Wed. Nov 29th, 2023
It's October: what are the bears doing?

It’s a little cold, there’s not much food left, and the black bears are seriously thinking about taking a long nap.

Black bears in Ontario parks begin heading to their dens in mid-October.

We know you have questions about big black bear dreams, so let’s look at the FAQ (Bear FAQ):

How do bears know when to go to sleep?

We don’t know exactly what makes a bear decide when to go to bed during the winter, but food has a lot to do with it.

bear den in a beaver meadowPhoto: Derek Potter. A bear den in a beaver meadow

In years when fall food is plentiful, bears will stay awake to eat as much as they can and fatten up for the big sleep.

How do bears hibernate?

The way bears can simply go to sleep and wake up months later no worse for wear is one of nature’s truly amazing feats.

To make matters worse, adult bears give birth in the den and nurse their cubs, all without eating.

Bear using a shelter dug into a bank long abandoned by beaversPhoto: Derek Potter. Bear using a shelter dug into a bank long abandoned by beavers

Bears hibernate slightly lower body temperature, breathe less and slow heart rate.

They reduce your metabolism. Instead of eating, they use fat for energy. Even so, they can lose a third of their body weight.

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Do bears go to the bathroom in their den?

Bears are the best recyclers during hibernation.

When bears are active in spring, summer, and fall, they urinate throughout the day.

den with moose next to itPhoto: Derek Potter. Can you see the moose?

But hibernating bears take the waste products contained in their urine and break them down into water and nitrogen, which they use to maintain and build muscle.

That’s why they don’t urinate when they hibernate, and they don’t lose muscle mass either!

What about number 2? Once bears enter the den, they develop a fecal plug that remains in place until the next spring. Basically, it’s a poop plug.

Does mom sleep when she has puppies?

The bears are alert when the cubs are born and take care of them when they are in the den.

Bear using a shelter dug into a bank long abandoned by beaversPhoto: Derek Potter. Bear using a shelter dug into a bank long abandoned by beavers

The cubs are small (the size of a potato), have a little hair, and are blind.

They need to crawl immediately and start nursing. These little bear cubs will snuggle up close to mom to stay warm.

Do bears use the same den every year?

Because bears are so adaptable, if they find a good-looking place to den, they may just go to sleep there year after year.

It’s time to have a puppy!

Adult female bears that successfully mated this spring begin pregnancy once they enter the den.

bear in the tree

Only then do the small fertilized eggs begin to develop into bear cubs, and only if the mother has gained enough weight.

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Pregnant bears that enter their den in poor conditions will not give birth to their cubs.

Your body can’t handle the extreme demands of raising puppies if you don’t have a lot of fat stored.

This is an “adaptive advantage” that prevents a woman from having babies when it could endanger her own health.

Surprisingly, black bears survive only on the fat they have stored and the air they breathe when they hibernate.

This winter, as you look out across the cold, snow-covered Ontario landscape, know that there are thousands of bears bundled up and asleep in their winter dens in our vast forests.

Be careful with bears!

Black bears are amazing animals.

Let’s do everything we can to respect and coexist with the black bears that call our protected areas home!