There are many different types of bears in the world, and each one is unique in its way. Bears are typically large, furry animals with short tails and plantigrade paws (meaning they walk on their soles).
The family Ursidae is one of nine families in the suborder Caniformia or “doglike” carnivores. Bears’ closest living relatives are the:
- pinnipeds (e.g. seals, walruses, sea lions)
- canids (e.g. dogs, wolves, foxes)
- musteloids (e.g. raccoons, red panda)
List of Different Types of Bear
Modern bears comprise eight species in three subfamilies:
The giant panda is perhaps the best-known species of bear. It is native to south-central China and lives in bamboo forests high in the mountains. Pandas are herbivores, eating mostly bamboo shoots, leaves, and stems. They are solitary animals, typically living alone except when mating. The giant panda is the only living species in the subfamily Ailuropodinae.
The mist shrouded mountain forests of China, have slowly disappeared over the last century. Many of the bamboo areas which are vital for the Pandas diet and survival are being cut down by people who then build farms there. The Giant Panda is an endangered species. According to the latest report, China has 239 giant pandas in captivity (128 of them in Wolong and 67 in Chengdu) and another 27 pandas living outside the country. It also estimated that around 1,590 pandas are living in the wild.
Pandas have the largest molars out of all the carnivorous mammals. The forepaws of the panda have an extra ‘thumb’ called an ‘opposable pseudo thumb’ which is used in conjunction with its ‘forefingers’ and enables the panda to grasp even small bamboo shoots with precision.
After the sloth bear, the panda has the longest tail in the bear family measuring 4 – 6 inches long. Giant Pandas can usually live to be 20 – 30 years old in captivity.
The spectacled bear is the only species of bear found in South America. It is a small bear, weighing only around 100 kg (220 lb). Spectacled bears are omnivores, eating mostly insects, fruits, and plants. They live in the Andes Mountains of South America. The spectacled bear is the only living species in the subfamily Tremarctinae.
Spectacled Bears are so named because of the large white circles or semicircles of white fur around their eyes giving them the appearance of wearing spectacles. The shaggy fur of the Spectacled Bear is black with beige sometimes red colored markings on its face and upper chest. Because of the warm climate where they live, their fur is reasonable thinner than most other bear species and they do not have to hibernate. All other types of bear have 14 pairs of ribs, however, the Spectacled Bear only has 13.
Spectacled Bears are nocturnal and are mainly active at night especially during the twilight hours. During the day, they shelter in caves, under tree roots or on tree trunks. They are arboreal creatures and expert climbers and spend a great deal of time foraging in trees. Their survival is highly dependant on the ability to climb even the tallest trees of the Andes forests.
Once the bears are up in the trees, they often build feeding platforms from broken branches. The bears use these platforms to reach for more food.
The polar bear is the largest of all bears. It is found in the Arctic region of the world. Polar bears are carnivores, eating mostly seals and other marine mammals. They are also an apex predator. They are very good swimmers and can stay underwater for up to two minutes. Adult males weigh around 350-680 kg (770-1500 lb), while females are about two-thirds the size of males. They are found in the Arctic Ocean and its surrounding seas, as well as in Hudson Bay, Canada. Polar bears are the only bear species that are considered marine mammals since they spend most of their lives on the ice and depend on the ocean for food.
Polar Bears spend much of their time sleeping or roaming the ice in search of Seals. Adults are good swimmers, however, small cubs drown easily. For this reason, young families stay close on solid ice. Polar Bears are typically solitary, males and females come together to mate for just a few days in late winter or early spring. Pregnant females overwinter in dens dug into the snow within a few kilometres of the coastline.
The Polar Bears home range and territories are huge and can measure up to 125,000 square kilometres (48,250 square miles) because their prey is sparsely distributed. To hunt their prey, Polar Bears sit very still by a hole in the ice and wait for Seals to surface to breathe. When a Seal appears, the bear strikes it with a front paw and drags it out onto the ice before biting its head.
Sun Bear – Helarctos malayanus
The sun bear is the smallest of the bears it is 70 centimeters (28 inches) at the shoulder and weighs 25–65 kilograms (55–143 pounds). It is found in Southeast Asia. Sun bears are omnivores, eating mostly insects, fruits, and plants. They live in trees and are excellent climbers. These bears are threatened by heavy deforestation and illegal hunting. They are also known as “Honey Bear” due to their diet of honey. The IUCN has listed this species as vulnerable.
