Learning Which Stem to Pull Down
After pulling down the wrong stem, this 6-month-old cub looks at the juneberries that are still out of reach. As she grows up, she will learn how to determine which stem holds the food. She will learn to shake each stem to see which one makes the food move, and she will learn to use her eyes to trace the stem down from the food to where she can grab the stem.
Bears use those skills while pulling down saplings to get buds and leaves in spring and while pulling down bushes to get berries and hazelnuts in summer.
Bears sometimes identify a branch from the ground and climb up and bite it off. This is the same bear grown up, biting off a branch and carrying it to the ground to eat the leaves.
Black bears use these same skills to identify ropes connected to campers’ food packs. Campers often tie their food packs to long ropes and sling the food packs over high branches so the food packs are hanging below the branches. The other ends of the ropes are tied to the ground or tree trunks. To get the food, some bears shake each rope like they would shake the stems of bushes and then chew the correct rope like they would chew the base of a branch. When the rope breaks, the food pack falls.
Many campers no longer hang their food. They protect it in lightweight bear-proof containers that make the food virtually inaccessible for bears but easily accessible for campers.