It’s Not Easy Being a Mama Bear

By Barbara Walvoord

In an earlier column about bears coming out of hibernation, I asked whether anyone had seen bears yet this spring on Lathrop land.

Well, sure enough, Carol Neubert sent me photos taken about April 6. She writes:

At about 9:00 in the morning Mama Bear and her two cubs appeared in our backyard. Mama went over to the tree line, lazily reclined on her back, and the two cubs proceeded to nurse. Two of our grandchildren (ages 6 and 3) were visiting and, needless-to-say, the bear visit was the highpoint of their stay.

If you think that this picture of the nursing mom looks like a huge blob of cubs pouncing on her–well, that’s how she might feel.

Photo by Carol Neubert, April, 2015
Photo by Carol Neubert, April, 2015

She’s been nursing them since January, in her den. Their birth weight was under one pound–the smallest birth weight in relation to the mother of any placental mammal.  As they have grown big and strong, she  may have lost up to a third of her body weight, which was 90-175 pounds.  Now she is eating grass, herbs, and leaves (but hopefully not your garbage or bird seed) , and she will continue to lose weight until summer, when berries and nuts will help her gain. She’ll do this every two years across her 25-year adult lifespan.

The cubs will continue to nurse until September, when they may weigh between 15 and 160 pounds depending on food supply. These look really big and healthy for this time of year. I would guess that Mama weighs 120 pounds and the cubs each 40.  If we translate these times and weights into human terms, it’s as though we had twins, and they nursed until they were 3 years old and weighed a third of what Mom did.  Whew.

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