Types of Bears (11 Pictures, Guide, Facts)

Bears are widespread across various continents, but they only have eight existing species.


Brown Bears

The brown bear, also known as Ursus arctos in scientific taxonomy is a larger bear species found within Eurasia and North America. In North America, these brown bears are commonly known as grizzly bears, while their subspecies that populates the Kodiak Islands of Alaska is known as the Kodiak bear.

Brown bears are one of the biggest living terrestrial animals of the order Carnivora, matched in size only by their closest relative, the polar bears.


What do brown bears look like?

Brown bears are the most diverse animals in size of modern bears. They have various subtypes, and their typical size usually depends upon which population they belong to. This is also somewhat due to sexual dimorphism, as the male brown bears average at least 30% larger in most subtypes.

Individual brown bears also fluctuate in size according to seasons, weighing minimum in spring due to lack of hunting during hibernation, and maximum in late fall, after an interval of hyperphagia to put on extra weight to prepare for hibernation.


Are brown bears actually brown?

The answer is no. Most brown bears are generally not fully brown. They usually have long, chunky fur, with a long mane at the back of their neck which varies slightly across the types. For example, In India, brown bears are sort of reddish with silver-tipped hairs, while in China brown bears are dichromatic, with a yellowish-brown or somewhat whitish collar across the neck, chest and shoulders. Across the world, the North American grizzlies can vary in color from dark brown to cream or yellowish-brown and mostly have darker-colored legs.


Why Grizzly bears are called grizzly?

In North America, the familiar name “grizzly” originates from their typical color, as the hair on their backs are usually being brownish at the base and whitish at their tips, giving them their unique “grizzled” color like in these photos:


Distribution and habitat of brown bears

Once upon a time, Brown bears were native to Europe, a large portion of Asia, Africa, and North America, but are now exterminated in some regions, and their populations have considerably diminished in other areas.

There are roughly 200,000 brown bears still surviving in the world. The largest populations of brown bears are in Russia with 120,000, the United States with 32,500, and Canada with around 25,000.


Behavior and life history

The brown bears are often known as nocturnal. However, it is interesting to note that they frequently seem to peak in activity in the morning and early evening hours. Some studies have revealed that activity can occur at nearly any time of night or day. However, bears who live in areas with more widespread human contact are more likely to be fully nocturnal.

Like most bears, their weight fluctuates greatly. In summer over autumn, a brown bear can double its weight, on which it relies to make it through winter, when it becomes very lethargic.

Brown bears are not fully hibernating animals and can be woken easily, both male and female bears like to den in a safe spot during the winter months. Hibernation den can be any place that provides cover and that can contain their bodies, like a cave, a crevice, cavernous tree roots, or hollow logs.


Brown bears are intelligent beings

Brown bears possess advanced cognitive abilities, and they have the largest brains of any extant carnivoran comparative to their body size. They have also demonstrated to get involved in tool use like using a barnacle-covered rocks to scratch their neck.


How do brown bears live?

This species of bears is mostly solitary in living style. However, brown bears can gather in larger numbers at food sources and can form social hierarchies founded on age and size.

Bears assert dominance by making a frontal alignment, displaying canines, muzzle twisting and neck stretching to which a minor responds with a lateral orientation, by dropping the head, turning away and and by sitting or lying down. During fight, bears use their paws to attack their rivals in the chest or shoulders and bite the head or neck.

Aggression in brown bears varies, young males are the least aggressive and live in non-antagonistic relations with each other. Adult male bears are mostly aggressive, female bears with cubs rival adult males in showing aggression more than single females.



American black bear

American black bear or Ursus americanus are a medium-sized bear indigenous to Northern America. They are the smallest and most widely distributed bear species in North America. These bears are omnivores, and their diets vary considerably depending on season and locality. They usually live in heavily forested areas, but leave forests while searching food, and hence they are sometimes found near human communities to instantly get food.


Distribution and population of American black bears

American black bears used to occupy the majority of North America’s forested areas in the past but are now found only in sparsely settled, forested areas. Currently they inhabit most of their original Canadian range. The total Canadian black bear population is estimated somewhere between 396,000 and 476,000.


What do American Black Bears look like?

American black bears are not always black, some of them are grey or dark brown too. Their skulls are broad, with thin muzzles and big jaw hinges. Female American Black bear have slenderer and more pointy faces than males.

Their claws are usually short and rounded, black or grayish brown in color being thick at their base and tapered to a point. Both their hind and front leg claws are almost the same length, though the foreclaws are more sharply curved.

The soles of the feet are leathery and deeply wrinkled leathery, black or brownish in color and are naked. Their hind legs are comparatively longer than those of Asian black bears. Their tail is generally 4.8 inches long. Their ears are small, rounded and are situated quite at the back of their heads.


