Bears aren’t likely the first critter to come to mind when one thinks about the Sunshine State.
Likely most folks think of the American alligator—completely understandable, given that great reptile’s essentially statewide range and singular bearing. Then there’s the West Indian manatee, the most all-around charming of Florida’s native animals, not to mention bottlenose dolphins, roseate spoonbills, even the odd wild flamingo cruising the Everglades coast (and showing up in plastic form on lawns all over the state).
But in certain parts of the state, visitors might be wondering (and might be a little nervous) about:
Are there bears in Florida? How common are bear attacks in Florida?
As it happens, though, bears are very much part of Florida’s ecological fabric: from the Panhandle all the way down to the tropical fringe of the Greater Everglades. There’s only one kind of bear in Florida: the American black bear, which here (and in adjoining states) exists as a unique subspecies.
While a plenty formidable animal, black bears are, as a rule, shy and elusive around humans. There have only been 15 confirmed bear attacks on humans in Florida since 1976.
When human foods are easily available—and especially when wild foods are limited, whether because of natural cycles or habitat loss—black bears are certainly gung-ho about seeking them out, which occasionally results in close encounters and, very unusually, attacks on people.
Bear-human encounters are more likely to come out badly for the bear, already facing significant anthropogenic mortality along Florida’s busy roadways. Therefore it’s up to Sunshine State visitors and residents alike to enjoy the landscape in a bear-aware fashion: to protect themselves, sure, but also to ensure the survival of this biggest native land mammal.
Florida lies well outside of the historical distribution of the North American grizzly (or brown) bear, but has long supported that beast’s smaller, more forest-adapted relative: the black bear.
(For you prehistory buffs: Until about 11,000 years ago, around the close of the Pleistocene, the Florida Peninsula also sheltered an additional species: the Florida spectacled or short-faced bear, an extinct cousin of South America’s Andean or spectacled bear.)
Florida Black Bear Population & Distribution
In the centuries following Euro-American settlement, the population of black bears in Florida fell dramatically, and became part of a far Southeastern stock of bears cut off from other eastern black bears.
Strong conservation efforts have, fortunately, helped bolster bear numbers in Florida:
The Florida Fish & Wildlife Commission (FWC) estimates a bit more than 4,000 black bears inhabit the state. That said, this population occupies a bit less than half the original bear country of Florida.
The FWC splitsinto seven Bear Management Units (BMUs): the West Panhandle, East Panhandle, North, Central, South-central, and South BMUs. Of these, the largest bear populations are found in the Central (1,200) and East Panhandle (1,060) units.
Black bears are generally most numerous and broadly distributed in the northern and central parts of Florida, with an important South Florida redoubt in the Big Cypress of the Greater Everglades Ecosystem.
Along with some sparsely roamed lands along the Georgia border, black bears are least abundant east and southeast of Lake Okeechobee in the Treasure Coast and Gold Coast areas, and in the Everglades proper, though they historically ranged down into the Upper Florida Keys.
Florida Black Bear Biology & Natural History
Black bears are Florida’s heftiest land native mammal.
Adult females, or sows, tend to range between about 130 and 180 pounds; the FWC reports the heaviest Florida sow as weighing 460 pounds.
Adult males, or boars, are significantly larger than females (a case of sexual dimorphism), and commonly weigh between 200 and 400 pounds, with exceptional specimens tipping the scales at close to 800 pounds.
Such hulking male bears well outsize the next-biggest native terrestrial mammals in the state, white-tailed deer and Florida panthers, though the non-native feral hog may rival a bear in bulk.
Florida black bears inhabit a wide range of habitats in this wonderfully ecologically diverse state, from forested swamps, shrub wetlands, and hammocks to pine scrub and savannas.
In the Ocala National Forest—a great stronghold for the species—black bears preferred pine scrub, flatwoods, and swamp for denning habitat. Black bears in the Okefenokee Swamp favor as core habitat bayheads and gum-bay-cypress forests, though they also forage in pine stands.
Black bears are ace omnivores, feeding on everything from plant matter and invertebrates to live meat. They’re predominantly herbivorous and insectivorous, though.
