Types of Bears
Eight different bear species (family Ursidae), covering five genera, call four different continents home.
- Giant Panda (Ailuropoda melanoleuca)
- Malayan Sun Bear (Helarctos malayanus)
- Sloth Bear (Melursus ursinus)
- Spectacled Bear (Tremarctos ornatus)
- American Black Bear (Ursus americanus)
- Brown Bear (Ursus arctos)
- Polar Bear (Ursus maritimus)
- Himalayan Black Bear (Ursus thibetanus)
|Pictures of Bears
North American Bears
Types of Animals
The three North American Species, American Black Bear, Brown Bear and Polar Bear belong to a single genus, Ursus.
Apart from the polar bear, a marine mammal, bears are primarily forest mammals, and often the dominant species in their ecosystem.
Polar bears and Giant Pandas have specialized diets. The others are omnivores, eating a variety of fruit, nuts, insects and game.
Mostly non-aggressive, nocturnal animals, their label as the Dancing Bears of India, reminds us that like other bear species, humans considered them for their entertainment value.
Males can grow about six feet tall and weight three hundred pounds. Their nick name, the honey bear, refers to their sweet tooth. Stories regarding their ability to withstand hoards of stinging bees in pursuit of another favorite food, are legendary.
Habitat destruction and poaching, two factors influencing population trends, lead to their current IUCN status as a vulnerable species.
South America's only bear species, the Spectacled Bear (Tremarctos ornatus), inhabits the northern region of the Andes Mountains.
Depending on the season and availability of food, they can be found at either lower or higher elevations.
They get their name from the light patch of fur on their nose and around their eyes. It looks like the bear is wearing spectacles.
Males, can grow six feet tall and weigh up to three hundred and fifty pounds.
Unlike other bears, spectacled bears do not walk on two feet, perhaps explaining their lack of popularity as circus or performing animals.
The IUCN lists Spectacled Bears as a vulnerable species, the category next to endangered. Habitat loss is their primary problem. There is also some illegal hunting of the species.
The Malayan Sun Bear (Helarctos malayanus), the world's smallest bear, inhabits the tropical forests of Southeast Asian states such as Laos, Cambodia, Indonesia and Malaysia.
Measuring about four and one-half feet tall and weighing about one hundred and fifty pounds, the Malayan Sun Bear can be twice as short and ninety per cent lighter than the world's largest bear, the Polar Bear.
The bear's short hair, an artifact of living in the tropics, is highlighted by a light color patch on the chest.
The year round availability of food in the tropics makes the Sun Bear one of the non-hibernating bear species.
Lack of research leads to competing behavioral claims. It could very well be the case that Sun Bears adapt to both diurnal and nocturnal lifestyles, depending on the environment. They are known to den in hollow logs on the ground as well as in tree built nests.
Sun bear population levels remain fuzzy, and for that reason, many researchers believe they are endangered. Along with habitat loss, their paws and gall bladders are still considered prized materials in the Asian food and traditional medicine markets.
Arguably the world's most recognized bear, th e Giant Panda (Ailuropoda melanoleuca) resides in China. Their unusually large white heads and banded black eyes compliment their stout bodies and short legs.
Pandas live in the mountains of the temperate forests of western China. These bamboo forests supply most of the Panda's diet.
Estimating wild Panda populations tends to be an inexact science. Current estimates range between one thousand and three thousand individuals. The limited range and low population numbers make the Giant Panda the world's most endangered bear species.
Captive breeding programs in China and zoos around the world serve as today's primary species survival tools.
URSUS, the scientific journal for the International Association for Bear Research and Management, provides a great starting place for additional bear information.
The journal provides short, readable articles that include reliable statistics.
© 2001-2012 Patricia A. Michaels