American Black Bears are intelligent

American black bears are highly adept, to the extent of opening screw-top jars and opening door latches. They have great eyesight and can even understand visual color discrimination tasks faster than chimpanzees and almost as fast as domestic dogs. They can also quickly learn to distinguish basic shapes like small triangles, circles, and squares.


How big can an American Black Bear be?

American black bear weight varies according to their age, sex, health and season. Seasonal variation in their weight is very prominent: in autumn, their weight becomes 30% higher than in spring. Adult male American Black bears on average weigh between 57–250 kg, while females weigh 33% less at 41–170 kg.


Behavior and characteristics

American black bears have excellent eyesight and hearing which is even sharper than that of humans. Their strongest sense is however their sense of smell, which is almost seven times more responsive than a domestic dog’s.

American black bears are brilliant and powerful swimmers. They swim both for pleasure and to feed on fish. They also regularly climb trees to eat, evade enemies and hibernate. Their arboreal abilities, however, tend to decline with age like that of Asian Black bears.

They can stay active in both day and night, although they mainly feed at night. American black bears living near human habitats tend to be nocturnal.

American black bears generally tend to be more territorial and solitary in nature. However, they may congregate and form dominance hierarchies at abundant food resources. They usually mark their territories by rubbing their bodies to trees and scratching at the bark.


Communication in American Black Bears

American black bears can communicate through different vocal and non-vocal sounds. The most common sounds that are usually made in cordial situations are tongue-clicking and grunting. They produce loud rumbling humming sounds when they are at ease.

In fear or nervousness, they moan, huff, or sometimes blow air. Jaw-clicking and lip-popping sounds are generally made to indicate threat. They produce deep-throated pulsing calls in aggressive situations. Their cubs can bawl, squeal, or scream in distress and make a humming sound when relaxed or nursing.



Polar bears

The polar bear also known as Ursus maritimus is a hyper-carnivorous bear that inhabits the Arctic Circle, surrounding the Arctic Ocean, its adjacent seas and land masses. Polar bear is the largest surviving bear species, as well as the biggest extant land carnivore. An adult male weighs around 350–700 kg , while a sow (adult female) is almost half the size of its male counterpart.

Polar bears are closely related to brown bears, but they have evolved greatly to adapt for cold temperatures. They have ecologically evolved to move easily across snow, ice and open water, and to hunting seals.

Polar bears are mostly born on land, but they spend most of their time on the sea ice. This is why their scientific name means “maritime bear”. Due to their dependence on the sea ice, polar bears are categorized as marine mammals.

Population and distribution

Polar bears are found in the Arctic Circle and adjacent land masses around it as far south as Newfoundland. It is difficult to track exact numbers of existing polar bears because of their remote locations and survival on both land and water.

However, biologists have calculated a working estimate of about 20–25,000 or 22–31,000 polar bears worldwide. As polar bears live in such a remote habitat, so their contact with humans is limited. Therefore, polar bears retain more of their original range than any other living carnivore.


How big is a polar bear?

An adult male polar bear weighs 350–700 kgs and measures 7 ft 10 in–9 ft 10 in in length. Adult females are roughly half the size of their males and normally weigh 150–250 kg, measuring 5 ft 11 in–7 ft 10 in. This huge difference of size in males and females shows that the polar bear is one of the most sexually dimorphic mammals, topped only by the pinniped mammals like elephant seals hindlegs.


Body adaptation according to habitat

Like all bears, polar bears have short tails, but their tails are relatively the shortest among all bears. Polar bears have elongated bodies and longer skulls and noses. Their legs are sturdy, but the ears and tails are small.

However, their feet are relatively large to distribute load effectively to walk on snow or thin ice and to provide thrust when swimming. The pads of their paws are covered with soft, small papillae (dermal bumps) to provide grip on the ice.

Their beautiful white coat mostly yellows with age. When kept in confinement in warm, humid environments, the fur sometimes turns a pale green due to algae growth inside the guard hairs.


Behavior of a polar bear

Unlike most bears, polar bears are not necessarily territorial. They are often stereotyped as being avidly aggressive, but they are generally cautious in confrontations, and mostly choose to escape rather than fight.


Do polar bears attack people?

Satisfied polar bears seldom attack humans unless provoked. However, as they have limited human interaction, so hungry polar bears can be extremely unpredictable and fearless towards humans and can kill and sometimes eat humans.


Interesting facts about Polar bears

Generally, adult polar bears live solitary lives. However, they have often been found playing together for hours at times and even sleeping in an embrace which shows that they have well-developed friendships.

Cubs are particularly playful as well. Younger males frequently play-fight. However, during the breeding season, actual fighting becomes intense and often results in scars or broken teeth. Polar bears are generally quiet, but they communicate with several sounds and vocalizations.

Another interesting fact about polar bears is their chemical communication as bears leave behind their scent in their trails which allow individuals to track one another in the immense Arctic wilderness.

