Goldilocks in Reverse
We all remember the story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears, where the bears come home to find “someone has been sleeping in my bed.” Well, during the months of June and July in Northeast Ohio, some night you might come home to find a bear sleeping in your bed! At a recent ODNR presentation, it was noted that Portage County has the highest number of confirmed sightings of all counties in northeast Ohio. According to ODNR, in 2011 statewide, there were 152 confirmed sighting representing 89 individual bears.
Bears have fascinated us for centuries. As one of the most adaptable and versatile mammals on earth, their behavior stirs fear, awe, wonder and curiosity in us. The American Black bear, Ursus americanus is one of eight bear species found in the world. In addition to the American Black bear, the Speckled, Sloth, Panda, Brown, Polar, Sun, and Asiatic black make up the bears of the world. No, the koala bear is not a bear at all but a marsupial, similar to the kangaroo. However Winnie the Pooh, a famous bear in his own right, was actually named after a Black bear at the London Zoo.
American black bears are endemic to North America, meaning they are found nowhere in the world except North America. Adaptive in nature, their distribution spans the entire continent, from the tip of Alaska to Mexico. Historically, the American black bear lived in 49 of the 50 states, with Hawaii being the exception. They also lived in all 10 Canadian provinces. Due to the rise of agriculture and westward expansion by the middle of the 1800’s the black bear was no longer living in Ohio. It wasn’t until 1973 that there was a confirmed sighting of a bear in southern Ohio.
Once a bear reaches adulthood, the average lifespan is around 18 years. But reaching adulthood is no small task. It is estimated that only 60% of the black bear cubs reach one year of age.
Bears stake out territories and, generally speaking, are forest dwellers shunning human encounters. The habitat is usually characterized by thick understory vegetation and an abundant supply of fruit and nut bearing trees and shrubs. A female bear has an average range of up to 15 square miles, but this may be as big as 50 square miles; while the male bear has an average range of up to 60 square miles, but may be as big as 120 square miles. The males range commonly overlaps several female bear’s ranges. Bears are not monogamous and a male bear usually mates with several sows, female bears, during the breeding season. The home range of an American black bear can vary greatly depending on the location, the season, food availability, the density of individuals, and the sex and age of the individual bears in the range. Black bears, usually females, tend to be highly territorial. An intruder would be chased away or even seriously injured by the female in residence. Territoriality is possible with females because their smaller home range size allows them to defend it properly. It would be nearly impossible for a male American black bear to defend a home range that could measure as much as 120 square miles.
Males generally forgo territoriality and instead rely on a dominance hierarchy to keep social order. Bears announce their presence by scent marking — urinating, defecating, and rubbing, scratching, and biting trees. More submissive bears, predominately the younger bears, begin looking to establish their own range. As the bear population increases in Pennsylvania, we are seeing an increase in Black bear sightings in Northeastern Ohio, with the peak during June and July, which coincides with the peak breeding season for bears.
Bears are omnivores meaning they eat everything; they will eat a variety of fruits, nuts, grasses, and meat. Blackberries, raspberries, acorns, hickory nuts, beech nuts, carrion, and insects are typical foods. Sorry, no picnic baskets, but dumpsters and garbage cans are frequent targets. Not to mention bird feeders and bee hives.
Now, we as human beings are prone to exaggeration so when you hear “that black bear was at least 10 feet tall and weighed 1000 lbs”, rest assured that was not the case. Weights can vary greatly depending on the age, health, and sex of the bear as well as the season and the condition of the habitat, but generally speaking male bears weight around 300 lbs and females weight around 150 lbs. Seasonality is a major factor — pre-denning weight in the fall is considerably higher than the weight of the bear when it emerges from hibernation in the spring. American black bears exhibit sexual dimorphism, where males are generally 33% larger than their female counterparts of the same age. This also exists in some bird species, especially eagles, hawks, and owls but in reverse. The female is 33% larger than the male. The average bear stands between 5-6 feet in height and when walking on all fours is around 3.5 tall at the shoulder.
Bears have relatively good eyesight and hearing but rise to the top of the food chain because of their unbelievable sense of smell. Researchers have determined that bears sense of smell it seven times greater than that of the Bloodhound. Bears use this keen sense of smell to communicate with each other, identify young, find food, and avoid danger.
The ODNR has a very informative web site that list what to do if you encounter a bear, how to bearproof your house, and other useful knowledge you need to know about these beautiful animals. http://www.dnr.state.oh.us/Home/wild_resourcessubhomepage/blackbearsinohio/tabid/24058/Default.aspx.
So if you see these footprints leading into your house, better check your bed!