Adult black bears can weigh as much as 300 pounds, reaching six feet in length and nearing three feet tall at the shoulders. Though often black, their fur varies from blue-black to cinnamon. The most common bear on the continent, ranging from Alaska to northern Mexico. Though they were once a dominant species of the Piney Woods of East Texas, including places lie the Conservancy’s Roy E. Larsen Sandyland Sanctuary, today they are most common in the desert scrub and woodland areas of west Texas, particularly in the Chisos and Guadalupe mountains.
An opportunistic omnivore, black bears feed on everything from insects and berries to carrion and garbage, though vegetable matter usually comprises at least half of their diet. They breed from June to July, mothers giving birth to litters of one to five cubs while hibernating in January and February. Adolescents remain with their mothers until the fall of their second year.
Locally migrant, black bears are dependent upon wildlife corridors, making them extremely vulnerable to habitat loss and fragmentation. The black bear is on the state endangered species list, as are the two subspecies present in Texas: the Mexican black bear (Ursus americanus eremicus) and the New Mexico black bear (Ursus americanus amblyceps).
The Nature Conservancy’s borderlands conservation efforts are protecting crucial desert wildlife corridors and enhancing habitat for this important, imperiled species.
Tidbit: The black bear features prominently in Texas lore. A harrowing account of the eradication of East Texas’ black bears can be read in The Ben Lilly Legend, written by famed Texas folklorist J. Frank Dobie.