Polar bears are silent hunters. Their long muzzles and necks help them search in deep holes for seals, while their powerful hindquarters enable them to drag prey.

Unlike most bears, polar bears do not hibernate except their pregnant females. Polar bears remain active year-round, even though they have a stunted hibernation induction trigger in blood. When the sea is not frozen, Polar bears can fast up to several months during late summer and early fall because they cannot hunt for seals. Some can live off fat deposits for months at a time because they do not hibernate at any time of the year.



Asian black bear

The Asian black bear, which is scientifically known as Ursus thibetanus is a medium-sized bear indigenous to Asia. It is mostly adapted to an arboreal lifestyle.


How do Asian black bears look like?

Asian black bears almost look like brown bears in general build, but they are relatively lightly built and have more slender limbs. Their lips and noses are bigger and more flexible than those of brown bears.

On contrary to polar bears, Asian black bears have strong upper bodies for climbing trees, and comparatively weaker hind legs which are shorter than brown bears and American black bears. They are very much bipedal and can walk upright easily for over a quarter of a mile. Their claws are mostly used for climbing and digging so they are slightly longer on the fore feet than the back feet and are longer and more hooked than those of the American black bear.


Where are Asian Black bears found?

Their habitat ranges from Iran through Afghanistan and Pakistan, beyond the foothills of the Himalayas in India and Myanmar to Southeast Asia, except Malaysia. Some population clusters exist in China and the south eastern Russia and in North Korea. A small trace of population survives in South Korea and the Japanese islands, as well as in Taiwan.


Behavior and ecology of Asian brown bears

Asian black bears are usually diurnal but become nocturnal near human dwellings. They do not like living alone so they live in family groups of two adults and two litters of cubs. They walk in a procession of largest leading to smallest.

They are excellent climbers of rocks and trees, as they climb to feed, rest, sun, evade enemies and to hibernate. They are the largest arboreal mammals and half of their life is spent in trees. Asian black bears break branches and twigs in trees to make nest-like structures on their tops.


Do Asian black bears hibernate?

Asian black bears generally do not hibernate over most of their habitat range. They sometimes hibernate in colder, northern stretches, though some bears migrate towards lower elevations. However, almost all pregnant sows hibernate.

Their dens are made up of either hollow trees, caves or holes in the ground, or steep and sunny mountainous slopes. Pregnant females hibernate for the longest times and emerge the latest, male bears hibernate for shorter periods than their females.


How do Asian Black bears sound?

Asian black bears are quite vocal with a wide range of sounds, like grunts, roars, whines, slurping sounds and a fierce ” appalling row” when they are wounded, alarmed or angry. They produce loud hisses while issuing warnings or threats, and they loudly scream when they fight. They emit clicking sounds during courting and produce “tut tut” sounds while reaching other bears by clicking their tongues.



Sun bear

The sun bear, also known as Helarctos malayanus, lives in the tropical forests of Southeast Asia. It is the smallest variety of bear,only 70 centimetres and weighs 25–65 kilograms. It is thicky built, has large paws, strong and curved claws, small, rounded ears, and a little snout.


Characteristics of sun bears

Sun bears are the most arboreal of all bears, they are excellent climbers and sleep or sunbathe in trees. They are mostly active during the daytime, although they can be nocturnal near human societies.

They like to remain solitary but sometimes they live in pairs like a mother and cub. They do not need to hibernate, as food resources are available to them all year round. Sun bears are omnivores have a broad range of diet which includes beetles, ants, honey, termites, bees, seeds, and various types of fruits.


Where do Sun Bears live?

Their range starts from Northeastern India and spreads south to southeast through Bangladesh, Cambodia, Myanmar, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam to Brunei, Indonesia, and Malaysia.


Physical Characteristics

Sun bears are the smallest bear species. They have a stocky build, big paws, highly curved claws, small round ears, and a small snout. Their head-and-body length ranges between 100 and 140 centimeters. Adult sun bears weigh approximately 25–65 kilograms. Their snout is mostly grey, silver or orange in color.

Their fur is mostly jet-black, but can range from grey to red. They have silky and fine hair which are also the shortest of all bear species, to suit their hot tropical habitat. They have a characteristic chest patch, characteristically U-shaped but sometimes circular, and varies in color from orange or yellow to buff or cream.

Their underfur is exceptionally thick, while the guard hairs are lighter. The trims of their paws are tan or brown, and their soles are fur-less. Their claws are sickle-shaped, and their front claws are long and heavy. Their tail is almost 3–7 cm long.

Whiles feeding, the sun bears can extend their extremely long tongue by 20–25 cm to get insects and honey. Their teeth are incredibly large, and the bite force is high relative to its body size. Their head is generally large, broad, and heavy, but the ears are smaller.

Sun Bears are clever animals

Sun bears are well-known for their intelligence. Once a captive bear was recorded to observe sugar being stored in a cupboard and then locked by a key. Later, the bear used its claws to open the lock. They can also skillfully mimic facial expressions, almost as precisely as some primates like gorillas and human.


General facts about Sun Bears

Sun bears are usually shy and solitary animals. They do not generally attack humans unless they are provoked. They were often tamed and kept as pets due to their timid nature. However, they can act fierce in tough situations.

They are habitually solitary animal but can sometimes be seen in pairs. They stand on their hindfeet to get a broader view or to smell far-off objects

Their sound patterns include grunts and snuffles while hunting for insects, and roars during the breeding season.



Sloth bear

The sloth bear known scientifically as Melursus ursinus is a myrmecophagous bear type indigenous to the Indian subcontinent. It generally feeds on fruits, ants, and termites and is listed as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List because of habitat loss and degradation.

It is also called “labiated bear” because it has a long lower lip and palate which is used for sucking up insects. It has extensive, bushy fur, a mane, and long, sickle-shaped claws. It is longer-limbed than brown and Asian black bears. It also shares characteristics of insectivorous mammals.

Sloth bears mate during spring and early summer and produce offspring near the start of winter. They generally do not attack humans except in situations of encroachment. Unfortunately, humans have severely destroyed their habitats and encroached their territories in the past.


Physical characteristics

Adult sloth bears are a medium-sized species though weight can range variously from 55 to 105 kg in females and from 80 to 145 kg in males. They are approximately 60–92 cm high at the shoulder and have a body length of 1.4–1.9 m. The females are smaller than males and have more fur between their shoulders.

Sloth bears have thick and long muzzles, with relatively small jaws and rounded snouts and wide nostrils. They have longer lower lips stretched over the outer corner of their noses, and they lack upper incisors, therefore letting them to suck up large numbers of insects.

Their premolars and molars are smaller than other bears, as they do not have to chew as much vegetation. Their paws are excessively large, and they have highly strong, sickle-shaped, rounded claws measuring up to 10 cm (4 in) in length.

Their unique toe pads are connected by a web. They also have the longest tails among all bears, which can grow up to 15–18 cm. Their hind legs are not too strong, although they are knee jointed. Unlike other bears, their ears are large and floppy. They are also the only bears with long hair on ears.

Their outer coat is long, bushy, and disheveled, and is heavier behind their neck and shoulders, forming a long mane. Their belly and under legs are not hairy and can be almost bare. They are usually almost the same size of an Asian black bear but are distinguished for their shaggier coat, whitish claws, and their characteristically rangier build.


Distribution and habitat

Their range includes India, Terai of Nepal, and the temperate climatic zones of Bhutan and Sri Lanka. It lives in a varied range of habitats like moist and dry tropical forests, savannahs, scrubs and grasslands.


Behavior and ecology

Sloth bears are not necessarily solitary and adult sloth bears can travel in pairs. Male bears are generally very gentle with cubs. They are not aggressive by nature, but they sometimes fight for food. They walk slowly, in a shambling motion, and stomping their feet noisily. Although as the name indicates, they appear slow and clumsy, they are excellent climbers and can gallop faster than running humans.

They climb trees to feed and to rest but not to escape enemies, as unlike most bear types they choose to stand their ground. Sloth bear females carry their cubs up on the trees. They are also decent swimmers, and mainly enter water to play.

Sloth bears scrape trees with their front paws and rub against them with their sides to mark their territories. Sloth bears are vocal and produce screams, howls, squeals, barks, and trumpet-like calls are made in aggressive encounters and huffing sound is made as a warning signal.



Spectacled bear

The spectacled bear also known as the Andean bear, Andean short-faced bear, or mountain bear (Tremarctos ornatus), is the last remaining short-faced bear species. Spectacled bears are the only extant species of bear native to South America, and the only surviving members of the subfamily Tremarctinae.

South America has only one Native bear species that is the Spectacled bear and it is also the largest land carnivore on that continent, although only 5% of its diet is composed of meat. This species is categorized as Vulnerable by the IUCN due to habitat loss.


Physical Description of Spectacled Bear

Spectacled bears are a mid-sized species of bear, their fur is blackish in color, though they may vary from jet black to dark brown and a reddish hue. This species characteristically has distinguishing beige or ginger-colored patterns across its face and upper chest, however not all spectacled bears have “spectacle” markings.

Males are one third larger in size than females and sometimes twice their weight. Males can weigh up to 100 to 200 kg, and females can weigh up to 35 to 82 kg. Their head-and-body length can range from 120 to 200 cm, though adult males do not measure less than 150 cm.

As compared to other extant bears, they have a relatively rounded face with a shorter and broader snout. The spectacled bears have extremely sensitive sense of smell. They can perceive a tree is loaded with ripe fruit from the ground. However, their hearing is moderate, and their vision is short.


