What are Some Different Types of Bears?

Michael Anissimov
Michael Anissimov

Bears, classified in family Ursidae, are doglike carnivorans characterized by large size, stocky legs, five nonretractile claws, shaggy hair, a large snout, and omnivorous diets. There are eight surviving species of bears: the Giant Panda (a vegetarian), the Spectacled Bear (a relatively small bear native to western South America), the Brown Bear (the most familiar bear), the American Black Bear (somewhat smaller than the Brown Bear), the Polar Bear (one of the largest extant land carnivores), the Asiatic Black Bear (closely related to the American Black Bear), the Sloth Bear (an arboreal bear that lives in lowland forests on the Indian subcontinent), and the Sun Bear (the smallest bear, with short hair, that lives in the tropical forests of Southeast Asia).

Young giant panda in a tree.
Young giant panda in a tree.

Members of the family Ursidae display an interesting variety of sizes and diets, despite there being only eight species. Sun Bear males only weigh 66-112 lb (30-51 kg), while both the Polar Bear and Brown Bear weigh up to 1,500 lb (680 kg). Though the Polar Bear is often cited as the largest extant terrestrial carnivore, it can be matched by the Brown Bear, or exceeded by large saltwater crocodiles, though these spend a lot of time in the water. It is better labeled one of the two largest extant exclusively terrestrial carnivores.

Red panda climbing on a branch.
Red panda climbing on a branch.

Bears, which split from their canid ancestors about 38 million years ago, have been dominant land animals for many millions of years, in both North America and Eurasia. Though there exist many larger animals in the bear's range, such as hippos, rhinos, and elephants, bears are particularly notable for being more numerous than all of these, having a wider range, and being of greater danger to humans. The Brown Bear has been hunted since prehistoric times for its meat and fur, and features prominently in world mythology.

The largest bear in the world is the polar bear.
The largest bear in the world is the polar bear.

With native species on every continent except Africa, Australia, and Antarctica, bears have an extensive range that testifies to their evolutionary success. Except for the Giant Panda, which exclusively eats bamboo, and the Polar Bear, which is exclusively carnivorous, bears have a flexible omnivorous diet, including fruits, fresh shoots, nuts, small invertebrates, and vertebrates such as rodents and fish. They are among the most widely distributed animals, found from Argentina to the farthest reaches of the Arctic.

The American Black Bear is one of eight surviving species of bears.
The American Black Bear is one of eight surviving species of bears.
Brown bears can grow up to 1,500 pounds.
Brown bears can grow up to 1,500 pounds.
Michael Anissimov
Michael Anissimov

Michael is a longtime wiseGEEK contributor who specializes in topics relating to paleontology, physics, biology, astronomy, chemistry, and futurism. In addition to being an avid blogger, Michael is particularly passionate about stem cell research, regenerative medicine, and life extension therapies. He has also worked for the Methuselah Foundation, the Singularity Institute for Artificial Intelligence, and the Lifeboat Foundation.

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Discussion Comments

Sporkasia

@Laotionne - People have captured bears of different species and bred them numerous times. This goes way back. A London zoo did this back in the 19th Century. As with the offspring of many different species parents, the bears born in the zoo didn't survive very long. Offspring produced in these types of couplings are often sterile as well, so this might not be the best way to increase the population of bears.

Feryll

@Laotionne -I saw a TV show about an area where polar bears and grizzly bears live close to one another and their paths sometimes cross. Mostly they avoid one another and don't interact because they are in competition for survival, and they are probably going to fight if they can't avoid one another.

However, scientists found the body of a dead bear and after examining it they came to the conclusion that the bear was neither a grizzly bear nor a polar bear. They concluded that the bear had been a hybrid with one grizzly bear parent and one polar bear parent.

Laotionne

With the changes taking place because of climate changes, there is a lot of talk about the possibility of the polar bear eventually becoming extinct, further decreasing the number of bear species. This makes me wonder whether bears of different species can mate and have cubs. This might give the polar bears a better chance of surviving in some form.

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