Lesson Five: The Black Bear Necessities

FWClogoSmallLike all other animals, the four primary habitat requirements of Florida black bears are food, water, shelter, and space. Florida black bears are forest-dwellers. They evolved as forest inhabitants and continue to depend on forests for their survival. Their preferred habitat is large, undeveloped woodland tracts with a wide variety of different kinds of vegetation. Like many other large mammals, Florida black bears need large areas of space to survive. The home range of adult Florida black bears can vary from an average of 15 square miles for adult females to an average of 60 square miles for adult males. Scientists estimate that an area of 200,000 to 300,000 acres is necessary to support a viable population of Florida black bears.

Lesson 5_Palmetto_Berries_FWCWithin these large tracts of habitat, bears need access to a water source, preferably a swamp, stream, or river, as well as sheltered areas, such as dense shrub thickets, for winter denning and thick vegetative cover for hiding, bedding, and raising cubs. Although water, shelter, and space requirements are important, food appears to be the most significant factor influencing the Florida black bear’s choice of habitat. Florida black bear researchers often refer to Florida black bears as eating machines. Their research shows the average day-to-day movements of Florida black bears appear to focus primarily on finding food.

The video below offers more background on “bear necessities”.

In this Lesson Five: The Black Bear Necessities, students will learn to identify black bear habitatLesson 5_thumb requirements, dietary needs, and the terms “carrying capacity” and “limiting factor.”

The amount and type of food eaten by Florida black bears also varies seasonally. Where available, they especially prefer the sticky, strong-smelling fruits of the saw palmetto during the months of August through October and eat almost nothing besides these fruits during this three-month period. Later in the fall and throughout the winter and spring, Florida black bears begin foraging for cabbage palm seeds, the juicy stems of alligator flag and pickerel weed, acorns, and seasonal berries. Insects comprise about 15 percent of the Florida black bear’s diet during the spring and summer, but only about 9 percent of its diet during the fall. Preferred insects are those that live in underground nests or rotten logs, like yellow jackets, bees, bugs, and ants. Overall, the food items eaten most often, and in the greatest volume, are seasonally available fruits (nuts and berries) and colonial insects such as ants, bees, and wasps.Lesson 5_Grub_FWC

Because the type, relative abundance, and distribution of food, water, shelter, and space in a given habitat limit the number of organisms that can survive in that habitat, these factors are often referred to as limiting factors. Limiting factors determine the maximum number of organisms that can survive in a given habitat. Since each species of animal has specific food, water, shelter, and space requirements, the maximum number of organisms of a given species that an area of habitat can support on a year-round basis is defined as carrying capacity. Because Florida black bears are opportunistic feeders who regularly adapt their diets to changing food availability, it is difficult to provide specific carrying capacity for them. In general, habitats with greater Florida black bear carrying capacities provide a more ideal arrangement of limiting factors than habitats with lower Florida black bear carrying capacities. Florida black bear carrying capacities are higher in larger tracts of habitats containing a wide variety of plant communities than they are in smaller, fragmented tracts of habitats containing only one or two different plant communities.

Lesson 5_BessieBeetle_FWCIn Florida, more and more natural environments are being developed to provide homes and communities for people. When these natural areas are developed for humans, many wildlife species, including bears, are forced to leave and look for new habitats to meet their basic needs. Sometimes they are forced into fragmented marginal habitats while at other times they try to move into optimal habitats that already contain a stable population of black bears. In this role-playing activity, students will experience what can happen to a population of black bears in a given habitat if its carrying capacity is exceeded and suitable amounts of a limiting factor, such as food, are no longer available.

Lesson Summary:

Key Question: What do Florida black bears need to survive?

Main Topic: Habitat requirements and types of food eaten by Florida black bears

Format: Role playing game

Description: Students participate in a role-playing game to learn about the types and relative amounts of different types of food eaten by Florida black bears.  As part of the game, they also determine how limiting factors such as food can affect the carrying capacity of a habitat.

Common Core Standards: Coming Soon

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