In Florida, the hearts and fruits of saw palmetto are an important part of bear diet in many areas, as are tree mast such as acorns and hickory nuts as well as berries. Insects such as carpenter ants are also mainstay foods.
Black bears are opportunistic predators, and will certainly snatch an armadillo, deer fawn, or piglet—heck, even a young gator—if the chance presents itself, but in Florida such prey appears to be more supplemental fare.
The unpicky feeding habits of the Florida black bear help it withstand natural fluctuations in preferred food sources. For example, a study at Eglin Air Force Base in Northwest Florida showed black bears gorging heavily on saw-palmetto fruits in the fall, but during a year when the palmetto crop was poor, they switched over to acorns.
When, say, hard or soft mast production is poor—or, as is often the case, when habitat loss greatly restricts the foods and feeding areas available to black bears—bears may be forced to forage in human-dominated or utilized landscapes. Here they may feast on everything from corn left out by hunters to pet food and suburban garbage.
Considering the number of bears and the (vastly, vastly) greater number of people calling Florida home, it’s surprising there have been so few serious incidents of bear/human encounters.
The FWC tallies only 15 bear attacks resulting in human injury since 1976.
As Florida’s human population continues to grow, and urban sprawl continues to advance into wildlands and semi-wildlands, the occasional iffy run-in between people and bears is just about inevitable.
Two attacks were recorded in January 2022.
A woman walking her dog in DeBary north of Orlando at about 9 PM was chased and knocked down by a black bear on January 13th. The bear, a sow in the company of three yearling cubs, had apparently confronted a man and a woman shortly beforehand, and been scared off before encountering the dog-walking woman.
She was clawed and bitten, but not seriously, and her dog was unharmed; officials soon located the offending bear in a tree with her cubs and euthanized her. (The three yearlings were deemed old enough to fend for themselves.)
On the evening of January 20, meanwhile, a man in Daytona Beach received minor injuries when he fended off a black bear attacking his dogs.
Surveillance footage captured by a neighbor showed an adult bear with two cubs, so it’s possible this attack was a defensive one by the mother.
Indeed, dogs are a factor in quite a few bear/human incidents in Florida, as elsewhere. Black bears may perceive dogs as threats, or—especially in the case of small breeds—even prey. Keeping dogs under control and under supervision is one way to avoid drawing the unwelcome attention—not least the defensive wrath—of a black bear.
Another major way to cut down on bear encounters is to keep food and garbage properly secured.
Pet kibble left out in yards, unsecured trash bins, and certainly any food left out for raccoons, deer, and other wildlife—a commonplace practice in Florida, unfortunately—can definitely draw in black bears, increasing the risk of sudden encounters with people or dogs. Furthermore, it may potentially train bears to directly associate people and development with easy eats, perhaps making them more habituated and aggressive.
The FWC encourages communities to adopt BearWise practices to minimize such issues, which—proving the tried-and-true “a fed bear is a dead bear” maxim—often result in bears needing to be euthanized.
The FWC considers most bear attacks on humans in the state to be cases of animals defending themselves, their cubs, or a food source against a perceived threat. The most serious—although thankfully incredibly rare—black-bear attacks in North America seem to be predatory in nature. According to the FWC, however, such an incident has not been logged in Florida.
If you’re visiting Florida on vacation, you’re extremely unlikely to have any problems with black bears. Keep food and garbage secure at a vacation rental.
If you’re hiking and run into a black bear, don’t run; back up or sidestep away slowly while talking in a firm, steady voice. Almost always, an encountered bear is going to run away or move off on its own.
If a black bear does approach you, hold your ground while waving your arms and continue to talk or shout; throw rocks, sticks, or other objects if the bear persists in advancing. In the low-probability event that a Florida black bear attacks you, fight back with whatever’s available—don’t play dead.
Count yourself lucky if you spot a Florida black bear out in the palmetto thickets or dashing across a forest road. These are highly intelligent, immensely charismatic native creatures that deserve our admiration and respect, not fear.
