While Teddy bears are generally cuddly, warm, and safe soft toys, the giant black bears seem quite dangerous. However, the common thing between them is that both are associated with sleeping; the former is a cuddly companion for kids, the latter is known for their interesting snoozing patterns.
We all know that hibernation is the state of dormancy or inactivity in endotherms or “warm-blooded animals” generally during winter.
Endotherms like mammals and birds usually entail maintaining their body temperature and metabolism, where they conserve their energy by going into a stage of inactivity. They have to maintain their innate internal heat imminent from the body.
Getting to know more about Black Bears
Black bears are mammals found only in different parts of North America and hence called generally American Black bears. The Florida black bear, also popular as Ursus americanus floridanus, is actually a sub-species of the American black bears.
These shy Black bears are solitary creatures who are usually large with black fur and short tails. Although of the order Carnivora, the Florida black bears are omnivores species where they usually tend to largely rely on plants and herbs but would also consume insects and meat. Hence, they are found widely in the forest regions in the northern and southern parts of Florida.
A typical adult male black bear in Florida weighs between 250 to 350 pounds while their female counterparts weigh between 130 to 180 pounds. These bears are habitually 5 to 6 feet long and have commonly 3 feet tall with a general life expectancy for males with 15 to 25 years and females with usually 30 years.
The sunny Florida woodlands
The Florida black bears are confined to just eight isolated habitats, which are mainly dense forest areas with busting flora and fauna year-round. There are a large number of saltwater lakes in Florida which houses a healthy population of fish, namely ‘Sailfish,’ a staple in the Florida black bear’s diet. But these bears aren’t hard-core carnivores.
In fact, 80% of their diet comes from plants.
They scavenge the dense woodlands and eat the local berries that vary with the season. Nuts like pecans and chestnuts are also a known favorite to them. The bears are always looking for food, and they aren’t very particular about what they eat.
With the help of their keen sense of smell that can go up to a mile, they often stroll into towns attracted by the scent of garbage, pet food, and sometimes even backyard barbeques.
The last of which I don’t blame them for, it’s hard to resist those temptations. So, in a habitat like Florida, which can offer good sources of food the entire year, there isn’t any pressing need for these bears to go into hibernation.
But, whenever winters do arrive, how do they survive the weather?
Do Florida Black Bears Hibernate – Hibernation Style
Although the black bears in Florida can be accommodative and sift to other places in search of food, they tend to take seasonal rests where they eat less, sleep more.
During winter, is where the Florida black bears become lethargic and go into an almost inactive stage called Torpor or what’s called “winter lethargy.” Hence, the black bears do not actually hibernate. The difference here is that the animals will show little to no activity and would go into a trance-like state.
This is usually used as a survival tactic used by the animals to tackle and adapt to the extreme winter weather conditions and shortage of food. The exception here would be the female black bears who den to produce their little cubs. The Florida black bears den for shelter during winter in hollow tree trunks or caves and do not favor to den in the same place again.
Change in carrying out their activities: Winter lethargy
Although they don’t have to face a tough winter, these bears do undergo a sort of change. They start by increasing their diet from around 5000 calories a day to about 20,000 calories a day. (That’s like eating 11 extra-large pizzas!)
They do this because they go into a state known as ‘Torpor.’ Torpor, also known as winter blues, is a sort of persistent lethargy. The bears start gaining weight, stop moving around and go through large periods of inactivity. Their heart rate drops, they don’t have to eat or drink anything, and they don’t even have to excrete waste.
They can literally be in a single spot for months at a time and live off their fat. Kind of like what happens to me when I decide to binge-watch a series on Netflix. During this period of Torpor, males are known to go up to 400 pounds and women up to 300 pounds in weight.
The reason these bears go into this state even though there is no real need in terms of survival is because of genetics. It is imprinted in their DNA that they should go into a state of hibernation for the benefit of their survival.
But over the course of evolution and natural selection, this hibernation has slowly morphed into just a season-long lethargy for the bears of the south.
Getting to know about denning
Denning is a comparatively lighter form of dormancy, keeping the true hibernators as a reference where the bears are dazed but can wake up whenever they feel alarmed.
A bear’s body temperature does not fall; it stays around 31 degree Celsius which is within 9-12 degrees of their normal body temperature and doesn’t deviate much throughout the winter, which allows them to act quickly when alarmed, unlike the other true hibernators who need to warm their bodies up before they can make a move.
The bear’s body fat is reduced by 30-40%, which is more than any true hibernator making the otherwise ferocious mammal very weak. The thick fur and lower surface area to mass ratio compared to the smaller hibernators (e.g., ground squirrel). It allows these bears to cut their metabolic rates up to 60%. Normally a bear’s heart beats 40-45 times a minute, but it drops to 8-15 beats a minute during the winters.
The breathing drops from 6-8 breaths per minute to 1 breath per 45 seconds. Their heartbeats drop from 45 per minute to 10-20 per minute. These factors make the black bear seem like a super hibernator to few scientists.
Hope you learned more about how do these Florida Black Bears actually survive the winters. Every creature has its own way of dealing with the cold weather. It could be hibernation or just making small changes in their usual adaptation and activities.