Discover Nature: Black Bears Enter Dens

Nov 15, 2017

Black bears enter dens in late fall and early winter to seek shelter through the colder months in Missouri. Watch for their dens when walking in the woods, and steer clear of these slumbering mammals.
Credit Missouri Department of Conservation

As days get shorter and temperatures drop, Missouri’s black bears are entering dens to spend the winter months when food supplies are scarce.


Bears will sleep through most of the cold season. Not officially classified as hibernation, this period of lethargy is called torpor – or a lighter sleep-state in which bears may occasionally get up and leave their dens on warmer days.

They rarely eat or go to the bathroom during this phase. Their body temperature and heart rate are reduced and their metabolism functions at about 40%.

Adult females with cubs tend to den first, followed by females without cubs, and then males, who are most likely to periodically awaken.

Typical den sites include rock caves and crevices, fallen trees, slash piles, ground nests, and tree cavities.

Bears don’t often reuse den sites and may vary den types from year-to-year.

When walking in the woods this week, take note of possible den sites and steer clear of these slumbering mammals.

Learn more about Missouri’s black bear population and how to stay safe in bear country with the Missouri Department of Conservation’s bear awareness guidelines.

Discover Nature is sponsored by the Missouri Department of Conservation.