Asiatic Black Bear – Ursus thibetanus
The Asiatic black bear is the most common in Asia. It is found in forests from India to Japan and China. Asiatic black bears are omnivores but their diet is mainly plant-based eating mostly pine nuts, fruits, and green vegetation. They are good climbers with very strong upper bodies. These bears are threatened by deforestation and hunting. The IUCN has listed this species as vulnerable.
American Black Bear – Ursus americanus
The American black bear is the most common in North America. It is a medium-sized bear with Adult males typically weighing between 57–250 kg (126–551 lb), while females weigh around 33% less. It is found in forests from Canada to Mexico. American black bears are omnivores, and their diet includes plants, insects, small animals, and carrion. About 80% of their diet is from vegetation. The IUCN has classified the American black bear as a least-concern species.
There are sixteen subspecies of American black bear including:
- Ursus americanus hamiltoni – Newfoundland black bear are bigger than its mainland relatives, ranging in size from 90 to 270 kg (200 to 600 lb) and averaging 135 kg (298 lb).
- Ursus americanus californiensis – Californian black bear are able to live in varied climates: found in temperate rainforest in the north and chaparral shrubland in the south.
- Ursus americanus americanus – Eastern black bear common to Eastern Canada and the eastern U.S. wherever suitable habitat is found.
- Ursus americanus floridanus – Florida black bear has a light brown nose and shiny black fur. A white blaze on the chest is common in this subspecies. An average male weighs 136 kg (300 lb).
- Ursus americanus kermodei – Kermode or Spirit Bear approximately 10% of the population of this subspecies have white or cream-colored coats due to a recessive gene
- Ursus americanus cinnamomum – Cinnamon bear has brown or reddish-brown fur, reminiscent of cinnamon.
Brown Bear – Ursus arctos
The grizzly bear, also known as the brown bear, is found in North America, Europe, and Asia. They are omnivores, eating a diet of both plants and animals. Adult males weigh from 136-680 kg (300-1500 lb), while females are typically about two-thirds the size of males.
Some well-known subspecies of brown bear include:
- Grizzly bears Ursus arctos horribilis – Grizzly bears live in areas where there is a significant cover, such as forests and thickets. Fortunately, these bears are listed as “least concern” on the IUCN Red List, and are not yet in danger of becoming endangered. There are currently about 60,000 wild grizzly bears located throughout North America. Grizzly bears have a large range and need lots of space to live. They are omnivores and both an apex predator and keystone predator. They also hibernate in the winter months.Grizzly bears are solitary animals, with the exception of mothers and cubs, or if a plentiful food source is found. They use sounds, such as growling, moaning or grunting, movement, and smells to communicate.They can run fast, at around 35 miles an hour for very short sprints, and are also good swimmers. Cubs are good at climbing trees to avoid danger, but they lose this ability as they get older. Grizzlies will often rub their bodies on trees to scratch and to let other bears know they are there.
- Kodiak Bears Ursus arctos middendorffi – Kodiak bears are the largest subspecies of brown bear in the world, and can weigh up to 680 kg (1500 lb). They live on Kodiak Island and other nearby islands in Alaska.
- Eurasian Bear Ursus arctos arctos – The Eurasian brown bear is the most widespread of the eight subspecies of brown bear. It is found in Europe, Russia, Central Asia, the Middle East, and North Africa.
- Syrian Bear Ursus arctos syriacus – The Syrian brown bear is the smallest of the eight subspecies of brown bear, and males weigh on average 110 kg (240 lb). They are found in Turkey, Syria, and Iraq.
Sloth Bear – Melursus ursinus
Sloth bears are omnivores, and their diet includes insects, fruits, honey, small mammals, and eggs. They are found in India, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Bhutan, and Bangladesh. Sloth bears have long hair that covers most of their bodies, which gives them their characteristic shaggy appearance.
On average, bears can live up to 25 years in the wild and 50 in captivity.
Six species, including the polar bear and the giant panda, are included on the IUCN Red List as threatened or vulnerable.