As I sit here on this blustery, bone-chilling January day, I cannot help but think about how black bears are faring. Snoozing away in their dens, I hope their fat, fur and den location helps fend off the negative-degree wind chill.
Pregnant females are more picky than males in selecting a den. If large trees with cavities are available, that’s high-rent district right there. If not, then under a windfall, brush pile, or a rock crevice will do. A suitable den provides safety from predation and protection from the elements. It should not be much bigger than the size of a curled up bear. Don’t expect to see a bear huddled up in a cave – too much space and not enough security.
Females are in dens by mid December and males by mid January in the southeastern US. In more northern latitudes, make this a month or so earlier.
Black bears are too big to hibernate. If you want to be accurate, call a bear’s winter sleep “carnivorean lethargy”. If a bear’s body temperature were to drop to the extent a true hibernator’s does – a few degrees above freezing – it would require too much energy to bring all that bulk up to normal again. Heart rate decreases only slightly, as does breathing, so a bear is quite capable of responding if disturbed. I would not advise poking a groggy bear in its den. He’s likely to poke you back.
Although a bear’s gastrointestinal tract shuts down completely, a bear still consumes between 3,000 and 4,000 calories a day during their winter inactivity. This comes from their store of fat. If only I too could sleep my fat away and wake up slim and trim. Another enviable ability is their lack of deterioration of muscle and bone during months of inactivity. You and I would experience extensive bone loss and muscle weakness should we lie still for that long. In the spring, bears give a stretch and a yawn and off they go to find something to eat.
So, you go bear. You’re adapted to this merciless weather. I’ll just continue to sit inside my heated home on this January day, exercise, breathe normally and eat all winter long.
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