So it’s January and where are the black bears now? If you are thinking “in hibernation,” you’d be wrong. Bears do not hibernate but rather enter into a state of dormancy called torpor. During this state, their heart and respiratory rates will drop along with their body temperature, and they could lose up to 30% of their weight. How is this different from hibernation? Torpor occurs for shorter periods of time and typically on the coldest days of the winter season. Hibernation is simply an extended version of torpor, lasting for the entire winter season.
The month of January has also been marked by the black bear for a special reason. Some Native American tribes recognize January’s full moon as the bear moon because this time of year, female bears will be giving birth to their cubs. On average a female bear will have 2-3 cubs and they will remain in the den with her for 5-8 weeks before braving the new world. Growing fat on her rich milk and staying safe by her side, the cubs will remain with their mother through a second winter before they are encouraged to live on their own in the following spring.
So when you are wondering what black bears are up to during the winter, picture them taking deep, cozy naps in their dens; image mothers welcoming new cubs into the world; and think of them emerging from their dens on warmer winter days to search for food. Whatever you do though, don’t picture them hibernating.
For more information on "Frequently Asked Questions," check out the Black Bear FAQs page provided by the state's Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs!