How Big Does a Black Bear Get? A Guide To Their Size

Leave a comment / / Updated on: 25th September 2023

A big black bear inspects the woods
A big black bear inspects the woods / Theresa Muth Photography via Istock

Bears are some of the largest land predators you can find.

There are eight bear species in the world, and the American black bear (Ursus americanus) is one of the most common.

The size of bears may surprise you, and may actually be smaller, or bigger than you actually think.

Here you will learn about how big they get, and other amazing facts about their size.

Black bears live in North America, along with three other bear species.

A map of North America
A map of North America | calvindexter via iStock

While they are not the largest bear in their region, they still can grow to be massive!

There are several factors that can determine a black bear’s size including its sex, diet, subspecies, region, and the time of year.

Overall their weight and size can drastically vary.

Today it is estimated there are around 900,000 black bears inhabiting North America.

Being so large bears are considered keystone species and are one of many aspects of a healthy ecosystem. Let’s take a look at the size of black bears, and how large they can get.

Gage Beasley's In-Demand Plush Toys
Gage Beasley’s In-Demand Plush Toys

How Big Does a Black Bear Get?

American black bear
American black bear | Brittany Crossman via Getty Images

On average black bears have a height of 3 feet tall when standing on all fours, and stand between 5 to 7 feet tall when on two legs.

The weight of a black bear ranges between 100 to 660 lbs. 

Like most mammals, males tend to grow larger, and heavier than females and can be up to 20 to 70 percent larger. 

Despite their name, black bears vary in color and can have thick fur that may be greyish blue, white, or cinnamon brown.

Black is the most common color these bears appear in. 

Teeth and Claw Size of Black Bears

Black bear paw with claws | Derikjohn via Getty Images

Skulls of black bears typically measure between 10.3 to 13.8 inches in length.

Being omnivorous these bears have teeth adapted to eat plant material and fruit but also for tearing into the meat.

Their canine teeth are some of their sharpest, are 2.5 inches measured from top to bottom, and have a width of 0.75 inches.

A black bear’s claws are also quite sharp, measuring about two to four inches in length!

Their paws have an average diameter of around 5 inches.

Compared with grizzly bears black bears have sharper, and more curved claws, use to climb and rip into tree trunks.

Even with their large size black bears are considerably smaller than the polar bear, and grizzly bears that live in North America.

When looking at the largest black bears ever found you may be surprised how big these bears get. 

The Largest Black Bears

American black bear | Frank Fichtmüller via Getty Images

While black bears are typically smaller in size, there have been several documented cases of extremely large ones.

The largest black bears are recorded to weigh over 800 lbs.

Giants like the one shot in Eastern North Carolina weighed close to 900 lbs.

Record black bears encountered hunting found in New Jersey, Alaska, Arizona, and Canada have weighed over 880 lbs, and stand 8 ft tall.

Black bears in zoos are capable of getting just as large as the ones in the wild.

black bear
Black bear in a zoo basking in the sun | burakpekakcan via iStock

One example is Gentle Ted, who was a bear that lived in the North American Bear Center in Minnesota.

Gentle Ted is considered one of the largest black bears to exist and reached close to 1,000 lbs. 

Animals in zoos like black bears are able to get slightly larger than in the wild, as they have access to a reliable nutritious food source.

Zoos also do not provide the exercise that animals receive in the wild, allowing them to become heftier.

How Large Are Baby Black Bears?

Two little cub bears looking
Two little cub bears looking on| Tammi Mild via Getty Images

Bear cubs just may be one of the cutest baby animals in North America, and they are much smaller than adult bears.

Mother bears give birth in the middle of winter, and take shelter in their dens with their young.

The end of January or beginning of February are the most common times bear cubs are born.

At birth, black bear cubs only weigh around 8 ounces and are around the size of a small squirrel.

They are born blind with their eyes closed. Their eyes are blue eyes, and turn brown with age.

Fine hair covers them, and their coat is much fluffier than adult bears.

Mama bear and baby bears
Wild American Black Bear mother and cubs in the dense forests of Northern Minnesota, USA | Bkamprath via iStock

Females lay between 1 to 6 cubs and their gestation period lasts for about 220 days.

After being born mothers’ milk is the main source of nutrition for bear cubs.

In the early spring cubs leave the den with their mothers and weigh around 4 to 6 lbs.

Growing very quickly, the small cubs grow to around 80 to 100 lbs at one year old.

