Bears have evolved from a common ancestor with cats, dogs, seals or weasels 55 million years ago. It is believed that the first bear species to appear was the polar bear.
We can find bears in almost all parts of the world, each adapted to its environment. These adaptations are what make some bear species different from others. The color of the fur, the color of the skin, the thickness and length of the hair make them better adapted to the environment in which they live, in order to regulate their body temperature or to camouflage themselves with their environment.
Currently, there are eight species of bears, although these species are subdivided into many subspecies. In this WildAnimals article, we will see how many types of bears there are and their characteristics.
1. Sun Bear
Malayan sun bears, (Helarctos malayanus) inhabit the warm areas of Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam or Borneo, although their populations have decreased alarmingly in recent years due to the disappearance of their natural habitat and the use that Chinese medicine attributes to the bile of this animal.
It is the smallest bear species in existence, with males weighing between 30 and 70 kilograms and females between 20 and 40 kilograms. Its fur is black and very short, adapted to the warm climate where it lives. They have a spot on their chest in the shape of a horseshoe of an orange color.
Their diet is based on the consumption of nuts and fruits, although they will eat anything within their reach, such as small mammals or reptiles. They may also consume honey whenever they find it. They have a very long tongue, with which they will take the honey out of the hives.
They do not have a breeding season, so they will be able to reproduce all year round. In addition, Malaysian bears do not hibernate. After copulation the male will stay with the female to help her find food and a nest for the future cubs. When the cubs are born the male will be able to stay or leave. Once the cubs are separated from their mother, the male will leave or go back to copulate with the female.
2. Sloth Bear
The Sloth Bears (Melursus ursinus) live in India, Sri Lanka and Nepal. The population that existed in Bangladesh is now extinct. They can live in several different habitats such as tropical rain forests, dry forests, savannas, scrublands and grasslands. They avoid places that are highly disturbed by humans.
They are characterized by their long, straight, black fur, very different from other bear species. They have a very elongated snout with prominent and mobile lips. They have a white “V” shaped spot on their chest. They can weigh up to 180 kilograms.
Their diet is halfway between insectivorous and frugivorous. Insects such as termites and ants can account for more than 80% of the diet although when it is the time of year for the plants to bear fruit, the fruit will account for 70 to 90% of the bear’s diet.
They reproduce between May and July, females give birth to one or two cubs between November and January. During the first nine months the cubs will be carried on their mother’s back and will remain with her for one or two and a half years.
3. Spectacled bears
Spectacled bears (Tremarctos ornatus) live in South America and are endemic to the tropical Andes. They can be found in the countries of Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador, Bolivia and Peru.
The main characteristic of these animals is, without a doubt, the white spots around their eyes. These spots also extend around the muzzle and neck. The rest of the coat is black. Its skin is thinner than that of other bear species, due to the hot climate where it lives.
They can live in a wide variety of ecosystems throughout the tropical Andes, including tropical dry forests, tropical humid lowlands, mountain forests, tropical dry and humid bush areas, and high altitude tropical grasslands.
Like most bears, the spectacled bear is an omnivorous animal, its diet being based on very fibrous and hard vegetation, such as palm and bromeliad branches and leaves. They may also eat mammals such as rabbits or mountain tapirs, but mostly they consume barnyard animals. When the time comes for plants to bear fruit, bears complement their diet with a wide variety of tropical fruits.
Not much is known about the reproduction of these animals in nature. In captivity, females behave like seasonal polystyrene. There is a mating peak between the months of March and October. Litter size varies from one to four pups, with twins being the most common.
4. Brown Bear
The brown bear (Ursus arctos) is found throughout much of the northern hemisphere, Europe, Asia, and the western United States, Alaska, and Canada. Because it is such a widespread species, many of the populations are considered subspecies, with about 12 different ones existing.
One example is the Kodiak bear (Ursus arctos middendorffi) that inhabits the Kodiak archipelago in Alaska. The different types of bears in Spain are reduced to the European species, Ursus arctos arctos, which is found from the north of the Iberian Peninsula to Scandinavia and Russia.
Brown bears are not only brown, they can also be black or cream coloured. The size varies according to the subspecies, between 90 and 550 kilograms. In the upper weight range we find the Kodiak bear and in the lower one the European bear.
