Bears are some of the most interesting animals to study. There’s some association with cute and cuddly; however, these wild animals can be dangerous when defending their young. Bear facts are fascinating to explore. They have become the center of folklore, legend, stories, and sports team mascots due to their size and strength. From their unique survival methods to their highly evolved nature, let’s dive into some facts about bears.
When you think of bears, your mind might picture the common brown bear. This brown bear species is native to the continents of Asia, North America, and Europe. In North America, many people refer to the brown bear species in this region as grizzly bears.
Apart from grizzly bears or other brown bears, polar bears and panda bears are also well-known bear species.
However, did you know that the world has eight species of bears? The planet houses brown bears, Asiatic black bears, American black bears, giant pandas, sloth bears, spectacled bears, polar bears, and sun bears. Within these major species, you’ll also find sub-species of bears.
Sadly, other than Brown Bears and the American Black Bear, the IUCN classifies the remaining bear species as vulnerable to extinction as humans encroach on the habitats. Bears are also vulnerable to poaching and illegal hunting, with demand for their meat, claws, and skins fueling these activities.
Below, you’ll find some quick bear facts about each of these eight bear species.
The brown bear is the most widely distributed bear species in the world. These bears live in Asia, Europe, and North America, spread across mountains and forests. Some prominent subspecies of brown bears are the North American brown bears or grizzly bears, Alaskan brown bears, European brown bears, and Kodiak bears, amongst others.
Asiatic black bears, also called Asian black bears, live in southeast Asia. Alternatively, many people also know this species as the moon bear. The Asiatic black bear has a distinctive appearance with black body fur and a brown nozzle. These bears have a distinctive white patch on their chest. Like many bear species, the Asian black bear or Asiatic black bear is omnivorous.
Many people refer to the American black bear as the North American black bear or simply black bear. The American black bear is the most common species of bear in North American forests3. Although called black bears, these animals come in varying colors. The American black bear has subspecies with whitish fur, called the spirit bear or Kermode bear.
It’s impossible not to recognize the giant panda or panda bear. Its plump body and bold black and white fur are distinctive features. The giant panda has an insatiable desire for bamboo, which it eats exclusively. The giant panda species is endemic to China.
The sloth bear is native to Sri Lanka, India, and Nepal. You’ll find this sloth bear in the forests of these nations. You can easily identify the sloth bear with its unkempt and shaggy appearance.
The spectacled bear is the only bear species found natively in the Andes Mountains of South America. Their shaggy furs appear in shades of brown, black, or a reddish tone.
Polar bears live in the Arctic and garner fame for their size, white fur, and photogenic looks, complete with snow and ice landscapes as backgrounds. Polar bears often represent strength and lay claim as the largest bears in the world.
The sun bear is the smallest of the world’s eight bear species. The sun bear lives in the lowland forests of Southeast Asia. The sun bear gets its name from the curved white or golden patch on its chest.
These quick bear facts covering each of the eight species overview the variety of the bear kingdom. Read on to discover more interesting facts about these animals.
Most bears are omnivores, that feed on plants and animals, except one. Unlike other bears, polar bears are truly carnivorous, as they mainly feed on seals. Other bears’ omnivorous feeding habits show they can feed on plants, berries, insects, and other animals. Many bear species use their canine teeth to tear apart logs and search under fallen trees for ants, larvae, and termites.
Regardless of this fact, different bears have their preferred diet. For instance, brown bears in Alaska feed on salmon. Panda bears, on the other hand, love bamboo.
We can sometimes think of bears as cute and cuddly, especially when associating them with the adorable teddies in stores. However, these animals are large and intimidating.
Bears typically range from four feet to eight feet tall. In terms of weight, they measure between 60 to 1,600 pounds. These numbers show the significant differences between the smallest species, sun bears, and the largest polar bears. Their shaggy fur also contributes to their large and intimidating presence. This feature, alongside their thick skin, also keeps bears warm.
Whereas the bear might appear cute with its thick coat and button eyes, however, up close, a bear might choose to attack to protect its young. However, despite many stories to the contrary, it's very rare for a bear to kill a human.
Keen on knowing the most widely distributed bears? Your possible instant associating bears with the brown bear is not random or coincidental. The brown bear is the most prominent in various parts of the world. These bears live in North America and Eurasia. Russia, Canada, and the United States host the largest populations of brown bears.
One of the interesting bear facts here is that there are several subspecies of brown bears. One of the prominent names, the North American brown bear, is also known as a grizzly bear. Although many of them are clear brown, many other bears range in color from yellow to black furs.
