We compared weights and hematological profiles of adult (>3-yr-old) female black bears (Ursus americanus) during hibernation (after 8 January). We handled 28 bears one to four times (total of 47) over 4 yr of varying mast and berry production. Mean weight of lactating bears was greater (P < 0.0001) than that of non-lactating females. White blood cells (P < 0.05) and mean corpuscular volume (P = 0.005) also differed between lactating and non-lactating bears. Hemoglobin (P = 0.006) and mean corpuscular hemoglobin concentration (P = 0.02) varied among years; values were lowest during 1975, following decreased precipitation and the occurrence of a second year of mast and berry crop shortages in a three-year period. Significant (P < 0.05) interaction between reproductive status (lactating versus non-lactating) and study year for hemoglobin, red blood cells, and packed cell volume, and increased mean corpuscular volume, suggested a greater nutritional challenge for lactating females compared to non-lactating females during the 1975 denning season. Our data suggest that hematological characteristics of denning bears may be more sensitive than weights as indicators of annual changes in nutritional status; however, other influential factors, in addition to mast and berry crop production, remain to be examined.
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Vol. 27 • No. 4