For more guides, check out:
- Bears in Wisconsin
- Bears in Georgia
- Bears in Colorado
- Bears in Utah
Hope this helps!
Even though they are typically quiet and shy animals, they have the potential to seriously harm or kill people. Do not take unnecessary risks! While bear attacks on people are extremely rare in Florida, people have been bitten and scratched by bears defending themselves, cubs, or food sources (Table 1).What part of Florida has the most bears? ›
Most major populations of Florida black bears live on or near public lands. These include Ocala National Forest, Big Cypress National Preserve, Apalachicola National Forest, Osceola National Forest and Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge.What time of year are bears most active in Florida? ›
"Typically, bears are most active in fall as they prepare for the winter and then again in spring when they come out of their winter dens," said Carli Segel, with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.What are the chances of getting attacked by a bear? ›
Bear attacks are rare. In fact, according to the National Park Service, the chance of being attacked by a bear is just 0.02% of 1 in 2.1 million. If you further analyze those odds, the numbers move even further in your favor. If you camp at a roadside campground, the odds increase to 1 in 26.6 million.What time of year are black bears most active in Florida? ›
As Florida black bears become active in late winter and spring, the chances of a bear encounter go up significantly if you leave food unsecured outdoors – whether in your campsite or at home. As our temperatures warm up and the wildflowers start blooming, the bears come out of hiding.What should you do if you encounter a bear in Florida? ›
Remain still; stand your ground but slowly wave your arms. Help the bear recognize you as a human. It may come closer or stand on its hind legs to get a better look or smell. A standing bear is usually curious, not threatening.What part of Florida are the bears? ›
While bears can be found almost anywhere in Florida, they prefer a mixture of flatwoods, swamps, scrub oak ridges, bayheads and hammock habitats. The area they roam in search of food, water, and adequate cover is called a home range.Does Florida have a bear problem? ›
Florida black bear populations are confined to just eight isolated habitats. The bears face serious challenges in our state, mostly because of us. Encroaching development like residential communities and roadways has reduced and fragmented bear territory.Are bears a problem in Florida? ›
While there have been no predatory bear attacks on people in Florida, people have been bitten and scratched by bears defending themselves, cubs, or food sources. If a black bear attacks you: Fight back aggressively.What months are black bears most aggressive? ›
7 ) Be extra careful in August, when hungry bears are filling up with high-energy foods in preparation for winter denning. Fatal attacks most often occur in this month.
- Keep a safe distance. Back away slowly.
- Make yourself look bigger by lifting and waving arms.
- Make noise by yelling, using noisemakers, or whistles.
- DO NOT run. Do not make eye contact. Let the bear leave the area on its own.
Florida black bears go into dens between late December and late March. These dens may be along the forest floor or in trees.What time of year do most bear attacks occur? ›
Most attacks occur in the months of July, August and September, the time when the number of outdoor recreationalists, such as hikers or hunters, is higher. People who assert their presence through noises tend to be less vulnerable, as they alert bears to their presence.What are bears afraid of? ›
To scare the bear away, make loud noises by yelling, banging pots and pans or using an airhorn. Make yourself look as big as possible by waving your arms. If you are with someone else, stand close together with your arms raised above your head.What to do if a bear charges you? ›
When the bear charges you, hold your ground and stay calm. After the bear charges, slowly retreat while keeping an eye on the bear. Let the bear know that you're a human, and that you aren't a threat. Continue to speak to the bear in a calm voice and make it clear that you are a human.How do you avoid bears in Florida? ›
- Secure household garbage in a shed, garage or a wildlife-resistant container (like a bear-resistant container or caddy ).
- Put household garbage out on morning of pickup rather than the night before.
- Secure commercial garbage in bear-resistant dumpsters.
Bears are usually active from dawn to dusk, but they may be seen any time of day or night. Bears in many places of high human use have become nocturnal in order to avoid people.What part of the day are bears most active? ›
Bears have color vision and a keen sense of smell. In addition, they are good tree climbers, can swim very well, and can run 30 miles per hour. Bears are most active during early morning and late evening hours in spring and summer.How do you deal with an aggressive bear? ›
- Try to appear non-threatening.