Distribution and habitat

Spectacled bears are mostly limited to certain areas of northern and western South America except certain spots in Panama. They can exist in western Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, western Bolivia, and northwestern Argentina.

The species exists almost entirely in the Andes Mountains. They are generally adaptable and found in a wide variation of habitats and altitudes throughout their range, including forests, dry forests, high-altitude grasslands, and scrub deserts.

At the present time, their range is influenced by the human population due to habitat destruction and degradation, hunting and fragmentation of populations.

Behavior and diet

Spectacled bears are one of the four existing bear species that are customarily arboreal, along with the American black bear and Asian black bear, and the sun bear. In Andean cloud forests, spectacled bears are active both during the day and night, but in Peruvian desert they hide under vegetative cover during the day.

Their sustained survival with humans has depended mostly upon their ability to climb the tall trees of the Andes. They typically withdraw from humans, mostly by climbing trees. In the trees, they often build a platform like nest to help in concealment, and to rest and store food on.

Although spectacled bears tend to isolate themselves and do not live in groups to avoid competition, they are not very territorial. They have been noted to feed in small groups at abundant food sources.

When they encounter by humans or other spectacled bears, they react in a passive but cautious manner, unless the trespasser is seen as a threat or the cubs are endangered. Female mother bears are generally protective of their cubs and can attack poachers.

Spectacled bears are more herbivorous in nature than most other species; generally, about 5 to 7% of their diets is meat. Their common foods include cactus, bamboo hearts, orchid bulbs, fallen fruit on the forest floor, bromeliads, nuts, and unopened palm leaves. They also peel tree bark to eat the more nutritious second layer. Most of this vegetation is very hard to open or digest for most other animals, so the spectacled bear is one of the very few species in this range to exploit these food sources.

They have the largest zygomatic mandibular muscles comparative to its body size and the smallest muzzle of any living bear to easily eat and digest foliage. The muscles and tooth features are intended to support the strains of grinding and crushing vegetation.

Apart from the giant panda, the spectacled bear is possibly the most herbivorous living bear species. They also eat agricultural products, such as sugarcane, honey, and maize, and can easily travel above through the tree line for berries and more ground-based bromeliads. They can feed close to each other at abundant food resources.

Animal prey is generally quite limited, but they can prey on adult deer, llama, horses, and domestic cattle. Their animal prey also includes rabbits, mice, rodents, birds at the arthropods, and carrion. They are sometimes suspected of killing livestock, especially cattle, and raiding corn fields.

Supposedly, some bears become habitual of eating cattle, but the bears are actually more likely to eat cattle as meat and some farmers may inadvertently assume the spectacled bears killed them.



Giant panda

The giant panda (Ailuropoda melanoleuca) also generally known as the panda bear or simply the panda, is a bear species native to South Central China. It is mainly recognized by its bold black-and-white coat and plump body. The common name “giant panda” is mostly used to differentiate it from the red panda, which is a neighboring musteloid.

Although the giant panda belongs to the order Carnivora, it is mainly a folivore, with bamboo tree shoots and leaves making u more than 99% of its diet. Giant pandas in the wild habitats occasionally eat other grasses, wild tubers, and sometimes even meat in the form of small birds, rodents, or carrion. In zoos, they generally receive honey, shrub leaves, eggs, fish, yams, oranges, or bananas and specially curated food.


Where do pandas live?

The giant pandas live in the mountain ranges of central China, mostly in Sichuan, but also in neighboring Shaanxi and Gansu. The giant panda has been driven out of its habitat lowland areas where it once lived as a result of excessive farming, deforestation, and development and it is now a conservation-reliant vulnerable species.


Concerns around extinction and vulnerability

In 2007, a report showed 239 pandas living under captivity in China and other 27 outside the country. Later as of December 2014, 49 giant pandas were living in captivity outside China, spread in 18 zoos of 13 different countries. Wild population approximations vary greatly; one strong estimate shows that there may be about 1,590 individuals living in the wild, while another study from 2006 via DNA analysis assessed that this number could be as high as 2,000 to 3,000.

Some survey reports also indicate that the number of giant pandas in the wild is on the rise now. In March 2015, conservation news website Mongabay detailed that the wild giant panda population had amplified by 268, or 16.8%, to 1,864. Later In 2016, the IUCN reclassified the giant pandas from “endangered” to “vulnerable”, confirming decade-long efforts to save the panda. In latest news of July 2021, Chinese experts also reclassified the species as vulnerable rather than endangered.


Panda in culture

In Chinese culture, pandas hold a highly reputable but newly gained stature. While the dragon ha almost always served as Chinese national symbol, internationally the giant panda has lately often filled this position. nowadays, it is becoming widely common within China in international contexts, for example, since 1982 it is appearing on gold panda bullion coins and prominently as one of the five Fuwa mascots of the Beijing Olympics.


