Interesting Facts About Bears For Kids
The sun bear is the smallest bear, the grizzly bear can stand up to 9 feet tall, the polar bear can absorb 97% of fat present in the food. Read on for more such interesting bear facts.
By Dr Shyam Kumar • 21 min read
If I were a bear, and a big bear too,
I shouldn't much care, if it froze or snew;
I shouldn't much mind, if it snowed or friz,
I'd be all fur-lined, with a coat like his!
- Poem by A. A. Milne, creator of Winnie the Pooh
With its rolly-polly demeanour and a reputation for raiding beehives for honey, the bear is a much-loved animal among children. In fact, a furry teddy bear is the first cuddly toy for many.
However, in contrast to their cute and cuddly appearance, bears are very strong, fast and powerful animals. They are known to fatally attack humans who unsuspectingly run into them while hunting, hiking or fishing in the forest.
Our article on bear facts will help your children develop an awareness and interest in these animals. It will also educate them about the importance and benefits of conserving wildlife and forests to preserve bear habitat and reduce animal−man conflict.
Here are some very interesting facts about the various types of bears, their diet, habitat, physical characteristics, and life span.
Facts about the bear family
- Bears are omnivorous mammals belonging to the family Ursidae.
- They are found around the world, with their habitat stretching across the temperate regions of North America and Canada, Andes mountains of South America, the Atlas Mountains of Africa, Europe, the Middle East and northern Asia.
- The polar bear and the Kodiak bear (grizzly bear) are the largest members of the bear family, while the sun bear (Malayan honey bear) is the smallest.
- The male bear is called a boar and the female a sow. The baby bear is called a cub.
Types of bears
There are eight species in the bear family.
- Brown bear (Ursus arctos)
- Polar bear (Ursus maritimus)
- American black bear (Ursus americanus)
- Asiatic black bear (Ursus thibetanus)
- Spectacled bear (Tremarctos ornatus)
- Sun bear (Helarctos malayanus)
- Sloth bear (Melursus ursinus)
- Giant panda (Ailuropoda melanoleuca)
Brown bear facts
- The brown bear is found in the dense forests, mountains and coastlines of North America, Canada, Europe, Russia, China and Central Asia.
- Some of the subspecies of the brown bear are: Himalayan snow bear, Asiatic bear, Red bear, Siberian bear, Hokkaido brown bear, North American brown bear, Kodiak bear, and Alaskan and European bear.
- The Kodiak bear (Ursus arctos middendorffi), a subspecies of the brown bear, is counted among the largest bears in the world and is comparable to the polar bear in size.
- The brown bear, commonly referred to as grizzly bear in North America, can weigh up to 320kg and its length can measure between 5 and 9 feet.
- It can be identified by the characteristic hump of muscle on the back which is absent in all other species of bears. This hump makes it a powerful digger.
- The slightly curved, blunt claws of the brown bear are useful in digging but less useful for climbing.
- Their fur colour can often vary from red to tan to cream or black.
- Brown bears living in coastal areas grow to a very large size due to their protein-rich diet which consists of fish, particularly salmon.
Polar bear facts
- The polar bear is the largest territorial carnivore on the planet.
- Polar bears are found throughout the Arctic region including parts of Alaska, Canada, Russia, Norway and Greenland. They are classified as marine mammals as they spend most of their lives on floating sea ice.
- This massive bear can weigh between 400 and 800kg and can stand as tall as 10 feet on its hind legs. It is 5.3 feet in height when standing on all its four legs.
- The thick coat of the polar bear is made of white fur that is water-repellent and prevents heat loss. This along with a thick layer of fat (4.5 inches) below the black skin helps to insulate the polar bear from the intense cold of the Arctic.
- The polar bear’s white coat is a perfect camouflage in snowy conditions allowing it to sneak up on its prey undetected.
- A talented swimmer, the polar bear can paddle with its front paws while using its hind legs as rudders. The paws are slightly webbed to aid in swimming.
- Walking on ice can be quite slippery. But, the polar bear has soft bumps (papillae) under each foot pad which provide a good grip on the icy surface while walking.