They occupy a wide variety of habitats, from dry Asian steppes to arctic scrub and temperate rainforests. Living in a greater diversity of habitats than any other bear species, they also exploit a wide variety of foods. In the United States, they are more carnivorous as we approach the North Pole, where more ungulates live and salmon can be found. In Europe and Asia, they have a more omnivorous diet.
Reproduction takes place between April and July, but the fertilized egg does not implant itself in the uterus until autumn. The pups, one to three, are born in January or February, when the mother is hibernating. They will stay with her for two or four years.
5. Asiatic black bear
The population of the Asian black bear (Ursus thibetanus) is in recession. This animal inhabits southern Iran, the more mountainous regions of northern Pakistan and Afghanistan, the southern side of the Himalayas through India, Nepal and Bhutan, and continental Southeast Asia, extending southward into Myanmar and Thailand.
They are black with a small white crescent-shaped patch on the chest. The skin around the neck is thicker than the rest of the body and the hair in this area is longer, giving the sensation of having a mane. It is of medium size, between 65 and 150 kilograms.
They live in many different types of forests, both broad-leaved and coniferous, near sea level or at more than 4,000 metres above sea level.
They have a very varied and seasonal diet. In spring their diet is based on stems, leaves and green shoots. In summer they eat a wide variety of insects such as ants that may be searching for 7 or 8 hours and bees, also fruits. In autumn, their preference changes to acorns, nuts and chestnuts. They also feed on ungulates and cattle.
They reproduce in June and July and give birth between November and March. Depending on the conditions of the environment, the fertilized egg will implant sooner or later. They have about two pups that will stay with the mother for two years.
6. North American Black Bear
The American black bear (Ursus americanus) has become extinct in most of the United States and Mexico, currently inhabiting Canada and Alaska, where the population is increasing. They live primarily in temperate and boreal forests, but also extend to subtropical areas of Florida and Mexico, as well as to the subarctic. They can live near sea level or at more than 3,500 meters of altitude.
Despite its name, the American black bear may have a different coat colour, slightly more brown and even white patches. They can weigh between 40 kg (females) and 250 kg (males). They have a much more robust constitution than other bear species and a larger head.
It is a generalist and opportunistic omnivore, it will eat anything it finds. Depending on the season they will eat one thing or another, herbs, leaves, stems, seeds, fruit, garbage, cattle, wild mammals or bird eggs. In autumn, bears have historically fed on American chestnuts (Castanea dentata) but after a plague in the 20th century that diminished the tree population, bears began to eat oak acorns and nuts.
The breeding season begins in late spring, but the cubs will not be born until the mother is hibernating, as do other bear species.
7. Panda Bear
In the past, populations of panda bears (Ailuropoda melanoleuca) spread throughout China, but today they have been relegated to the western end of Sichuan, Shaanxi and Gansu provinces. Thanks to the efforts invested in its conservation, this species seems to be growing again, so the giant panda is not in danger of extinction.
The panda is the most different kind of bear. It is believed to have been isolated for more than 3 million years, so divergence in appearance is normal. This bear has a very rounded and white head, with black ears and eye contours, the rest of the body is also black, except for the back and belly.
As for the panda bear’s habitat, we should know that they live in temperate forests in the mountains of China, at an altitude of between 1,200 and 3,300 meters. These forests are rich in bamboo, which is their main and almost only food. Panda bears change places periodically, following the growth rate of bamboo.
They reproduce from March to May, the pregnancy lasts between 95 and 160 days and the cubs (one or two) spend a year and a half or two with their mother until they become independent.
8. Polar Bear
The polar bear (Ursus maritimus) evolved from the brown bear 35 million years ago. This animal lives in the Arctic regions and its body is totally adapted to the cold climate.
Its fur, which is translucent because it is hollow, is full of air, which works as an excellent insulator. In addition, it creates a white visual effect, perfect for camouflaging itself in the snow and confusing its prey. Its skin is black, an important feature, as this color facilitates heat absorption.
As for the polar bear’s diet, we must know that we are dealing with one of the most carnivorous bears. Its diet is based on several species of seal such as the ringed seal (Phoca hispida) or the bearded seal (Erignathus barbatus).
Polar bears are the animals that reproduce the least. They have their first children at an age between 5 and 8 years. They usually give birth to two cubs that will spend about two years with the mother.