Bears have varying life expectancy rates depending on the species. However, on average, bears will live up to 25 years in the wild, compared to captivity, with life spans reaching 50 years.
Researchers conduct examinations of their teeth to determine the degree of wear on the incisors and whether their canines are worn to determine their age. They can also examine the absence or presence of dentine spots to aid in placing bears in age categories. The most accurate technique they employ is counting the rings in a cross-section of a tooth root with the aid of a microscope.
Although bears are not the fastest animals on the planet, their speed when running can be surprising despite how large they are. So how fast can a bear run? It depends on the species and ranges between 25 to 35 miles per hour.
Grizzly bears are the fastest of the species. According to the National Wildlife Federation, these animals can reach speeds of 35 miles per hour. Typically, they’ll only engage in sprints once they reach this speed. Bears utilize their large claws and muscles to support themselves when running.
If you’ve wondered if humans can outrun bears, the answer is most likely not. The world’s fastest man, Usain Bolt, could run 27.5 miles per hour4. This equates to the speed of some of the slowest bears.
It may surprise you that science could classify a bear as a marine mammal. However, this is the case with polar bears. Polar bears, or going by their scientific name, Ursus maritimus, are the only maritime bears.
Although the female bear will most likely give birth to polar bear cubs on land, these animals spend most of their time on sea ice. The polar bear depends on the ocean for its food and habitat. As a result, climate change and its effects significantly affect the habitats of these bears. Polar bears have large paws, with small webs between their forepaws that support swimming. These visibly white bears swim long distances for hours to move from one piece of ice to another.
The name can be quite deceiving as black bears don’t only show up in the color black. This is similar to grizzly bears, which are not always brown.
Black bears have furs that expand across the color spectrum. The first obvious color is black. Alternatively, you’ll find black bears in colors like blue-gray, blonde, reddish-brown, and light brown. Some species even have white fur, which dramatically contrasts their species' names.
On the east side of the Great Plains, the black bears were the first that settlers noticed. This resulted in the name. Black bear cubs also have color variants that can differ from their parent’s color. Sometimes a black bear with a brown color can have a black bear cub and vice versa.
A fun fact about bears is that they’re pretty intelligent. Wildlife biologists in North America have classified bears as one of the smartest land animals. Compared to many other land animals, the bear has a complex and large brain that supports various tasks.
Bears are capable of using tools and also possess good navigational skills. Researchers have studied bears in their natural environments as they perform or complete complex tasks. These point toward these animals’ capacity to learn and retain information from their environment. Another feature related to their high intelligence is their ratio of brain size to body size.
By nature, the bear is primarily a solitary animal and generally prefers to sleep, hunt, and eat by itself. Personal space is quite important to this animal. The only times you see bears in groups is when family groups of mothers and bear cubs or mating bears come together. Cubs can also come together to play with one another.
Generally, bears enjoy a solo life and can survive in these states. In some cases, you’ll find bears gathering in a particular area due to an abundance of food sources. In such situations, they become tolerant of one another.
What would it be like to possess the bear’s extraordinary sense of smell? Bears have a highly developed and heightened sense of smell sense and some of the best scent-detection skills in the animal kingdom.
The bloodhound often comes up when we think of animals with powerful scent-detection abilities. However, the bear’s sense of smell is greater than the bloodhound’s. An attribute that contributes to this ability is the specialized tissue lining inside a bear's nose which also has scent-detecting nerves. Studies show that the area within the black bear’s nose is 100 times greater than a human2's.
Nature can be beautiful, but sometimes it’s also brutal. In the wild, adult males sometimes kill and eat cubs. As a result, mother bears have to look for methods to protect their young ones. This more macabre fact about bears can give a bit of a chill.
Research and observations have come up with various reasons for this violent act. On the one hand, some observations suggest that the males do this to stop the mother from lactating, thereby pushing her back into “heat.” Others suggest that eliminating cubs helps to reduce competition for scarce resources like food. Also, bears can be cannibalistic, so this could be a means to get food.
Although a bear's usual posture is on its four legs, bears can also stand on their hind legs. Apart from standing, they can also walk upright on these legs. Although, if using their hind limbs, they’ll typically only walk a short distance.
Bears stand upright on their hind limbs for various reasons. One such reason is simply to get a good view of what's in front of them. This could also entail focusing on a scent - since they have excellent scent detection abilities. A bear will also stand or move around on its hind limbs if it gets into a fight. This heightens its threat display as it tackles an opponent.