- Speak to the bear in a calm tone and slowly back away. Do not run.
- If you have bear spray, remove the safety, and point it toward the bear. ...
- If the bear retreats, leave the area immediately.
Myth # 9: It is legal to shoot a black bear on your property. In Florida, black bears are protected by law. It is illegal to kill a bear without an FWC issued hunting or depredation permit, unless it is protect human life. A viable alternative to shooting a bear perceived as a threat is through the use of bear spray.
Florida does not have an open regulated bear hunting season at this time. The first regulated bear hunting season started in 1936 in Florida, and continued in parts of the state until 1994. A limited bear hunting season was re-opened in four areas in October 2015, but has remained closed since that time.Does Orlando Florida have bears? ›
Black bears are considered abundant in the Orlando area by the Florida Wildlife and Conservation Commission. According to the FWC's Assistant Bear Program Coordinator Mike Orlando, 1,200 bears live between the Ocala National Forest and the Wekiwa Basin.Are there grizzlies in Florida? ›
The only species of bear found in Florida would be the black bear. No grizzlies, no brown bears and definitely no polar bears are seen here. At this time in history there are only about 4,000 left in our state, and that does not include the approximate 1,500 cubs.Does Florida have bears? ›
Black bears are the only species of bear found in Florida. FWC biologists estimate that there are approximately 4,050 black bears in Florida. Adult male black bears usually weigh between 250 to 350 lbs. The largest adult male black bear in Florida weighed 760 lbs.Can Florida black bears swim? ›
Bears are excellent swimmers and will frequent nearby islands during seasonal and climatic changes. In Florida, average annual adult home ranges for bears are 50 to 120 square miles for males, and 10 to 25 square miles for females.What to do if a bear is in your yard? ›
Never run away from or approach him. Make yourself look as big as possible by spreading your arms or, better yet, a coat. Make as much noise as possible by yelling, banging pots and pans or using other noisemaking devices. If the bear approaches and you have bear spray, spray the bear as he approaches.Are there cougars in Florida? ›
The Florida panther is a North American cougar (P. c. couguar) population in South Florida. It lives in pinelands, tropical hardwood hammocks, and mixed freshwater swamp forests.Does Florida have mountain lions? ›
Mountain Lions in the State of Florida. The Florida panther is the only known breeding population of mountain lions in the United States east of the Mississippi River. This tiny population survived early extermination by people due to the highly impenetrable Florida Everglades.Will bears come in your house? ›
n Many bears that enter homes do so through an unlocked or open window or door. Close and lock all bear-accessible windows and doors when you leave the house, and at night before you go to bed. n If you must leave downstairs windows open, install sturdy grates or bars. Screens don't keep out bears.What smell do bears hate? ›
Bears also dislike the strong scent of pine-based cleaners, but avoid using anything with a fresh, lemony or fruity smell. And never mix bleach and ammonia; the combination produces fumes that can be deadly to both people and bears.
