If food makes bears happy, they should be happy now. People with feeders are wondering where all the bears are. Jim Stroner went out this morning to see what June and her cubs were up to. They were in a clear-cut mostly tearing open stumps and logs for ant pupae. June dug out an underground bumblebee nest (probably Bombus ternarius), shaking her head frequently with hardly a pause in her digging.
June and the cubs foraged independently. Other than leading cubs to feeding areas, we’ve not seen indications that mothers teach the cubs what to eat. The cubs know what they like to eat—just like Lucky eats the same wild foods in the Bear Center enclosure that wild bears are eating in the woods.
As June tore open stumps in one area, Jim could hear the cubs tearing into other stumps out of sight. When one or the other of the cubs (the bigger male or the smaller, darker female) was near June, she would give up her ant colony to the whining cub.
In between ant colonies, the bears all ate juneberries (Amelanchier spp.), strawberries (Fragaria spp.), gooseberries (Ribes spp.), pincherries (Prunus americanus), and blueberries (Vaccinium angustifolium).
This is one of the best food years we have seen. The bears are showing how much they prefer the wild foods, especially the ant pupae.The bears are showing that it is not habituation and food conditioning that drive them to feeding stations, it’s hunger. What bears do and what they eat depends upon what the alternatives are, and the preferred alternative at this moment is the variety of wild foods.
Still to ripen are more favorites—wild sarsaparilla (Aralia nudicaulis), chokecherries (Prunus virginianus), dogwood berries (Cornus rotundifolia, Cornus racemosa, and, to an extent, Cornus canadensis), high-bush cranberries (Viburnum trilobum), and a moderate crop of hazelnuts (Corylus cornuta). The bears are having a good year.
Video of June tearing into the bumblebee nest is online at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uC4RjerRwJk.
Thank you again for all you are doing to help the bears and keep our research alive. As we’ve said before, we’re hoping for fairness, an injunction, and an investigation. The support you show for the research is helpful.
Thank you for all you do.
—Lynn Rogers and Sue Mansfield, Biologists, Wildlife Research Institute and North American Bear Center
All photos taken today unless otherwise noted.