Photo by James Inman
Black bears are powerful, large-bodied animals that grow to 4–6 feet in length when full grown. While variant color phases may exist, bears are typically black with a brown muzzle and may exhibit a white patch on their chest. In Kentucky, adult females usually weigh between 120–170 pounds, while adult males average 250–350 pounds. Weights among bears are extremely variable, however, and are determined by food availability and the time of year. It is not uncommon, for example, for a bear to almost double its summer weight after spending the fall months feeding on acorns. To date, the largest bear handled in Kentucky was a 480-pound adult male that was captured as a research animal during the summer of 2008. The heaviest wild black bear ever reliably documented was an 880-pound, 10-year old male that was harvested on the coast of North Carolina in the fall of 1998.
Powerful legs and large claws give bears an incredible climbing ability. With claws seldom greater than 1.5 inches in length, black bears are actually the most efficient climbers of all the world’s eight bear species. This ability is critical to bear survival as climbing is an important adaptation that enables bears to obtain food, locate suitable denning habitat, and escape from predators. On the ground, black bears are equally powerful as they may run at speeds approaching 35 miles per hour for relatively short bursts. While the life expectancy of male bears is shorter than that of females, bears may live 15–25 years in the wild.