Myth: Mother bears give birth in their sleep, wake up in spring, and are surprised they have cubs.
Untrue. The mothers' metabolic rates are slowed by hibernation, but they wake up to birth and care for the cubs like other mothers do.
Many “experts” spout this myth as fact without ever having seen a bear give birth. Any mother could tell us it isn’t so, and any of Lily the Bear’s 200,000+ Facebook Fans could tell us it isn’t so after having watched Lily give birth wide awake in January 2010, as well as several other bears in the following years.
Lily is a wild 3-year-old female black bear that allowed researchers to place a web cam in her den in 2010. The cyber-world watched as she gave birth and cared for her cub—a technological first.
Myth: Menstrual odors trigger bear attacks
Untrue. Although government brochures warn people about it, there is no evidence for this misconception.
Details: In 1967, grizzly bears in Glacier National Park killed a menstruating woman and a woman with tampons in her purse. Officials knew that some dogs are attracted to menstrual odors, so the National Park Service began warning women not to enter bear country during menstruation and the U.S. Forest Service prohibited female employees from doing woods work during menstruation.
How did researchers learn that these precautions were unwarranted?
Dr. Steve Herrero reviewed over 100 killings by grizzly bears and found that the woman in Glacier National Park was the only menstruating victim on record. He concluded that menstruation was not a factor in the attack.
In field tests conducted near Ely, black bears ignored menstrual odors regardless of the bears’ age, sex, or reproductive status.1
Myth: Mother black bears are likely to attack.
Untrue. This is one of the biggest misconceptions about black bears. Mother black bears are highly unlikely to attack people in defense of cubs.
Details: Defense of cubs against people is mainly by grizzly bears—not black bears. There is no record of a black bear mother killing anyone in defense of cubs. Mothers with cubs were involved in only 3 of the 61 killings by black bears across America since 1900, and none of those killings appeared to be in defense of cubs. Black bears have less need to defend cubs because they live in the forest where cubs can climb trees. Mothers with cubs remain near trees and are cautious by nature, having evolved alongside the powerful predators of the North American Ice Age.
Myth: Mothers reject cubs that have human scent
Untrue. This is a total myth—as it is for other young birds and mammals. Touching baby birds and mammals does not cause parents to reject them because of human scent.
There is no record of a mother bear rejecting a cub because of human scent. Bear researchers around the world have handled newborn cubs in dens for decades without scent being a problem. They have even taken orphaned cubs to dens where strange mothers adopted them as their own (Rogers 1985).
However, in late spring mothers traveling with cubs may kill strange cubs, so Dr. Gary Alt used Vicks Vaporub to mask the scent of cubs when attempting adoptions in late spring (Alt 1984).