The bear family has seven different species, ranging in size from the 50kg Sun bear (found in SE Asia), which has a distinctive orange ‘sun’ mark on its chest, to the massive and powerful polar bear (Arctic), which measures up to 3.5m, and weighing an incredible 650kg, as heavy as 10 people!
Living things can be organised into different groups. Species that are alike are grouped together. This is called classification.
Family: Ursidae (bears)
Species: Melursus ursinus
Sloth bears are stocky, measuring up to 1.9m and weighing up to 140kg. They have shaggy, thick black fur with a white U or Y-shaped marking on the chest. They were originally classified as sloths in the 18th century, hence the name.
The sloth bear is ideally adapted for life in Asia’s forests. They are excellent climbers, aided by their long claws.
Most sloth bears live in Sri Lanka and India, but they are also reported in Bhutan, Nepal and Bangladesh.
They inhabit thorn forests, wet forests and grassland.
Sloth bears are omnivores eating a variety of foods but mainly ants and termites. They also eat fruits, berries, ants, bees, honey, and sometimes small vertebrates.
Sloth bears have long muzzles, large lips and a long tongue to aid feeding. They can close their nostrils, protecting them from dust or insects when raiding a termite nest. Their large hook-like claws help them to climb trees and dig for termites.
Sloth bears are nocturnal and are noisy, busy bears. They share home ranges with other sloth bears, 13 sq km in size. This is much smaller than other bears, probably because their favoured food – ants and termites – is available year round. This availability of their food means they do not have to hibernate in winter. If threatened they can stand on hind legs brandishing their forepaws.
Sloth bears are usually solitary, except during the breeding season. They use a wide variety of facial expressions and calls to communicate with one another.
With a lifespan of around 25 years, the sloth bear matures around 2 or 3 years. After mating and a six month gestation, the female gives birth to 1-2 cubs in an underground den. Sloth bears are the only bears to carry young on their backs. Cubs stay with their mother for two or three years.