Bears are sexually dimorphic. This phrase means that males are larger
than females. Some people think that because white-tailed deer body
size is reduced from northern to southern states, especially key deer,
then black bears in Florida are smaller than more northern bears. This
is not true. Adult males in Florida normally weigh between 250 - 450
pounds, and adult females in Florida normally weigh between 125 - 250
pounds. These are fairly large average weights for black bears throughout
the country particularly compared to those in the southern Appalachian
Mountains. The state record, weighing in at 624 pounds, was an 8-year-old
male bear. He was struck and killed by a vehicle in December,
1988 in Collier County. In December, 2000 experienced FWC personnel
captured, ear-tagged, and released a male bear in Seminole county that
was estimated to weigh 600 pounds. The record weight for a
female bear is 383 pounds.
Most people find it hard to estimate the size of a bear that they have
seen in the wild. One good method is to pay attention to the relative
size of their ears. Because the ears of black bears grow rapidly and
are very similar in size, small, skinny yearlings appear to have very
long "Mickey-mouse" ears on slender faces, while large 400 pound males
seem to have very small rounded ears on wide round heads.
The weight of individual black bears varies greatly throughout the
year. Food availability is low during the winter months, even in Florida,
and both male and female bears lose weight. As plants grow new shoots
in the Spring, bears begin to gain back some weight. During the summer
breeding season, males spend most of their time searching for mates
instead of eating; females spend their time foraging, some with cubs.
As breeding season ends and fall begins, both genders focus on putting
on weight, and spend a lot of time eating. This is called "hyperphagia."
Male bears, may stay active and eating all winter. Being big and fat
allows males to get through the winter and dominate other bears. Also,
being in good condition through the spring allows them to spend more
time searching for mates and less time eating the following summer.
Females that can put on a lot of weight will be in good condition to
feed cubs at the den site all winter, or to recover from poor body condition
from nursing cubs the year before. Bears can gain or lose over a 100
pounds over one year!
Bears are called omnivores because they eat both plant and animal matter.
Black bears eat mainly acorns, nuts, berries, and other vegetation as
well as insects. A small percentage of their diet is meat, often from
scavenging. Because Florida has such diverse habitat types, and bears
eat locally and seasonally abundant food items, their diet varies from
one part of the state to the next. For example, saw palmetto berries
are a high portion of bear diets in the Osceola population, but insignificant
in the Apalachicola population. This ability to find and eat a wide
variety of food types brings bears into conflict with humans when they
eat honey or garbage or other attractions associated with people. FWC
has compiled a list of items that Florida
bears are known to eat.