Great Smoky Mountains Black Bear Cubs

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Black Bear Cubs - Smoky Mountains

Great Smoky Mountain National Park bear cubs are born in January and February and tend to be born one to three at a time. Like all bears, the cubs usually come into the world two at a time. Young mother bears tend to have fewer cubs at the time than older females. The cubs are born hairless as well as blind. Smoky Mountain bear cubs weigh only eight to eleven ounces. Miraculously, these chipmunk size bear cubs find the way over their mother’s huge sleeping body to her nipples. There they feed upon her rich supply of fatty milk and often make a humming sound to show contentment. They will not be weaned until they are six to eight months old.

The fat content in the milk twin black bear cubs(20%) of a lactating mother bear is one of the highest of all mammals. This makes the nursing bear cubs diet so high in calories that it can develop very quickly. A cub’s eyes open about a month after birth. For a time the little bears will climb over each other much like puppies. In fact as the weeks pass on they will begin to entertain each other and their mother with their antics and play fighting. Bear cubs communicate with their mother and each other by particular vocalizations. These vocalizations include whimpers, loud cries, little growls, and hisses when alarmed. In the spring when mother bear is ready to leave the den, the cubs are almost large enough to leave the den with her. Soon the cubs will venture out of the den with their mother.

black bear mother and four cubsWhen the bear cubs leave the den, they desperately need their mothers to be their protection against predators and other threats. Enemies and predators of the American Black bear include brown bears, eagles, bobcats, mountain lions, and wolves and humans. Mother black bears often find it necessary to protect her cubs from aggressive male bears, and even the mother bear is sometimes killed by the male. The aggression of males toward bear cubs is believed by scientists to be stimulated by the desire to mate with the female. The female may be killed as she defends her cubs. Scientists believe male bears sometimes try to kill bear cubs so that the female will come into heat more quickly.

It is no wonder then that as the black bear cubs venture out of the den they will stay close to their mothers. Female bears encourage their cubs to stay near her by specific snorts or whimpers. In the case of danger, the mother bear will signal her cubs to climb a tree. She does this by making a particular woofing vocalization. An agile climber, mother bear sometimes climbs the tree with her young as an awesome deterrent to an animal posing a threat. At times however, the mother bear absolutely must leave the cubs alone. When this happens she often chooses to hide them in a thicket where hopefully they will not be found by predators. In case of danger, the female bear us usually close enough to drive away intruders, however she is not always successful. Many bear cubs die from natural occurrences every year.

black bear cub in treeIn addition to protecting her young and feeding them, a mother bear, or sow as she is known, must also teach her offspring the ropes of survival. Her young cubs will learn the best food sources, how to deal with physical threats from boars, or male bears, and threats from other predators such as wolves, as well as where to make a den. Though the mother bear weans her cubs between July and September of their first year, her training to help them survive in the wild will take two or three years. If the mother bear becomes sick or injured during this training period leaving her cubs as orphans, the cubs will also die. Even older cubs are put at risk by their mothers death if they have not have learned enough information to keep them alive in the wild. If the cubs are with their mothers until they reach maturity, their chance of living a long life is good. Smoky Mountain park bears usually live to be between ten to twelve years, but can live to be over twenty..

There comes a time when the cubs are ready to survive on their own. This happens when the mother bear is ready for breeding, and the bear cubs are one to two years old. Sensing her job is done, and answering the call of nature to breed once again, the mother bear drives her cubs away. Once out of their mothers care, sibling cubs sometimes stay together for a while, but eventually their solitary natures take hold and even the siblings split up. Female cubs may wait to leave their siblings until their first year of breeding. Male cubs sometimes stay together until they are old enough to compete successfully against other male bears in competition for females and territory.


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