Physical features and description

The giant panda has lush black-and-white fur. The adult pandas measure around 1.2 to 1.9 metres long, including a tail of about 10–15 cm, and 60 to 90 cm tall at the shoulder. Adult males can weigh up to 160 kg while the females are generally 10–20% smaller than males and can weigh as little as 70 kg, but on the contrary they can also weigh up to 125 kg. The average weight for adult pandas is 100 to 115 kg.


How do giant pandas look like?

The giant panda has a very typical bear like body shape. It has a coating of black fur on its ears, eye patches, on the muzzle, legs, arms, and its shoulders. The rest of the giant panda’s coat is fluffy white. The scientists do not know the specific reasons for their black patches yet, but they speculate that they might be because of their snowy habitat to provide them ample camouflage.

The giant panda’s bushy, woolen coat keeps it warm in the snowy forests of its natural habitat. The giant panda’s skull shape is characteristic of durophagous carnivorans. It has also evolved from previous ancestors to display larger molars with augmented complexity and extended temporal fossa.

A 110.45 kg giant panda has a massive 3D canine teeth bite force of 2603.47 newtons and exemplary bite force quotient of 292.

The giant panda’s tail is long, measuring 10 to 15 cm 4 to 6 in), and it is the second-longest of tails in the bear family, only behind the sloth bear.


Bones of the left forelimb

The giant panda’s paw has a kind of a “thumb” and five other fingers; the “thumb” structure – is essentially a modified sesamoid bone which helps the animal to effectively hold bamboo shoots while eating.


Age of the Giant Panda

The giant panda characteristically lives up to 20 years in the wild and more with care up to 30 years in captivity. A female giant panda named Jia Jia was the oldest giant panda ever to live in captivity, it was born in 1978 and died at the age of 38.


What do giant pandas eat?

Despite their taxonomic classification as carnivoran animals, the giant pandas’ diet is chiefly herbivorous, consisting almost entirely of bamboo. However, the giant panda still possesses the digestive system of a carnivore and also carnivore-specific genes, and thus gets only little energy and little protein from consumption of bamboo.

It also has the ability to digest cellulose which is ascribed to the microbes in its gut. Pandas are naturally born with sterile intestines and therefore they require bacteria gained from their mother’s feces to digest vegetation. The giant panda is a highly particular animal with unique sort of adaptations and has lived in bamboo forests for past millions of years.


How much do they eat?

The average member of the giant panda family eats as much as 9 to 14 kg (20 to 30 lb) of bamboo shoots in a day to recompense for the limited energy content of its diet. Digestion of such a large quantity of bamboo material is possible and essential because of the rapid passage of large amounts of indigestible plant through the short, straight digestive tract.

It is also to be noted, however, that such fast passage of digesta limits the extent of microbial digestion in the gastrointestinal tract, thus limiting alternative forms of digestion. Keeping in mind this huge diet, the giant panda excretes up to 40 times a day.

This limited energy input levied on it by the diet has affected the panda’s general behavior. The giant panda therefore tends to limit its social interactions, stays lazy and avoids steeply sloping terrain to limit its energy disbursements


Adaptations for bamboo diet

Two of the giant panda’s most distinguishing features, comprising of its large size and round face, are basically adaptations to its bamboo diet. Similarly, the giant panda’s big round face is the result of its characteristic powerful jaw muscles, which attach closely from the top of the head to the jaw. Large molars are present to crush and grind fibrous plant material.

Pandas love bamboo and ca eat any of 25 bamboo species in the wild, such as Fargesia dracocephal and Fargesia rufa. However, only a few bamboo species are prevalent at the high altitudes that pandas now occupy. It is also important to notice that bamboo leaves contain the maximu protein levels and stems have less.

The giant panda must have at least two different species accessible in its range to avoid malnourishment because of the synchronous flowering, death, and revival of all bamboo within a species.

While the giant panda is primarily herbivorous, it still keeps decidedly ursine teeth and can easily eat meat, fish, and eggs whenever they are available. In captivity, the zoos generally maintain the giant panda’s bamboo diet, however, some provide specially formulated biscuits or various other dietary supplements.


Transfer of pandas between habitats

Pandas can travel between diverse habitats if they need to, so that they can get the nutrients they need and to essentially balance their diet for reproduction. For a period of six years, scientists studied six different pandas tagged with GPS collars at the Foping Reserve in the Qinling Mountains.

They recorded their foraging and breeding habits and examined samples of their food and feces. The pandas moved from the valleys into the Qinling Mountains and only returned to the valleys in autumn. During summer months, the bamboo shoots that are rich in protein are only available at higher altitudes which caused low calcium rates in the pandas. During mating season, the pandas returned back to lower altitudes to eat bamboo leaves rich in calcium.


