Black bears are an important and exciting part of Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. The black bear (Ursus americanus) is the only species of bear found in Michigan.
In Michigan, most black bears have black or extremely dark brown fur. Other color variations, including brown, cinnamon, grayish-blue and blonde, are found mostly in western North America. Average adult black bears stand less than three feet tall at the shoulder when on all fours and are approximately three to five feet in length. Males are typically larger than females. Adult female black bears weigh approximately 90 to 300 pounds, and adult males weigh about 130 to 500 pounds. Black bears are relatively long-lived. In Michigan, black bears have been known to live to be over 30 years of age. Most recorded deaths in Michigan are from hunting or vehicle collisions. Black bears are solitary animals, with the exception of females accompanied by cubs or yearlings and during the breeding season, when mature males and females can be seen together.
Bears are active day and night and spend much of their time searching for food. They are most active during early morning and late evening hours in the spring and summer. They are omnivores and their natural diet closely follows the seasons: they can be found eating grasses in meadows during spring, ants, termites, grubs, and berries in summer, and in autumn, acorns provide abundant energy to prepare bears for hibernation. Bears are opportunists and will eat carrion, fawns, or other small mammals if the opportunity presents itself.
Mating usually takes place in July. Both female and male bears may have more than one mate during the summer. Bears choose a denning site with the coming of cold weather. Dens are usually hollow stumps, tree cavities, or wherever there is shelter. Bears do not truly hibernate, but enter long periods of sleep. They may leave the den for short periods if disturbed or during brief warming trends. In Michigan, bears typically enter their den by December and come out in late March or April. Bears are not true hibernators because they only drop their body temperature by a few degrees, whereas a hibernating animal's body temperature is almost the same as its surroundings. Bears are easily awakened and capable of fleeing immediately if they feel threatened during their denning period. One to four cubs are born while the mother is in the den, typically in January or early February. Cubs are born helpless and hairless. Bears weigh eight ounces at birth. Females with newly born cubs usually emerge from their winter dens in late March or early April. The cubs will remain with the mother for about eighteen months or until she mates again. Cubs weigh 10 to 16 ounces at birth, but because of high fat content in their mother's milk, they grow quickly. By the end of their first summer, cubs typically weigh 50 to 60 pounds. Cubs stay with their mother for about a year and a half, denning together the winter after birth and separating in late May the following spring. Adult females typically breed every other year.
Bears have color vision and a keen sense of smell. In addition, they are good tree climbers, can swim very well, and can run 30 miles per hour.
Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore offers visitors many opportunities to view native wildlife in their natural settings. Always view wildlife from a safe distance and take care not to disturb the animal or its habitat.
Last updated: April 10, 2015