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The "Bear" Facts

All wild bears in the state are Florida black Bears (Ursus americanus floridanus), one of 3 distinct subspecies of the American black bear recognized in the southeastern United States. While nearly identical in the field, the Florida black bear can be distinguished from other subspecies by its highly arched forehead and its long, narrow braincase. Black bears originated in North America, and have been here at least 1.5 million years. Click to view the taxonomic tree of Florida black bears.

Black bears share many common traits with all bear species. Like all members of the bear family, black bears are large, powerful mammals with rounded ears, short tails, 5-toed feet, and large canine teeth. Black bears may look slow because they walk flat on their feet like people (called plantigrade), and travel with a shuffling gait, but they can run up to 30 miles an hour. With their stout, heavily-curved claws, black bears climb trees very well; these claws can be easily seen in their tracks. 

Baby bears are called cubs, and young bears in their second year of life are called yearlings. Since bear cubs stay with their mother until the summer of their second year, young bears may be called either "cubs of the year" or "dependent yearlings" when they are still with their mother, depending on their age and size.

Underside of a bear paw.
Click on photo to see larger image.

Although black bears in western states may have several color phases, all black bears on the gulf coast, including Florida black bears, are black. The muzzle may be tan or nearly black, and blonde or white chest blazes of all shapes and sizes are common.