Although the adult giant pandas have only a few natural predators other than humans, the younger cubs are easily vulnerable to attacks by snow leopards, eagles, feral dogs, yellow-throated martens, and the Asian black bear.



The giant panda is an earthly animal and chiefly spends its life roaming and feeding in the bamboo forests of the Qinling Mountains in China and in the hilly province of Sichuan. The giant pandas are usually solitary. Each of their adult members has a well-defined territory and the female is not very tolerant of other females in her range. Their social encounters happen primarily during the brief breeding season in which all pandas in closeness to one another will gather. After the ritual of mating, the male leaves the female alone to raise the cub.

Pandas were supposed to fall into the crepuscular category, meaning those who are active twice a day, at dawn and dusk time; however, the scientist Jindong Zhang found out that pandas actually belong to a category all of their own, with high activity peaks in the morning, afternoon and midnight.

Due to their size, they can stay active at any time of the day. Their activity is the highest in June and gradually decreases in late summer to autumn with noticeable increase from November through the following March. Their activity is also mainly related to the amount of sunlight they get during colder days.

Pandas communicate both ways through vocalization and scent marking like clawing trees or spraying urine. They are generally able to climb and take shelter in big hollow trees or rock crevices, but they do not establish permanent dens.

Due to this reason, pandas do not hibernate like other bears, in a similar fashion to other subtropical mammals, and instead they move to heights with warmer temperatures. Pandas rely chiefly on their spatial memory rather than visual memory.

Although the giant panda looks innocent and is often assumed to be docile, it has been known to sometimes attack humans, apparently out of irritation rather than aggression. Pandas have also been known to cover themselves often in horse dung to protect themselves against cold temperatures.




Bears are carnivoran mammals of the family Ursidae. They are widely classified as caniforms, or doglike carnivores. Bears do not have multiple species, as only eight species of bears are in existence, however they are widespread, living in a wide-ranging array of habitats all over the Northern Hemisphere and partly in the Southern Hemisphere. Bears are found in several continents including North America, South America, Asia, and Europe.

General characteristics of modern-day bears comprise of large, bulky bodies with sturdy legs, long snouts, little rounded ears, shaggy hair, plantigrade paws with five nonretractile claws, and short, fluffy tails.

Bears have wide-ranging diets too which is quite surprising as the polar bear is mostly carnivorous and feeds on animals and fish, the huge panda feeds almost exclusively on bamboo plants, and the other six species are omnivorous with diverse diets.

Bears generally like to live alone rather than in herds. There are a few exceptions like courting bears and mothers with their young cubs, bears are more often than not solitary animals. They are both diurnal and nocturnal and they possess an excellent sense of smell.

Although they look big with their heavy build and clumsy gait, they are skilled runners, excellent climbers, and great swimmers. Bears use different shelters, like caves and logs, as their dens; most varieties inhabit their dens during the winter for a lengthy period of hibernation, ranging up to 100 days.

Unfortunately, bears have been hunted in excess since ancient times for their meat and fur; they have also been used for bear-baiting and other forms of cruel entertainment, like being made to dance. In popular culture, due to their powerful physical existence, they play a major role in the arts, mythology, and other cultural aspects of numerous human societies.

In recent times, bears have come under great pressure because of encroachment on their habitats and prohibited trade in bear parts, including the notorious Asian bile bear market. The IUCN grades six bear species as highly vulnerable or endangered, and even low risk species, like the common brown bear, are at a huge risk of ablation in some countries. Although the poaching and international trade of these highly threatened species is prohibited, but sadly it is still prevalent.



Physical characteristics of bears

we all know how bears generally look like, but you’d be surprised to know that they are very different from specie to specie. First let us look at some general physical characteristics of modern-day bears before we go into detail about the different species.


How big can a bear be?

We all know that bars are big, but how big? You would be amazed to know that some of the most massive existing terrestrial members of the order Carnivora belong in the family of bears.

Polar bears are considered to be the largest extant species, with average adult males weighing between 350–700 kg (770–1,500 lbs.) and measuring between 2.4–3 meters (7 ft 10 in–9 ft 10 in) in length.

The smallest species of bear is the sun bear, which only ranges 25–65 kg (55–145 lbs.) in weight and 100–140 cm (40–55 in) in length. Apart from modern day bears, even bigger bears lived in the pre-historic era. In prehistoric era, North and South American short-faced bears were the biggest species known to have ever lived.

Those bears were estimated to have weighed 1,600 kg (3,500 lbs.) and were 3.4 m (11 ft 2 in) tall. Those gigantic bears do not exist anymore, but even modern-day bears can grow pretty massive.


Bears change weight easily throughout the year

It is also interesting to note that bears have drastic weight changes during the course of the year. Their weight varies throughout the year especially in bears of temperate and arctic climates, as they gather fat reserves in the summer and autumn season and lose weight during the winter.


