Did you know that Florida is home to over 4,000 bears? That’s right, Florida black bears, a subspecies of the American black bear, are native to the state and have been permanent residents here for thousands of years. Florida black bears prefer to live in dense, forested habitats that include a mixture of swamp, palmetto and flatwood territories which provide both shelter and food sources. They historically and presently can range throughout the state but are mostly found in pockets within the central, northern, southeastern and panhandle regions of Florida.
These inquisitive mammals are omnivores, and their diet is predominantly made up of plants. Over 70 percent of their food intake comes from foraging for plants, fruits and insects. They also eat acorns, nuts, palmetto hearts, small mammals, deer, boar and carrion. Florida black bears live an average of 20 years in the wild. They are solid black, with the possibility of small patches of lighter colors on their muzzle or on their chest. Males on average can reach 250-450 pounds, while the slightly smaller females average 125-250 pounds. Black bears have flat, five-toed feet with claws that do not retract, making them especially skilled climbers.
They mate every other year, typically in the summer from June to August, with an average litter size of two to three cubs. Cubs stay with their mothers for around 1.5 years, and once the juveniles have claimed their independence, the breeding cycle will begin again. An interesting fact about Florida black bears is that they do not hibernate. Rather, they enter into a phase called denning. This period of reduced activity is common during ‘winter’ months and takes place in a den. Pregnant bears will also den in the winter in order to give birth safely inside their nests. These dens can be created from tree cavities, fallen logs or made directly into the ground like a nest using dense vegetation or thickets.
Florida black bears face the challenge of living in our rapidly developing world. Human and bear conflicts are rare and can be avoided by respecting their space and habitat. The greatest threat to our native bears are habitat destruction, degradation and roadway collisions. It is also important to reduce bear encounters by keeping trash sources lidded, ensuring outdoor pets or camping food sources are secured and being aware and alert of the wildlife among us. We can do our part to keep Florida wild and abundant and share this land for generations to come.