GAINESVILLE, Fla. -

Florida biologists say public reports of black bear and panther sightings are helping them understand more about the elusive creatures.

The Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission says two years of online public reports of panthers and a year of black bear sightings have helped identify areas that are serving as key habitat.

As of June 14, officials verified 275 of 1,537 panther sightings using photos or footprints, including verification of a panther north of Interstate 4 where the species is extremely rare.

More than 500 of the 2,257 total black bear sightings reported also contained photographs.

FWC bear biologist Brian Scheick says he hopes people will continue, and that he's especially interested in reports of mother bears with cubs.

Panther sightings can be reported at MyFWC.com/PantherSightings; bears at MyFWC.com/BearSightings.