As we head into Spring it’s time for the bears to wake up and start the new season. Last fall they were stuffing themselves with anything edible in order to make it through the winter. This Black bear lady has two of last years cubs with her, although they aren’t in this shot, and next season she will cut them loose to go out and be bears on their own. They will den up with her this winter for the last time.
Before all that takes place she has a job to do. She has to bulk up and gain the weight needed to last through the winter. She has been eating everything in sight. Roadkill, carcasses that the wolves pulled down that she has appropriated, grass, bugs, Miller moths, and a delicacy she really likes, seeds from the pine cones from the white pine tree.
Here she has captured one of those pine cones and is holding it delicately in her front paws while she carefully pulls the individual scales off the cone to get at the seeds. It seems like a lot of work for such a small prize but she stays at it until she has eaten her fill. This is her chocolate and she’s a glutton. In the fall there seems to be enough pine cones on the ground and she can eat her fill without having to do too much work. If she finds a windfall where the pines cones have built up, like a place where they’ve rolled down into a gully and bunched up, she may stay there until she and her cubs have pretty much cleaned them out. Often sleeping on or near the pile so they’re at hand, or paw as it were, when she wakes up in the morning.
In the spring when there is still snow on the ground and the cones are more difficult to find she and her cubs will climb up into the white pines, heading to the top of the tree until it nearly bends over from their weight, and harvest the pin cones right off the tree.
She ‘s lucky today, the weather is perfect, she’s just located a huge stash of pine cones and she’s eaten so many so far that she is half-standing, half-laying on them as she still crams them into her mouth. The sound of her crunching the pine cones to make the scales fall off can be heard from some distance.
The cubs are behaving now and as they are sort of like teenagers at this point, they can not eat enough, but they give it their best shot as they too have figured out they better put on the pounds so they can make it through the winter. They can sleep as much as 10 and a half months without eating, drinking, urinating, defecating, while getting all the nutrients they need from the stored up fat of their own bodies as they sleep throughout the winter. This is why the bears pack it on and look like hairy sumo wrestlers when it’s time to den up.
This image was shot in late September in Yellowstone and this bear and her cubs have a couple of weeks yet before it’s time to head into the den. It looks like she has a good start on getting fattened up for the winter. It’s hard to image that she’ll put on even more weight in the next couple of weeks, but she will. So we’ll leave her to it. If we could catch her when she emerges from her den next spring you wouldn’t believe it was the same robust bear we’re looking at now as she will be just a pale shadow of herself. Sleep well.