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Open AccessFeature PaperArticle

Behavior in Free-Living American Black Bear Dens: Parturition, Maternal Care, and Cub Behavior

1
Wildlife Research Institute, Ely, MN 55731, USA
2
White Wolf Entertainment, Inc., Minneapolis, MN 55448, USA
3
Department of Psychology, University of Tennessee, Knoxville, TN 37996, USA
4
Departments of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, University of Tennessee, Knoxville, TN 37996, USA
*
Author to whom correspondence should be addressed.
Animals 2020, 10(7), 1123; https://doi.org/10.3390/ani10071123
Received: 22 May 2020 / Revised: 20 June 2020 / Accepted: 29 June 2020 / Published: 1 July 2020
(This article belongs to the Section Wildlife)
We report here some of the major findings on the behavior of black bear mothers and cubs in their dens in the wild, based on observations in the state of Minnesota, USA. Wild female bears were outfitted with radio collars and their dens located as they prepared for hibernation in the fall. Cameras were installed in the dens and events in the den recorded until they and their cubs finally abandoned their dens in the spring. Although most reports of black bear cub behavior have been post den emergence, we provide intimate details of their birth, maternal behavior, and the development of the cubs from birth to emergence. Yearling cubs from the previous year sometimes remained with their mother for a second year. We discovered many aspects of mother, cub, and yearling behavior previously unknown and some of which contradict claims in the literature. Den cams are an important means of observing secretive behavior in settings previously impossible to observe unobtrusively.
Denning behavior has long remained the least observed aspect of bear behavior. During 2010–2013, we used webcams, microphones, the internet, and 14,602 h of archived video to document the denning behaviors of two adult wild black bears (Ursus americanus) as they gave birth and cared for four litters through six winters in northeastern Minnesota. Observations included types of dens, labor, pre-parturient genital swelling, birthing positions, post-partum vocalizations, mothers removing amniotic tissues and warming newborn cubs in sub-freezing temperatures, frequency of nursing, cubs establishing nipple order, yearlings suckling, the ingestion of snow and icicles, the ingestion of foot pads, urination and defecation in latrine areas, toilet-licking, eye opening, reciprocal tongue-licking, play, rapid eye movement (REM) sleep and possible dreaming, and reactions to wildlife intruders. The use of this new method for observing natural bear dens allowed the identification of many behaviors undescribed for any species of wild bear in dens. We also discuss the need for future studies and how the depth and duration of black bear hibernation varies with body condition and geographic region. View Full-Text
Keywords: American black bear; Ursus americanus; hibernation; denning behavior; maternal behavior; behavioral ontogeny; play American black bear; Ursus americanus; hibernation; denning behavior; maternal behavior; behavioral ontogeny; play
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Rogers, L.L.; McColley, L.; Dalton, J.; Stroner, J.; Hajicek, D.; Partin, A.; Burghardt, G.M. Behavior in Free-Living American Black Bear Dens: Parturition, Maternal Care, and Cub Behavior. Animals 2020, 10, 1123.

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