American black bear facts
- The American black bear is the smallest species of bear in North America. It is also known as Kermode or spirit bear.
- The habitat of the American black bear extends from the forests of Canada in the north to Mexico in the south.
- A recessive gene from both parent bears can result in a black bear cub being born pure white in colour, hence the name ‘spirit bear’. It is found only in some islands of British Columbia and is revered by the native Americans.
- The American black bear can weigh anywhere from 50 to 450kg and measure between 5 and 7 feet long from nose to tail.
- The claws of the American black bear are relatively shorter. This enables it to climb trees.
Asiatic black bear facts
- The Asiatic black bear is a medium-sized animal inhabiting thick tropical forests and mountainous regions bordering the Himalayas in India. They are also found in Japan, China, Korea and parts of Southeast Asia.
- They can measure between 4 and 6 feet in length and adult males can weigh between 60 and 200kg. Females are smaller in size and weigh about 50−130kg.
- The muzzle is brown with a light-coloured chin. The coat has a black glossy colour to it with a characteristic crescent-shaped white patch on the chest. Hence the name – moon bear or white-chested bear.
- The ears of the Asiatic black bear are larger than other species of bears. The ears are set wide apart and appear larger in proportion to the rest of its head.
- Asiatic black bears are active during the night. This is the time when they come out of hiding and forage for food.
Sloth bear facts
- The sloth bear is native to the forests of India, Sri Lanka, Bhutan, Bangladesh and Nepal.
- The two subspecies of sloth bear are: Indian Sloth Bear (Melursus ursinus ursinus) and Sri Lankan Sloth Bear (Melursus ursinus inornatus).
- The sloth bear is a small to medium-sized bear weighing 50−180kg and having a body length of 5−6 feet.
- In appearance, the sloth bear looks unkempt with its long, thick fur and a mane between its shoulders behind the neck.
- The sharp curved claws of the sloth bear come in handy to dig open nest mounds which are rock-hard.
- It has a long snout and bare lips with no upper incisors. This facilitates sucking insects out from their nest.
- Apart from insects, the sloth bear feeds on termites, bees, eggs, and various fruits and flowers. Occasionally, it climbs trees and knocks down beehives. Once back on the ground, it feasts on the honey, earning it the nickname ‘honey bear’.
- The sloth bear is the only species of bear that carries its cubs on its back.
Spectacled bear facts
- The spectacled bear is the only surviving short-faced bear species in the whole of South America. Its preferred habitat includes dense vegetation, cloud forests and mountainous jungles of the Andes mountains. For this reason, it is also known as the Andean bear, Andean short-faced bear or mountain bear.
- This mid-sized bear has a furry coat that is black to brown in colour. It has a typical beige and white pattern around its eyes and snout, giving the appearance of a ‘spectacle’.
- The male spectacled bear weighs from 100−150kg and can grow over 5 feet in length. The female is slightly smaller than the male and rarely weighs above 100kg.
- The spectacled bear are omnivores but predominantly feed on bamboo, bromeliads, cactus, berries and bark of various trees. At other times, they consume small rodents, insects and birds.
- The teeth and musculature of the spectacled bear are adapted for crushing vegetation and eating fibrous plants. They rip the bark off trees and eat the nutritious layer beneath it.
Sun bear facts
- The smallest member of the bear family, the sun bear is found in the tropical forests of Southeast Asia, particularly Indonesia, Myanmar, Thailand, Vietnam and Cambodia.
- The sun bear is also known as the Malayan sun bear, bruang, honey bear or dog bear.
- The sun bear gets its name from a prominent crescent-shaped golden patch on its chest. According to a legend, this resembles the rising sun.
- On average, the sun bear weighs between 40 and 90kg and has a body length that varies between 4 and 5 feet.
- It has a sleek black coat of short, bristly fur which prevents its body from overheating in tropical weather. The rough fur also offers protection against thorns, twigs and rain.
- A talented climber, the sun bear climbs up trees with the help of its sharp, sickle-shaped front claws which can grow up to 4 inches long. The paws are hairless and turned inwards, helping the sun bear to climb up and move easily on the tree branches.
