Strong and Powerful Mammals
Bears are large mammals with thick fur that walk on all four feet. There are eight different species of bears found in all types of environments, from tropical rainforests to the icy-cold polar regions. Thick fur coats give bears a fuzzy, friendly appearance, but all bears are very powerful. They are much stronger and can run faster than humans. Polar bears can run at speeds up to 55 kph! Six bear species are endangered. Many people would like to see a bear in the wild but not up close!
Ancient Bears, Big and Small
Ancient Bears, Big and Small
Three bear species do not live in cold climates. These tropical bears are the spectacled bear, sun bear and sloth bear. These bear species do not sleep for long parts of the year like their cold-weather cousins.©G.Ellis/GLOBIO.org
Scientists believe bears have lived on Earth for about 20 million years. The first bears resembled small, dog-like mammals. One of the most famous ancient bears, the European cave bear, lived in Europe 30,000-40,000 years ago. The cave bear lived at the same time as theNeanderthal and Cro-Magnonpeople. The cave bear became a magical part of the stories and paintings of the Cro-Magnon people. The cave bear survived until about 12,000 years ago.
Eight Great Bears
Below is a list of the eight bear species living today. The list shows where they live and whether they are an endangered species.
- Asiatic black bear; southern Asia (endangered)
- Black bear; temperate North America
- Brown bear; North America, Russia, and other parts of Europe (Grizzlies are endangered)
- Sun bear; Borneo and other parts of Southeast Asia (endangered)
- Giant panda bear; western China (endangered)
- Polar bear; Arctic polar regions
- Sloth bear; India, Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan, and Sri Lanka (endangered)
- Spectacled bear; tropical South America (endangered)
The brown bear lives in more places than any other bear species. It has a number of different local names including the grizzly, Eurasian brown bear, Kodiak bear, Hokkaido bear, Manchurian bear, and Syrian bear.
Walk Like a Bear
Bears walk on all four feet most of the time. They walk flat-footed on their feet like humans do. On occasion, bears will stand up on their hind legs. When the giant Kodiak brown bear of Alaska or the polar bear from the Arctic region stands, they can measure over 3 m tall!
Eating Like a Bear
Brown bears and polar bears are the largest land carnivores. The polar bear is the heaviest of all bears. It weighs over 400 kg and is the only bear whose diet consists almost entirely of meat.
Most bears eat more plants than meat. Large, active mammals such as bears need a lot of food. Plant food supplies less energy than meat, so bears that mostly eat plants must spend much of their day looking for roots, nuts, fruits, and berries they can eat. Bears have back teeth, called molars that are flat and well designed to grindvegetation. The giant panda is the one bear that eats only plants. Its diet consists almost entirely of bamboo.
Bears are Furry, Not Bare
The eight species of bear hunt and survive in different kinds of conditions. But they have similar anatomies. All bears have large heads, bulky bodies, powerful limbs, very short tails, and coarse fur.
Click on the bear to discover more about these amazing creatures.
Hunting for Food
All bears are very active. They are good climbers and swimmers. Polar bears and brown bears often spend many hours in the water, mostly hunting for food. Polar bears hunt seals. Brown bears often catch and eat salmon when the fish are swimming upstream. Bears that feed on plants spend many hours getting all the plant food they need.
Hanging Out in the Den
Bears generally live alone. Many bear species, especially those in cooler climates, spend a portion of each year sleeping in a den. A den can be different for each type of bear. For polar bears, it is a snow cave dug into a snow bank. For a black bear, it could be a hollow tree or small rock cave.
Bear cubs are born in the safety of a warm den. Cubs spend the first few years of their life with their mother. They learn important skills like fishing and where to find the best berries and roots.©G.Ellis/GLOBIO.org
The Big Sleep
Bears do not actually hibernate. Instead, over the winter or part of the year, they fall into a deep sleep called torpor. Torpor helps bears save energy during the time when food is not as plentiful. Baby bears are often born during the time their mothers are in torpor. Sun bears, spectacled bears, and sloth bears that live in warm climates do not need to spend time in torpor. But like all bears, they sleep a lot.
Baby bears, called cubs, are born in a den. A female has one to three cubs. Newborn cubs are very small. Giant pandas, for example, are not at all giant when they are born. They only weigh about 140 g and are about the size of a hotdog – without the bun. Bear cubs are born with their eyes closed and very little fur. Most cubs stay in the den for two to three months before they are large enough to go outside with their mothers.
Cubs feed on mother’s milk for six months to one year. Then they begin eating small amounts of the same foods their mother eats. Cubs take about two years to grow up before they are weaned from their mother.
A Bear's Worst Enemy
In most places where bears live, they are the biggest and strongest animals around. Bears have few predators. But bears have always been hunted and killed by humans. Bears can be aggressive, and they compete for many of the same resources humans use. Many people also fear bears and don’t want them living in the same area.
Six of the eight living bear species are endangered. Laws have been passed to protect endangered bears. But many are still lost every year to poaching and habitat destruction.©G.Ellis/GLOBIO.org
Six species of bear that are listed as endangered: the sun bear, spectacled bear, sloth bear, giant panda, grizzly bear (a subspecies of the brown bear), and the Asiatic black bear. The greatest threat to their survival is poaching and loss of habitat, which is often caused by deforestation. In the tropics, humans and bears often come into conflict, because both are aggressive and often need the same land. Conservation of bear habitat and stronger international laws against selling bearskins and bear parts is important to bear protection.
The Special Case of the Polar Bear
Polar bears face special threats. Chemical and oil spills in the ocean damage and pollute their habitat. Global warming is another concern. Polar bears spend most of their lives hunting on the Arcticpack ice, and as the global climate warms, the pack ice changes. This could eventually force the polar bears to change the way they hunt and travel or even cause them to die out.
What animal looks like a bear, is called a bear, but isn’t? Can you guess before clicking?