Black bears stop drinking milk by 8 months old and remain with their mothers till about 17 months of age.

It takes a tiny black bear cub 3 years to reach sexual maturity, and 5 years for them to become fully grown.

Where Do Black Bears Live?

Black bear with two cubs
Black bear with two cubs | dssimages via Getty Images

American black bears are native to North America and are found across the Pacific Northwest in forest and mountain habitats.

Black bears live in 40 of the 50 states and also have populations in Mexico and Canada.

Black bears are very hardy and are found in most habitats that have ample food.

Their populations across their range are considered stable, and in areas like Texas or Florida where they have been extirpated, restoration efforts are underway.

Alaska has one of the largest populations of black bears and has a population of more than 100,000.

Black Bears and Seasons

Huge Male black bear
Huge Male black bear | mirceax via Getty Images

A bear’s weight can depend on the time of year, as their feeding habit depends on what is available to them.

In the fall months, bears begin to pack on weight and get at their heaviest in the late season to prepare for winter.

Black bears can possibly be 30% heavier in the late fall than they are in the spring.

Winter is when they are at their lightest, due to the lack of food, and their inactivity.

Black bears are not true hibernators, but in the spring and summer months, there is plenty of food to eat, and they begin to regain their size from the winter.

Berries, fruit, edible plants, and insects make up the majority of their diet in spring.

Summer and fall are when bears eat more meat like fish.

When preparing for winter black bears are constantly eating, and may a hundred pounds a week.

The Subspecies of Black Bear

An Olympic black bear
An Olympic black bear | Wirestock via Getty Images

There are 16 subspecies of black bears.

The largest of them is the Haida Gwaii black bear, which as its name suggests is only found on the Haida Gwaii islands.

This subspecies is all-black, with a gray muzzle.

They are considered the largest subspecies of black bears, and have a large head and snout, used to break crab shells.

The black bear subspecies have minor differences between them like their size, location, and color.

Their populations are spread across North America, and while many of them have stable populations, some are considered threatened species. 

Black Bear Sow & Cub in the rain forest
Black Bear Sow & Cub in the rain forest | BirdImages via iStock

Here are the 16 subspecies of American black bear:

  • Olympic Black Bear (Ursus a. altifrontalis)
  • New Mexico Black Bear (Ursus a. amblyceps)
  • Eastern Black Bear (Ursus a. americanus)
  • California Black Bear (Ursus a. californiensis)
  • Haida Gwaii Black Bear (Ursus a. carlottae)
  • Cinnamon Bear (Ursus a. cinnamomum)
  • Glacier Bear (Ursus a. emmonsii)
  • East Mexican Black Bear (Ursus a. eremicus)
  • Florida Black Bear  (Ursus a. floridanus)
  • Newfoundland Black Bear (Ursus a. hamiltoni)
  • Kermode Bear (Ursus a. kermodei)
  • Louisiana Black Bear (Ursus a. luteolus)
  • West Mexican Black Bear (Ursus a. machetes)
  • Kenai Black Bear (Ursus a. perniger)
  • Dall Island Black Bear (Ursus a. pugnax)
  • Vancouver Island Black Bear (Ursus a. vancouveri)

Along with the 16 subspecies, it is also possible for hybrids and other bear species to occur.

It is believed that bears within the Ursus genus are capable of breeding with each other, which include species like black bears, grizzlies, and polar bears.

There have been several bears discovered believed to be a hybrid of black bears and other species, but this occurring in the wild is very rare. 

Are Black Bears Dangerous

Bear warning in the woods
Bear warning in the woods | wildpixel via Getty Images

They are known to be aggressive when protecting their young or if they feel threatened and have been known to attack humans.

If you encounter a black bear in the wild, it is important to stay calm and avoid making any sudden movements.

Never try to run away from a black bear, as they can easily catch up to you!

If they do attack, fight back with whatever you have and try to focus on its face and eyes.

Even with their massive size and deadly features, on average only around 1 death occurs yearly across North America.

Black bears are not very aggressive, and attacks from them are rare.

If in an area they inhabit taking the right precautions like limiting food and having bear spray can keep you safe.


If you ever have the opportunity to see a black bear in the wild, it is definitely an experience you will never forget!

These animals are fascinating creatures, and their size can vary quite a bit depending on where they live and what subspecies they are.

Next time you see a black bear, take a moment to appreciate its size and power!

Do you have any questions?

Leave us a comment below and we will answer them for you!

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