Probably one of the least aggressive is the American black bear. What are some reasons why bears attack humans? Typically, you see two types of attacks on humans. One is a defensive attack, which most typically involves defending young or a food source, such as a prey carcass.What time of day are bears least active? ›
Fat bears in winter coats overheat and tire quickly. Daily Activity Period: Most bears become active a half-hour before sunrise, take a nap or two during the day, and bed down for the night an hour or two after sunset. However, some bears are active at night to possibly avoid people or other bears.What is the rhyme for bear attacks? ›
Although the bear safety rhyme “If it's brown, lay down. If it's black, fight back. If it's white, goodnight” sounds like good advice, you have to know why a bear is attacking you before you can decide the best way to respond.Do you lie down for a black bear? ›
You must pay attention to the bear's behavior to know how to respond. Question: So to be safe, should I just lie down and play dead if a bear approaches? Answer: Lying down is a last resort and should only occur when a defensive bear makes physical contact with you.Does a whistle scare a bear? ›
Despite what you may have heard, bear bells may not be enough to alert a bear of your presence so don't rely on them. Using a extremely loud whistle like the Storm Whistle has been shown to turn bears away. 4.Do bears live by the beach? ›
While the bears don't live on beaches, they often use Lake Tahoe to cool off during the hot summer months. Now, with every beach packed with tourists leaving food and trash behind, they view the beach as a feeding ground, as well.What month do bears hibernate in Florida? ›
Speaking with officials at Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, Marc learned that the bears may begin using their dens around the beginning of December until February. The bears still may come out on warmer days.Are black bears aggressive? ›
In fact, they are often attracted to people's food sources or get used to the presence of humans. However, black bears are typically not aggressive and fear the "repercussions of attacking someone," Garshelis said. "They just don't want to attack people," Garsheilis said. "They're kind of timid animals."What place has the most bear attacks? ›
According to the National Park Service, Alaska has had the most fatal bear attacks in the USA since 1900.How often do people survive bear attacks? ›
What percentage of bear attacks are fatal? Out of 40 bear attacks per year, approximately 14% end fatally. If we're talking specifics—the number of fatal black bear attacks per year is just one.
Using these numbers, we can estimate that around 11.5% of grizzly bear attacks are fatal in the United States. Between 2020 to 2022, there were eight fatal grizzly bear attacks in North America.What keeps bears away? ›
If a bear comes close to your home, scare it away. Loud noises like a firm yell, clapping your hands, banging on pots and pans or blowing an air horn sends most bears running. Utilize electric fencing, unwelcome mats and scent deterrents like ammonia to teach bears that your property is not bear-friendly.Can bears open car doors? ›
The cubs learn from their mama that unlocked car doors can be easily opened with the handle, and sometimes there is food inside. A black bear's sense of smell is so sharp that it can smell a pack of gum inside a car, said Ann Bryant of the BEAR League.What to do if you see a black bear with your dog? ›
If the bear has seen you: Keep your dog close and calm if the bear stays 15 feet or more away, avoiding sudden movements. Respect the bear's critical space, do not approach it, and try to turn and leave how you came. If you must continue, take a detour and give the bear plenty of space.Where do you aim on a bear? ›
A bear's most vital area is an 8" circle behind the front shoulder. The best shot opportunity is a broadside shot or "quartering away" for penetration into the vital organs. To take your shot, wait for the bear to step forward with the near side leg exposing the heart/lung area.What is the rule of thumb for bears? ›
A handy way to keep a safe distance from wildlife is to use the rule of thumb. Give the wildlife a thumbs-up. Close one eye to see if it's completely out of sight. If you can see any part around the edge of your thumb, you're too close!What areas of Florida have bears? ›
Bears roam forests and swamps from Eglin Air Force Base in the Panhandle to Ocala National Forest in the state's midsection to Big Cypress National Preserve in Southwest Florida.What state has the most bear attacks? ›
According to the National Park Service, Alaska has had the most fatal bear attacks in the USA since 1900.Do bears live in Orlando? ›
Black bears are considered abundant in the Orlando area by the Florida Wildlife and Conservation Commission. According to the FWC's Assistant Bear Program Coordinator Mike Orlando, 1,200 bears live between the Ocala National Forest and the Wekiwa Basin.What bear is the most aggressive towards humans? ›
Any solitary bear is also likely to become agitated if surprised or cornered, especially while eating. Some species are more aggressive than others; sloth bears, Asiatic black bears, and brown bears are more likely to injure people than other species, and the American black bear is comparatively timid.
To scare the bear away, make loud noises by yelling, banging pots and pans or using an airhorn. Make yourself look as big as possible by waving your arms. If you are with someone else, stand close together with your arms raised above your head.Can you use bear spray in Florida? ›
Florida does not have any laws against shipping defense sprays in or out of the state, as long as they are within the approved size limit.Will urine deter bears? ›
Stephen Herrero's book Bear Attacks: Their Causes and Avoidance, considered the definitive work by many authorities, says “human excrement/urine attracts bears and should not be near your campsite.” The National Park Service promotes that belief as well, adding that the salt in urine attracts wild animals (including ...