

Even though they are classified as flesh eaters, black bears will eat almost anything, as long as it is edible. Their teeth are suitable for tearing flesh and grinding vegetables.

TODAY
The American black bear population is considered stable today, with black bears remaining the most abundant species of all bear in existence. The lifespan of the bear has decreased, however, with many bear not living beyond ten years of age. Hunting, suburban growth and lack of food challenge the bear population, but have not defeated it.

Because of their inquisitive nature and high intelligence level, the American black bear is easily trained and often found on the traveling circus circuit. Zoo keepers also sing the praises of this intense, smart animal, calling the black bear a shrewd, intelligent being.

Black bear in the wild live between 10-30 years, and considerably longer in captivity.