||The Mammals of Texas -
Carnivora : Family Ursidae : Ursus
Description. A medium-sized bear, black
or brown in color; snout brownish in the black color
phase; front claws slightly longer than the hind claws,
curved, adapted for climbing; profile of face nearly
straight, not "dished-in" as in the grizzly; fur long and rather coarse. Dental formula: I
3/3, C 1/1, Pm 4/4, M 2/3 X 2 = 42. External measurements
average: total length, 1,500 mm; tail, 125 mm; hind foot,
175 mm; height at shoulder about 625 mm. Weight, 100-150
kg; occasionally as much as 225 kg.
Distribution in Texas. Formerly
widespread throughout the state; now restricted to
remnant populations in mountainous areas of the
Habits. Black bears have been
restricted by the inroads of "civilization" to
the more remote, less accessible mountainous areas or to
the nearly impenetrable thickets along watercourses. Only
in places that have a low human population or an
enlightened public have black bears been able to cope
successfully with humans.
Largely creatures of woodland and
forested areas, black bears are more at home on the
ground than they are in the trees. They are expert
climbers, however, and, especially when young, often seek
refuge in trees. Ordinarily they are shy and retiring and
seldom are seen. They appear to use definite travelways
or runs, a habit that is frequently taken advantage of by
In spite of their large size and
reputed clumsiness, bears are fleet-footed. One of us
(Davis) once surprised a bear feeding in a berry patch.
After the initial shock of meeting each other at close
range, the bear regained its presence of mind first and
bolted along a trail through the underbrush. It ran with
amazing speed, resembling a big hog as it noisily left
In the colder parts of their range,
black bears "hole up" in a windfall, at the
base of a tree, under a shelving rock, or in some other
suitable site, and are inactive for a part of the winter.
They do not exhibit the characteristics of true
hibernation; their temperature does not drop markedly nor
are the heartbeat and respiratory rate materially
reduced. Often the bears are nearly fully exposed to the
winter weather during their prolonged sleep. They may
awaken and become active during a warm spell in midwinter
and return to the nest to sleep again when the
Their food is extremely varied as
reflected by the crushing type of molar teeth. They are
known to feed upon nest contents of wild bees, carpenter
ants and other insects, manzanita berries, coffee
berries, wild cherry, poison oak, apples, pine nuts,
acorns, clover, grass, roots, fish, carrion, and garbage
about camps. Occasional animals become killers of
livestock and young deer.
The breeding season is in June or July.
The one to four young (usually two) are born in January
or February, while the mother is "hibernating,"
after a gestation period of 210-217 days. At birth the
young are blind, covered with a sparse growth of fine
hair, and almost helpless. They weigh less than 500 g and
are about 15 cm long. They grow rather slowly at first;
their eyes open in about 6 weeks. By the time the mother
is ready to leave her winter den they are strong enough
to follow. The cubs remain with her until the fall of
their second year when they venture forth on their own.
By that time, the female is preparing for her next
family. Normally, old females mate every other year, and
young females do not mate until 2 years or more of age.
Bears have few enemies other than man.
They make interesting pets when small, but they become
dangerous as they grow older. Their chief economic value
is as a game animal. Their pelts have little value on the
fur market, but they are prized as trophies.
Remarks. There have been many
recent sightings of black bear in the Chisos Mountains of
Big Bend National Park. Studies by Eric Hellgren of Texas
A&M Kingsville University suggest that black
bears dispersing from the mountains of Mexico are
recolonizing their historical habitat in the Trans-Pecos.
A resident, breeding population of perhaps 20 individuals
is thought to occur in the Chisos Mountains.
Photo courtesy of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.