Appearance and features of a bear

Generally, most bears are bulky and strong animals with short, fluffy tails. Male and female bears are different in size as bears are sexually dimorphic with respect to size, with males typically being larger than the females. Most of the bears in real are not those cute, cuddly things but big, strong animals and not usually quite friendly either.

It is also interesting to note here that larger species of bears tend to show higher levels of sexual dimorphism as compared to smaller species. Bears have shorter limbs with thick bones to support their bulk as they rely more on strength rather than speed. Their shoulder blades and the pelvic bones are likewise massive.

Their limbs are considerably straighter than those of the big cats as they do not need them to bend in the same way due to the variations in their gait. They use their strong forelimbs to catch target, to dig up dens and dig out burrowing animals, to turn over big rocks and tree logs to find prey, and to beat larger creatures.


Why are bears plantigrade?

Plantigrade animals are the ones that carry more weight on their hind feet. Unlike many other land carnivores, bears are plantigrade. It means that they distribute their weight more toward the hind feet, making them look plodding when they walk.

Bears are generally slow walkers and have a quite clumsy gait. However, they are capable of sudden bursts of speed but soon tire to their weight. As a result, they mostly rely on ambush than the chase. Bears can easily stand up on their hind feet and sit straight with extraordinary balance.

Bears have flexible front paws which they use to grasp fruit and leaves. Their non-retractable claws are used for the purposes of digging, climbing, ripping, and catching prey. The claws on their fore feet are larger than those on their back and can become a hindrance while climbing trees.

Black bears are the most arboreous of all bears, and so have the shortest claws. Another interesting fact is that pandas are distinctive in having a bony kind of extension on the wrist of their front feet which basically acts like a thumb, used for grasping bamboo shoots as the animals feed.


Hair and fur of bears

Bears do not have agouti fur and hair like most mammals. Agouti hair means each single hair shaft has bands of color corresponding to two distinct types of melanin pigment. However, bears are a little different as they have a single variety of melanin and the hairs usually have a single color all over their length, apart from the tip which is sometimes in a different shade.

Bears usually have a thick outer coat which consists of long shield hairs, which make a protective bushy covering. They also have short dense hairs which join together to form an insulating layer trapping air close to their skin. The shaggy fur coat helps maintain their body temperature during winter hibernation period and is shed in the spring season, leaving a shorter summer coat.

Polar bears live up in the Arctic have hollow, translucent guard hairs which help them gain heat from the sun and transfer it to the dark-colored skin below the outer layer. They also have a thick layer of fat for extra insulation, and they have a dense pad of fur under the soles of their paws. Although bears generally tend to be uniform in color, some varieties may possibly have markings on their chest or face, like the giant panda which has a prominent black-and-white pelage.


Senses of a bear

Bears typically have very small, rounded ears to curtail heat loss, but neither their hearing nor sight is exceptionally acute. Bears have color vision unlike many other carnivorans. It is perhaps to help them differentiate ripe nuts and fruits.

Bears have a unique anomaly among other carnivorans of not having touch-sensitive whiskers on their muzzles. Having said that, however, they possess an excellent sense of smell, even better than that of the dog, or perhaps any other mammal. Bears use their sense of smell for signaling to each other (to threaten rivals or detect mates) and for locating food. Smell is the fundamental sense used by bears to find most of their food, and they have brilliant memories which helps them to relocate sites where they have previously found food.


How big is the head of a bear?

Bears have massive skulls, which provide anchorage for the mighty masseter and their temporal jaw muscles. Bears have large canine teeth, but they are also mostly used for show, while their molar teeth are flat and crushing.

Bears have somewhat undeveloped carnassial teeth unlike most other members of the Carnivora, and their teeth are designed for a diet that involves a substantial amount of vegetable matter.

Significant deviation occurs in dental formulation even within a certain species. This can also make us wonder if bears are still in the process of evolution from a mostly meat-eating diet to a principally herbivorous one?

Polar bears seem to have secondarily re-evolved carnassial-like cheek teeth, as their diets have shifted back towards carnivory. Sloth bears do not possess lower central incisors and so, they use their protrusible lips for sucking up the termites on which they mainly feed.


Vocal tract of bears

The formation of the larynx of bears seems to be the most primitive of the caniforms. They have air pouches attached to their pharynx which can amplify their voices.


How often does a bear eat?

Like most carnivorans, bears have a fairly modest digestive system. They have a single stomach, short indistinguishable intestines, and no cecum. You would be surprised to know that even the herbivorous giant panda still possesses the digestive system of a carnivore, as well as carnivore-specific genes.

Bears’ ability to digest cellulose is credited to the microbes in their gut. Bears should necessarily spend most of their time eating in order to gain enough nutrition from vegetation. The panda bear, in particular, usually spends 12–15 hours a day feeding.


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