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Un-bear-ably Cute: Black Bear Caught Napping

great smoky mountains, black bears, cute animal
(Image credit: Charlie Choc)

There's one word that can make any hiker's blood turn cold: bear.

But a napping bear? That's more "aww!" than "ahh!"

Deep inside America's most visited national park, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, a photographer caught this candid shot of a black bear napping in a tree. The bear doesn't seem all that impressed by the photographer, barely opening its eyes for the shot. That's not uncommon for black bears, which are more likely to avoid confrontation than grizzlies (or brown bears, as they are sometimes called). Black bears are more interested in food than humans.

The American black bear is the world's most common bear species. The International Union for Conservation of Nature lists black bears on its Species of Least Concern list due to their large population. In the Smokies, these bears aren't hard to find. Scientists believe some 1,500 black bears may live in the park today. That's about two bears per square mile.

Bears in the Smokies are a bit quirky. They often choose their winter dens high above the ground in hollow trees. Astute hikers along the Appalachian Trail might notice bear claw or teeth marks on tree trunks, which is one way they communicate. But hikers beware: Willfully approaching within 50 yards (150 feet, or 46 meters), or any distance that disturbs or displaces a bear, is illegal in the Smokies. That goes for napping bears, too.

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Brett Israel was a staff writer for Live Science with a focus on environmental issues. He holds a bachelor’s degree in biochemistry and molecular biology from The University of Georgia, a master’s degree in journalism from New York University, and has studied doctorate-level biochemistry at Emory University.