Black Bear Hibernation Habits

Black Bear Hibernation

Knowing black bear hibernation habits is useful to anyone who hunts them or is just interested in these creatures.

Hibernation is the ability of these animals to slow down their metabolisms and go into a restful mode during the winter, which is a time of low food supply. Raccoons, skunks, chipmunks, hamsters, bats, bears and some other creatures have the ability to hibernate.

Black bears can hibernate for as long as five or six months in some areas. Those bears located in the colder northern areas hibernate longer than those in the warmer south. These bears go through a series of phases every year that lead to hibernation.

In midsummer, when the berries and other plants begin producing fruit the bears start eating large quantities. They can eat up to 20,000 kcal per day while fattening up for winter, in comparison to their normal 5,000 to 8,000 kcal during their active season.

Black bear hibernation cannot begin successfully unless the bear has gone through a transition period. They will eat less, but drink a lot of water to help clean out their systems.

They will find a den of some sort to call their own. This could be a small cave, a hole in a tree, a hollow between rocks, or even just a pile of leaves and branches on the ground.

Dens offer very little insulation. The bear relies on their layer of fat and their thick coat to stay warm. The importance of the den is to offer some protection from predators. They are rarely much larger than the bear itself.

They will begin to rest 22 or more hours out of the day. The heart rate lowers in black bear hibernation, changing from 80 to 100 beats per minute to 50 to 60 beats per minutes.

The following is happening during hibernation:

  • the heart beat continues to decrease to 8 to 21 beats per minutes

  • breathing slows until they are taking approximately one breath every 45 seconds

  • blood flow to the extremities is reduced by 45%

Some bears are difficult to rouse during hibernation. Mother bears with cubs are in a lighter state of sleep, so the mother bear can attend to her cubs needs.

Most bears survive hibernation just fine.

The main threats they face are:

  • flooding
  • predators such as dogs, wolves, bears that are not hibernating
  • and humans activities such forestry operation

Most deaths during black bear hibernation due to starvation happen to cubs or younger bears.

Come spring, the bears enter what is known as walking hibernation. This lasts two to three weeks as the bear's metabolic processes return slowly to normal. They will eat and drink less during this time as their body gradually adjusts to more active levels.

Normal activity levels will resume until it is time to stuff themselves again in late summer. If bears do not get enough to eat during normal activity, their hibernation is threatened by dehydration and other complications which can be fatal.

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Black Bear Hibernation in New Brunswick, Canada