Lesson Seven: Tracking Bears

FWClogoSmallFlorida black bears use a wide variety of forested habitats to meet their basic needs. The forested habitats used most often by Florida black bears include pine flatwoods, hardwood swamps, cypress swamps, cabbage palm forests, sand pine scrub, and mixed hardwood hammocks. The two basic needs which seem to have the greatest influence on a Florida black bear’s choice of habitat are: 1. the type and amount of food available and 2. the quality of cover available, especially for winter denning. As indicated in Lesson 5, Florida black bears consume a wide variety of different types of food, including nuts, berries, insects, small animals, and plant parts such as roots and leaves. Because adequate amounts of these major food types are not available in any one forested habitat throughout the year, Florida black bears travel to different habitats as different types of seasonal foods become available. In addition, although some of the forested habitats used by Florida black bears are relatively sparse and open, during the winter denning season black bears usually seek out remote areas of habitat like swamps containing dense, thick stands of trees or vine-covered, shrubby thickets.

Lesson 7_Forest_FWCRegardless of the types of forested habitats used by bears, all black bears in Florida follow the same seasonal pattern of food preferences and activity levels. During the winter, if food is scarce, both male and female black bears may spend time denning. During this period they eat very little and they do not travel very far. When they emerge from their dens in early spring, Florida black bears become more active and wide-ranging, feeding primarily on young, tender, green plant leaves and shoots and hearts of cabbage palm and saw palmetto. In the summer, they range more widely looking for foods such as insects and soft fruits from plants like swamp tupelo, blackberry, blueberry, and gallberry. In the fall, as leaves and soft fruits become scarce, both male and female black bears can travel great distances throughout their habitats in search of foods such as saw palmetto buds and berries, tree bark, and acorns.

In this Lesson Seven: Tracking Bears, students will plot seasonal movements of black bears, Lesson 7_thumbcompare and contrast these movements, calculate distances traveled, describe seasonal habitat needs, and explain why black bear home ranges contain a mosaic of habitats.

The area of habitat regularly used by an animal during the year is called its home range. Although many of the seasonal activities and feeding preferences of male and female Florida black bears are similar, the home ranges of male black bears are significantly larger than the home ranges of female black bears. Generally, male black bear home ranges are four to 10 times larger than female black bear home ranges. Depending on the quality of available habitat, home ranges for adult male black bears in Florida can be as small as 36 square miles to as large as 135 square miles, while home ranges for adult female black bears can be as small as 9 square miles and as large as 34 square miles.

Lesson 7_Bear clawed sapling_FWC

Bear clawed sapling

In general, bears living in higher quality habitats with a greater abundance of food sources have smaller home ranges than bears living in poorer quality habitats with a lower abundance of food sources. Like many other large, non-migrating animals, both male and female black bears are territorial in the sense that they will defend food sources in their home ranges from other bears.

Lesson Summary:

Key Question: Where do Florida black bears go during a year?

Main Topic: Seasonal movements and activities of male and female Florida black bears

Format: Mapping and math activity

Description: Students use clues to plot the monthly movements of male and female Florida black bears on a map and compare and contrast the home ranges, seasonal activities and movements of male and female bears.

Common Core Standards: Coming Soon

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