horses in Cades Cove

Do Smoky Mountain Black Bears Hibernate?

Smoky Mountain black bear stand among fallen leaves
October 31, 2023

One of the most popular reasons why people enjoy visiting Cades Cove is the chance to see Smoky Mountain black bears in their natural habitat. Because a lot of bears in other parts of the country hibernate during the winter season, many people tend to believe that black bears in the Smoky Mountains do, too. However, it’s not uncommon to still see black bears roaming throughout Cades Cove and other parts of the national park in the winter months. Here’s why Smoky Mountain black bears don’t actually hibernate in the winter.

Why Do Other Bears Hibernate?

Before diving into why Smoky Mountain black bears don’t hibernate, it’s important to first understand why other bears do. When a bear or other animal hibernates, its body temperature decreases, its breathing slows down, and its metabolic rate drops. This allows the animal to store energy when temperatures drop and food sources become less readily available. In addition to bears, other animals that are known for hibernation in northern climates include chipmunks, skunks, groundhogs, snakes, and bees.

Why Don’t Smoky Mountain Black Bears Hibernate?

Smoky Mountain black bear standing behind log surrounded by fall leavesUnlike their bear cousins up north, Smoky Mountain black bears are not true hibernators. The primary reason is because it doesn’t get cold enough in the Smoky Mountains. Black bears in Cades Cove and around the national park may enter long periods of sleep or reduce their level of activity to save energy, but they do not fully hibernate for the season. The black bear’s body temperature does not typically drop like true hibernators, which means they can wake up and roam the area during warmer periods.

What Do Smoky Mountain Black Bears Do During Winter?

Even though Smoky Mountain black bears don’t truly hibernate, they do spend much of their time sleeping in the winter. Winter is also when pregnant mother bears often give birth to their cubs. This is typically around January or February. The bear cubs sleep next to the mother and nurse from her until she is ready to leave the den. Bear cubs usually emerge from their winter dens for the first time in March or April at around three months old, weighing between four and eight pounds.

Can I Still See Smoky Mountain Black Bears in Winter?

Smoky Mountain black bear looking out from behind treeSmoky Mountain black bears will choose a denning site in the winter, such as a hollow stump, hollow tree, or tree cavity, where they will seek shelter during long winter naps. However, they will leave their shelter and wander around throughout the winter season, especially on warmer days or if they are disturbed in their den. The likelihood of seeing black bears decreases significantly in the colder winter months, but it’s still possible to see them roaming about in Cades Cove and other areas of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

More Things to Know About Smoky Mountain Black Bears

Now you know that Smoky Mountain black bears do not enter a true hibernation in the winter and the reasons behind it. Would you like to learn more about these amazing animals? Check out these 4 things to know about black bears in the Smoky Mountains to find out some fun facts about your favorite wildlife!

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