September 13, 2015: Da Bears

This month’s special project involves American black bears (Ursus americanus). Although the black bear is the most common bear species in the world, they can be surprisingly difficult to find. Any genes related to befriending or tolerating humans that they may have once possessed have long since been selected out of the population. Most of the new pictures were taken at the National Bison Range north of Missoula, Montana. In the fall, the black bears in the range head down the pine-covered mountains to spend their days in the gullies fattening up on berries from the hawthorn and service berry trees that line small creeks.

Weighing less than a pound at birth, black bears often mature to between 250 and 500 pounds and specimens over 900 pounds have been found (Hunter, 2011). Black bears in Montana tend to be brown or cinnamon in color as opposed to the more purely black eastern bears. Black bears are excellent climbers, at least in pursuit of ripe berries. About 85% of the black bear’s diet consists of plant foods with most of the remainder being insects and carrion (Brown, 1993).
In North American, there have been approximately 63 human deaths associated with black bears since 1900, although as humans encroach into more rural and mountainous areas the attack frequency may be increasing (Herrero, Higgins, Cardoza, Hajduk, & Smith, 2011). As is often the case, we are the true predators, killing over 50,000 black bears in North America annually (World Wildlife Fund, 2014). Despite the low frequency of bear attacks on humans, there are approximately 2,350,000 Internet searches annually for the phrase “bear attack” in the United States, a made-up statistic. Conversely, no bears have ever searched the Internet for the phrase “human attack,” a similarly made-up statistic that shows that my made-up statistics can be surprisingly accurate and revealing. Most black bears are killed for trophy hides and heads or in a rather blurry conglomeration of revenge and protection: After a recent bear attack in Canada, five black bears were located and killed just to be sure (Canadian Broadcasting Company, 2011). “Killer black bear is dead, DNA tests confirm” screamed the proud headline. There is no truth to the rumor that the Huckleberry News (the favorite periodical of North American bears) ran an article entitled “Four innocent black bears murdered, DNA tests confirm” the next day.
Brown, G. (1993). The great bear almanac. Guilford, CT: Lyons & Burford.
Canadian Broadcasting Company. (2011, July 14). Killer black bear is dead, DNA tests confirm. Retrieved from
Herrero, S., Higgins, A., Cardoza, J. E., Hajduk, L. I., & Smith, T. S. (2011). Fatal attacks by American black bear on people: 1900–2009. The Journal of Wildlife Management, 75(3), 596–603. doi:10.1002/jwmg.72
Hunter, L. (2011). Carnivores of the world. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

World Wildlife Fund. (2015). TRAFFIC: The Wildlife Trade Monitoring Network. Retrieved from

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