Photograph Credit: Jim Phillips
The Florida black bear is the largest native land mammal in Florida. It is shy and secretive, hiding in dense vegetation and rarely seen in the wild. The Florida black bear has a shiny, black coat of long fur and a light brown nose and snout. Some black bears have white diamond-shaped patterns on their chests. The black bear has a short tail that is almost always hidden by its long fur, and long, sharp claws that help the bear climb trees or dig for food. Bears are omnivores, meaning they eat both vegetable and animal matter. Some foods a black bear may eat include acorns, insects, berries, saw palmetto and sabal palm fruits, armadillos and honey. Long thought to only be in search of honey, many bear biologists now believe that when a bear cracks open a bee hive, it's actually looking for both the sweetness of the honey and the protein provided by the bee larvae! With a diet like this, it is no wonder that female bears can weigh between 150 to 300 pounds and male bears can weigh between 250 to 450 pounds. Most Florida black bears are between 5 to 6 feet long and are about 3 feet high at the shoulder. But it's not because of their size that black bears are called an "umbrella species." Because of their broad ecological requirements, black bears need a variety of habitats over a large geographic area. As such, they share living space with a variety of other protected, threatened and endangered animals. Some of these include the gopher tortoise, Eastern Indigo snake and the Florida scrub jay. By protecting the Florida black bear and its habitat, we also protect these other species' habitats. In this way, everybody gets protection under the umbrella! You see, the Florida black bear is an important part of Florida's ecosystems.
It is believed that at one time there were as many as 12,000 black bears living throughout Florida. Biologists aren't exactly sure how many black bears live in Florida today, but they estimate that only about 1,500 black bears remain. But black bears no longer roam throughout the entire state. There are just eight locations in Florida where black bears live freely, and only about 25 black bears are estimated to live in the Chassahowitzka area. Biologists believe the decline in Florida's black bear population is due to the destruction and development of bear habitats, combined with historic hunting pressure. In fact, bear biologists believe that a healthy bear population needs at least 400,000 acres of habitat land to survive! Increased land development and the destruction of bear habitats lead many bears to cross busy highways in search of living space and food. As a result many black bears are struck and killed by cars and trucks. In fact, automobiles are the No. 1 killer of Florida's black bears. But there's some hope for Florida's remaining black bears. Many people now realize the important role this mammal plays in Florida's ecosystems, and efforts are being made to protect more habitat for this endangered species.
Back: Chassahowitzka River