Fall is the most active time of year for Florida black bears as they stock up on calories for the coming winter. Though black bears don’t really need to put on pounds to survive the state’s usually mild winters, they behave as if they do – eating about three times as much as usual.
Generally, American black bears forage most actively from dusk until dawn though they may feed at any time. Up to 85 percent of the black bear's diet consists of plants. During summer, the diet is comprised largely by fruits, especially berries and flower buds. During the autumn, feeding becomes pretty much the full-time task of black bears. Hazelnuts, acorns and pine nuts may be consumed by the hundreds each day during fall. During the fall period, American black bears may also habitually raid the nut caches of squirrels.
The majority of the black bear's animal diet consists of insects such as bees, yellow jackets, ants and their larvae. Once the hive is breached, black bears will scrape the honeycombs together with their paws and eat them, regardless of stings from the bees. Black bears will gnaw through trees if hives are too deeply set into the trunks for them to reach them with their paws.
Black bears living in areas near human settlements or around a considerable influx of recreational human activity often come to rely on foods inadvertently provided by humans. These include refuse, birdseed, agricultural products and honey from apiaries
Because bears are now busy filling their bellies, residents in Franklin County may have even more bear sightings than usual. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) asks people to be extra diligent in securing food sources around their homes and businesses that can attract bears and create problems.
“Preventing bears’ access to food is the most important thing people can do to keep bears and other wild animals out of neighborhoods,” said Capt. Rob Beaton, area supervisor for the FWC. “If you are a Florida black bear, raiding a garbage can to eat leftovers may be more appealing than foraging in the woods for palmetto berries and acorns.”
It is against the law to have food and attractants out for bears to access. And as bears are looking for food, the easier a food item is to get, the more likely it is that a bear will take advantage of it.
“Now more than ever we are relying on residents to keep bears from getting rewarded for being in neighborhoods,” Beaton said. “You can call your local trash pickup companies for options. Waste Pro in Wakulla and Franklin counties offers a retrofit to trash cans that has proved effective.”
To keep bears away from your home and neighborhood, follow these tips:
·Feed your pets indoors or bring in dishes after feeding.
·Secure household garbage in a shed, garage or a wildlife-resistant container.
·Put household garbage out on the morning of pickup, not the night before.
·Secure commercial garbage in bear-resistant dumpsters with metal lids or metal-reinforced plastic lids and lock bars.
·Clean grills and store them in a locked, secure place.
·Remove wildlife feeders, or make them bear-resistant.
·Protect gardens, apiaries, compost and livestock with electric fencing.
·Pick ripe fruit from trees and remove fallen fruit from the ground.
·Encourage your homeowners association or local government to institute ordinances on keeping foods secure that would attract wildlife.
“Conflicts between Florida black bears and people are preventable,” said Beaton. “Most people who follow the FWC’s advice on how to bear-proof their homes and businesses don’t have conflicts with these large and powerful wild animals.”
Black bears appear in the stories of some of some Native Americans. One tale tells of how the black bear was a creation of the Great Spirit, while the grizzly was created by the Evil Spirit.
In the mythology of the people of the Northwest Coast, mankind first learned to respect bears when a girl married the son of black bear Chieftain. In Kwakiutl mythology, black and brown bears became enemies when Grizzly Bear Woman killed Black Bear Woman for being lazy. The Navajo believed that the Big Black Bear was chief among the bears of the four directions surrounding Sun's house, and would pray to it in order to be granted its protection during raids.
The Cherokee were comfortable living with black bears. Though the Cherokee believed in one God, they often saw reflections of the Great Spirit in nature and wildlife.
On rare occasions when a black bear was born with white fur it was revered. The black bear was a significant part of the Cherokee ceremonial or religious practices. This may have been because bears stand upright, utter humanlike moans and groans and move their forearms and paws in much the same way as humans.
Go to MyFWC.com/Bear to learn more about living in bear country.