- Another unique feature of the sun bear is an exceptionally long tongue measuring between 8 and 10 inches. It helps the bear extract termites, beetles and other insects from within their nests which are otherwise difficult to access. The long tongue is also useful in slurping honey from within beehives.
Panda bear facts
The round and fluffy giant panda is the cutest member of the bear family. It resides in the mountain forests of Sichuan, Shaanxi, and Gansu provinces in southwestern China.
Click here to read: Interesting Facts About Giant Pandas For Kids
Bears: senses and abilities
- Bears have an acute sense of smell which is considered better than any other animal on earth. They use their ability to smell to find food and sniff out rivals or potential mates. Mother bears use it to protect the cubs from potential danger and to keep track of them.
- With an excellent hearing ability, almost twice that of humans, bears can sense danger based on sounds from a distance and judge the direction the sounds are coming from.
- Bears have colour vision and can see remarkably well in the dark. They are also quick to perceive any movement. They usually stand up on their hind legs to see farther than their line of vision.
- Bears can transfer almost their entire weight on to their hind legs. Their paws are armed with non-retractable claws which are long and curved. The bears use their powerful paws to dig their den or pry open insect nests. The curved claws are also useful in climbing up trees and warding off attacks.
- Most bears are good tree climbers except for the heavy ones like the brown bear. Members of all bear species can swim exceptionally well and can run at a speed of 50 km per hour but tire easily.
Bear communication and vocalisation
- Bears can let out loud roars and growls to keep potential rivals off their territory. At times, bears also make noises when they feel scared. Mother bears often produce moaning sounds to communicate with their cubs.
- Bears also leave a scent to mark their territory, and leave claw marks or bite marks on the trees in their area.
- Body posture also plays a key role in bear communication. Dominant males like to intimidate other bears by approaching them aggressively. The weaker ones demonstrate submission by sitting down, ignoring, moving away or climbing up a tree.
Bear’s food habits / diet
- Although all bear species belong to the order Carnivora, they are primarily omnivores. Except for the polar bears which are predominantly carnivorous, all other species of bear eat some variety of vegetation, fruits or insects daily.
- Bears have long, curved claws which they use to dig open insect nests and feed on them. Sloth bears have a specially adapted lower lip and missing upper incisors to suck insects out of their nests.
- Known for their fondness for honey, bears either climb trees to knock off the beehives or rip open tree barks with their claws to get at the honey. The bee stings hardly bother the bears as they are protected by their thick coats.
- Different from the rest, 99% of the panda bear’s diet comprises bamboo. It eats various parts of the bamboo plant, including the leaves, stem and shoots.
- Bears eat meat whenever available and use it to supplement protein in their diet in preparation for hibernation. They usually eat bugs, small rodents, fish, birds and eggs.
- The polar bear consumes an enormous amount of meat to build up its fat reserve. Ringed and bearded seals are its primary source of food. Its digestive system can absorb 84% of the protein and 97% of the fat present in the food.
Do bears really hibernate?
During the cold and long winters, food can be scarce. To survive the harsh winter conditions, bears undergo a process called ‘torpor’, during which they go into a long slumber in their dens (they start building dens in preparation for their long slumber to survive the winter; these dens can be found in rocky crevices or in hollow trees) and shut their body processes off. The heart rate and breathing rate decreases together with a slight decrease in the body temperature. During this time, bears do not eat anything and there is no excretion of body waste.
However, torpor is different from hibernation in that the bear can readily wake up due to external disturbances or threat. True hibernators like chipmunks, bats and ground squirrels usually do not wake up even on being touched or moved around.
Bears: social structure and behaviour
- Bears are usually solitary by nature. The only time they come together is to mate or when the mother is taking care of her cubs.
- Bears exhibit intense territorial behaviour and often scent mark their area to keep other males away. They try to scare away weaker males with loud roars. Confrontations often result in severe injury or death.
- Mama bears are very affectionate, caring and protective of their young ones. There is a lot of interaction between the mother and the cubs. Father bears are usually not involved in raising the cubs.
- Bear cubs are born after a gestation period of seven months. At birth, the cubs weigh less than a pound and are devoid of any fur. The mother keeps the cubs warm by cuddling them against her belly and nurses them.
