Bears Are The Largest Native Animal In Florida
By Les Harrison
Wakulla County Extension Director
Being the biggest and most imposing has its advantages. Recognition is almost universal in the home locale where there is respect for the impressive appearance from some and fear of a daunting competitor from others.
The privileges resulting from this elevated status result in an assortment of impressive perquisites enjoyed by only a relatively few. Choice of dining sites and the availability of a vast selection of menu items for the culinary epicurean is top among these.
Regrettably, even the most esteemed and intimidating can exceed their established access to dining privileges. This broaching of boundaries almost universally results in a bad outcome for one party or the other.
Such is the case with local bears that supplement their diets with snacks inadvertently provided by human residents of Wakulla County. The random garbage can offers temptation of Biblical proportions beyond resistance and more surprises than Forrest Gump’s box of chocolates.
Florida black bears, the local species, live mainly in forested habitats and are adept at survival in the woodlands of mixed hardwoods and pines.
They are also at home in the watery lowlands and swamps adjacent to the area’s rivers.
Technically Florida black bears (Ursus americanus floridanus) are a subspecies of the American black bear. They have historically ranged throughout most of the state and southern parts of Georgia, Alabama and Mississippi.
Bears are the largest native animal on Florida soil and are one of six species worldwide which are omnivorous or will eat plant and animal foodstuffs. The two dietary exceptions are polar bears which are strictly carnivorous and pandas which consume primarily bamboo.
Bears live mostly in the northern hemisphere in temperate zones. A total of eight different species live in North America, South America, Europe and Asia.
Florida black bears lead a solitary life most of the year, excluding interaction during mating season. They tend not to be territorial and typically do not possess or defend a limited range from other bears, except to drive away male cubs which have reached the ability to survive in the wild.
Black bears have good eyesight, acute hearing and an excellent sense of smell. Therein lays the root of the big issues with human interaction.
Bears have a long, narrow, curled shelf of bone which protrudes into the breathing passage of their nose. Dogs and hogs, both known for their keen ability to sense very faint odors, have similar nasal configurations.
Termed as turbinates or nasal concha, this internal structure provides bears with the capability to fulfill their collective desire for tasty calories. With the search for food at the top of the daily activity list, this is especially true in the autumn when they instinctively know seasonal shortages are near.
Not known as persnickety eaters, bears will dine on a wide variety of edible items, depending on the time of year and availability. One misconception is bears raid honeybee hives for the honey, when it is the protein rich larvae for which they have a taste.
When available, odorous trashcans offer the prospects of a smorgasbord which bears literally rip into with wild abandon. The situation can be controlled by keeping the garbage secured until the day of pickup.
In extreme situations, bear resistant (since few structures are bear proof) trash containers or lockable garbage storage can be uses. While the bears may not appreciate the food restrictions, the small conciliation is the non-lethal restraint is good for them.
Diets are never easy, even for the local king of the forest.