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Black Bear Cubs

Photo by Stan Tekiela

by Stan Tekiela
© NatureSmart

August 6, 2023

Recently while leading a photo tour to northern Minnesota, I was once again reminded about the rigors of nature. It is a basic tenant of nature, only the strongest will survive to carry on and pass on their genes to the next generation.

I had a small group of 6 photographers as we went for a three-day workshop to capture images of the American Black Bear, Ursus americanus, also known as the Black Bear. Its official name, American Black Bear indicates that this bear is found only in the America’s. The term for this is “endemic” to North America.

The Black Bear is one of three species of bear found in North America. The other two are Brown Bears and Polar bears. Before you reach for your keyboard to fire off an email to me saying that I forgot the Grizzly Bear, you should know that the Grizzly Bear is a subspecies of the Brown Bear.

Our Black Bear is not closely related to our Brown Bears (Ursus arctos) or Polar Bears (Ursus maritimus). Funny thing is, the Brown Bear and Polar Bear are closely related and have been known to breed together where their ranges overlap.

The Black Bear is widespread across North America and when this happens within a species it leads to many subspecies. In fact, there are some sixteen subspecies to the American Black Bear. Subspecies is the way that biologists categorize, or sort out, the slight differences that occur within a species over a large geographical range.  For example, the Florida Black Bear is much smaller and tends to have a white blaze on its chest, compared to the Eastern Black Bear which is larger and usually doesn’t have the white blaze on its chest.

There are so many interesting facets to bears in general. For example, bears have a unique mating and reproductive system. Mating for Black Bears takes place in early summer, June and July. Females will be pursued by several males over many weeks. She can make with many males during this time. After mating, the egg and the sperm are joined but the newly fertilized egg doesn’t implant into the female’s uterine wall until late in the fall, several months after mating. Depending upon the over-all health of the female, along with her age and percentage of body fat, anywhere from one to five or six fertilized eggs will attach and start growing.

This brings us back to my photo workshop for Black Bears. On our second day of looking for Black Bears we saw a female with 4 tiny cubs that were born this spring. Since young cubs will stay with their mom for 2 years, we call the newly born cubs “spring cubs”. Because they were born this spring. We were thrilled to see these tiny cubs because they make the cutest pictures. And who doesn’t love a tiny cute Black Bear.

The four cubs all looked different. One cub was the traditional black color, two were medium brown or cinnamon color and one was very light brown. While it is not unusual for Black Bears to come in a variety of colors, seeing all the different colors amongst siblings was interesting to witness. Three of the cubs were the same size and one was noticeably smaller. By my estimation, it looked nearly half the size of the other cubs.

This is a good example of how siblings can be from different fathers. Remember I mentioned earlier in this article that the female can be pursued by multiple males? It is very possible that each of these cubs could have different fathers, although unlikely, it definitely could be two could be from one father and two from another or any combination of these.

The smallest cub, was definitely slower and couldn’t climb trees as fast or as agile as the other cubs. Over the next several hours we watched and captured images of these little cubs and it became obvious that the smallest cub definitely was at a disadvantage. I was explaining to my group that it’s not out of the question that this smallest cub might not make it. Approximately 25 to 50 percent of young bears won’t make it until one year of age. This is usually due to the rigors of nature and the harshness of life in the wild. It is a sad truth, but it is also what makes nature strong by allowing only the strong to survive. Until next time…

Stan Tekiela is an author / naturalist and wildlife photographer who travels throughout the U.S. to study and capture images of wildlife. He can be followed at www.instagram.com and www.facebook.com. He can be contacted via his website at www.naturesmart.com.


The nationally syndicated NatureSmart Column appears in over 25 cities spanning 7 states: Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, Illinois, Ohio, New York and Pennsylvania. It is a bi-weekly column circulated to over 750,000 readers.

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