It’s safe to say that male bears are some of the worst fathers in the animal kingdom. These animals are mainly solitary and will only come around others during mating season. Apart from the possibility of eating their cubs, the male bear plays no part in raising bear cubs.
After mating, the male bear doesn't stick around, leaving the female bear responsible for raising the cubs. Usually, mother bears will stay with the cubs and share territory for a few years before becoming independent. She usually gives birth to two cubs at a time, but this can go up to four. Due to the violent acts from the males against the cubs in some instances, mother bears often become very protective of their young. A mother cub will most likely avoid a male bear while caring for her cubs.
Bears have an interesting and unique way of surviving harsh conditions over the winter period. These animals have developed adaptive skills to survive for long periods without water or food and hibernate during winter.
This, however, doesn’t mean they’re in sleep mode throughout. Instead, they can survive without water or food and rarely urinate or defecate during such periods. Since winter periods can prove lengthy and harsh, affecting food supply, bears hibernate to survive. During this time, their heart rates, metabolism, respiration, and body temperature lowers. Species like grizzly or black bears can survive for around 100 days without food, water, and the need to urinate or defecate.
Often a bear will be out and about, sourcing food for survival. However, this animal will need a secure and cozy place to rest as the winter draws near. Unlike many animals that only rely on established spaces, a bear creates its den.
A clear sign of their intelligence is their evaluation skill. As a bear moves around during warmer seasons like the summer, it’ll investigate various denning sites. This often goes on throughout the year. They make their dens in many places - hollow trees, rock crevices, or even ground nests. Early preparation makes it easy for them to move to their dens once the winter season comes around.
Another fascinating bear fact is that the adult bear has no natural predators due to its large and intimidating size. They are some of the most untouchable and intimidating animals in the wild. As a result, no other animal actively hunts them for food.
In some cases, animals like tigers and wolves may fatally wound a bear during a fight. In other instances, these animals may feed on a bear carcass.
Surprisingly, humans are bears’ main predators. In many parts of the world, people hunt down bears for their organs. They then use organs, like the gall bladder, in traditional medicine.
Scent communication is a big thing in the bear kingdom. Since they’re solitary animals, they have developed the ability to communicate messages over long distances. By using scent marking, a bear can communicate various messages to others. They have glands in their feet that release chemicals or scents when they twist their feet into the ground.
Bears can use scent communication to communicate gender, territory borders, and so on. Studies reveal that such scents contain at least 20 distinct compounds1. These act as a form of sticky note to other animals of their kind, communicating desired messages.
One of the biggest threats to bears is habitat loss. This is a result of various factors such as logging and agriculture. As human activities heighten around bear habitats, these animals lose the number of areas they have to hunt.
As a result, we witness cases where these animals begin to come in contact with humans. Unfortunately, this creates a wildlife-human conflict that results in people killing the animals for safety. The illegal wildlife trade is another human threat.
On the climate change side, polar bears are particularly affected. With warming temperatures comes melting ice. Since polar bears rely on sea ice, these melting situations lead to existential threats.
Spectacled bears, also called Andean bears, are the only bears in South America. All of the world’s other species live in the Northern hemisphere. This bear makes a home in the Andean jungles in the south area. However, their populations suffer from habitat destruction and poachers killing them for meat or body parts.
Apart from birds, mammals can also play a role in seed dispersal within forests. While foraging for fruits and then leaving their scat behind, bears influence the types of plants that grow in the forest and distribute seeds from one place to another.
Bears exist in various forms and live in different parts of the world. Beyond admiring their appearance, the bear facts above show us that these highly evolved animals are both unique and unforgettable. From their survival qualities to their roles in seed dispersal, they are an intricate part of nature. As a result, it’s essential to support the protection of their population.
Bolevich, M. (2017, April 26). Wild bears do the twist to communicate through smelly footprints
National Park Service. (2014, October 1). Bear Series, Part One: A Bear's Sense of Smell
Encyclopedia Britannica. (n.d.). Black bear
Munroe, R. (2020, February 7). How fast can a human run? The New York Times
Jen’s a passionate environmentalist and sustainability expert. With a science degree from Babcock University Jen loves applying her research skills to craft editorial that connects with our global changemaker and readership audiences centered around topics including zero waste, sustainability, climate change, and biodiversity.
Elsewhere Jen’s interests include the role that future technology and data have in helping us solve some of the planet’s biggest challenges.