- At two to three months of age, the cubs crawl out of the den along with their mother. Some healthy cubs can even climb up trees.
- The bear cubs often indulge in play fighting with each other. This helps them to build strength and develop skills to protect themselves later in life.
- Mama bear can be strict and unruly cubs are disciplined with a swat of the paw. She expects the cubs to learn how to hunt and survive on their own.
- The mother takes care of the cubs for at least a year and a half after which she becomes intolerant of them.
Bears can live up to 25 years in the wild and around 45 years in captivity.
The following bear species are classified as endangered or vulnerable in the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.
Endangered bear species:
- Giant panda
- Polar bear
Vulnerable bear species:
- Spectacled bear
- Sun bear
- Sloth bear
- Asiatic black bear
Protecting the bear population
India has four species of bears: Asiatic black bear, sloth bear, sun bear and Himalayan brown bear, all of which are listed under the Schedule I of India’s Wild Life (Protection) Act, 1972.
The common threats to the survival of these bears are hunting, poaching, habitat loss, climate change and other human-related activities.
Bears are also poached for their gall bladders and other body parts. These are used in Chinese traditional medicine to cure certain ailments.
Female nursing bears are often killed, and their cubs are captured to be sold in the pet trade.
In India, there are increasing reports of man-bear conflict with attacks on humans occurring largely in the northwestern and western Himalayan region.
To address threats to the bear population and its shrinking habitat, the Indian government launched the National Bear Conservation and Welfare Action Plan-2012.
Bear sanctuaries in India
There are several bear sanctuaries in India which take care of orphaned bear cubs and nurse them until they are capable of surviving on their own. Here’s a list of bear sanctuaries in India:
- Centre for Bear Rehabilitation and Conservation (CBRC)
- Daroji Sloth Bear Sanctuary
- Agra Bear Rescue Facility
- Jessore Sloth Bear Sanctuary
- Gudekote Sloth Bear Sanctuary
Bears in literature and movies
Bears in books
- Goldilocks and the Three Bears (by Robert Southey, 1837)
- The Jungle Book (by Rudyard Kipling, 1894)
- A Bear Called Paddington (by Michael Bond, 1958)
- Winnie-the-Pooh (by AA Milne, 1926)
- Masha and the Bear (Russian folk tales)
Bears in movies
- Brother Bear (2003)
- Yogi Bear (2010)
- Brave (2012)
- Paddington (2015)
- The Revenant (2015)
Ten fun facts about bears
- A group of bears is called a sloth.
- The brown bear is the national animal of Finland.
- The Eurasian brown bear is the national animal of Russia.
- The California grizzly bear was designated the official state animal of California in 1953.
- Wojtek, a brown bear, reared by Polish soldiers is honoured as a war hero and even has a statue in Edinburgh, UK.
- The Chinese consider the endangered giant panda bear their national treasure.
- The koala is not a bear at all. It is a marsupial or pouched mammal.
- Teddy bears were named after the US President Theodore (‘Teddy’) Roosevelt.
- The constellations Ursa Major and Ursa Minor are also known as The Great Bear and The Little Bear respectively based on Greek mythology.
- Jambavana, the king of bears, is a character from the Hindu epic Ramayana, and even finds mention in another epic, the Mahabharata.
Since time immemorial and throughout the world, bears have captivated human imagination. Stories about bears have been woven into myths and legends.
Being at the top of the food chain, these important animals play an integral role in maintaining the health of the ecosystem in which they thrive. An increasing bear population serves as an indicator that the forest is a thriving habitat for other lesser organisms as well.
We hope our article about bear facts ignites a passion in you and your child to understand the importance of these wonderful creatures.
If you found this article to be interesting and informative, why not share it with your family and friends? Also leave us your valuable comments.
About the author:
Written by Dr Shyam Kumar on 16 December 2019
The author holds a degree in Homoeopathy with an MBA in Hospital Management and has worked across multiple disciplines including healthcare and technology. As a nature lover, he attended the world's first underwater CEO's conference to combat marine pollution.
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