Historical reports include the Panama regions of El Darien (Jorgenson 1984) and Caledonia (Global Biodiversity Information Facility Data Portal 2008) but recent surveys of suspected populations in El Darien (Goldstein et al. 2007), as well as in northern Argentina, have not yielded conclusive evidence of bear presence.
Tremarctos ornatus are the only bears to live in South America. Spectacled bears live along the slopes of the Andes mountains from Venezuela to Peru. Some have been found in eastern Panama and northern Argentina.
Biogeographic Regions: neotropical (Native )
- Ward, P., S. Kynaston. 1995. Bears of the World. London: Blandford.
- Nowak, R. 1997. "Walker's Mammals of the World" (On-line). Accessed November 6, 2001 at http://www.press.jhu.edu/books/walkers_mammals_of_the_world/special.html.
Spectacled bears are small, shaggy, and black. They have yellow rings around the eyes and often a lighter colored, usually cream, muzzle, throat, and chest. The markings are variable and can extend to the throat in some, the chest in others, or be totally absent. The coat ranges from black, brown, or even reddish in color. This species gets in name from the circles around the eyes which make the bears appear as though they are wearing spectacles. Females are 30%-40% smaller than males. These bears have plantigrade feet, where both the heel and toe touch the ground as they walk. One unique characteristic of these bears is that they have 13 pairs of ribs while other bear species have 14 pairs.
Range mass: 100 to 155 kg.
Range length: 1.5 to 1.8 m.
Sexual Dimorphism: male larger
Habitat and Ecology
With the notable exception of the dry forest-scrub habitat in north coastal Peru (Peyton 1999b), Andean bears are most commonly found in high elevation elfin forests, upper montane humid forest, and humid grasslands (Peyton 1987a,b, Velez 1999, Cuesta et al. 2003, Rios-Uzeda et al. 2005). Within this range, habitat preferences are uncertain. In portions of the central Andes in Bolivia, Andean bears were reported to select wet montane / foothill forests at lower elevations (Rumiz et al. 1999); elsewhere in Bolivia they heavily used cloud forests of the upper slopes of the Andes and rarely used dry montane forests (Rios-Uzeda et al. 2005). Bear presence can readily be identified in the high altitude grasslands due to the easier visibility and the durability of the obvious feeding sign, but these grasslands may not sustain bears year-round without access to forest (Suarez 1985, Paisley 2001).
Andean bears are omnivores, feeding mainly on vegetative material such as fruits and succulent plants, and occasionally meat. Common dietary mainstays throughout their distribution are the succulent parts of plants of the families Bromeliaceae and Arecaceae (Peyton 1980, Suarez 1988, Mondolfi 1989). However, food habits change from site to site and even within sites depending on the availability of particular resources. Tree and ground nests are used for resting where Andean bears feed on fruits high in the tree canopy and at sites where bears consume animal (e.g., livestock) carcasses (Goldstein 1991, Velez 1999). Activity patterns range from strictly diurnal for wild bears in Bolivia (Paisley and Garshelis 2006a) to mixed diurnal and nocturnal for reintroduced bears in Ecuador (Castellanos et al. 2005). As food is available year-round in all parts of their range, Andean bears do not hibernate. Based on the first few individuals of this species to be monitored using ground telemetry in Bolivia (Paisley and Garshelis 2006b) and Ecuador (Castellanos 2007 and pers. com. 2008), home ranges overlap to a high degree and minimum home range sizes vary from 10 to 160 km² (although these are underestimates, as the bears were regularly out of range of radiotelemetry in both studies).
Information on reproduction in this species is limited. Litter size is typically two cubs. The timing of births in the wild has rarely been observed, but in captivity birthing varies with latitude (Garshelis 2004). Presumed mating pairs have been observed in the wild during March-October.
Spectacled bears seem to prefer densely forested areas, especially humid forests between 1,900 and 2,350 meters. However, they have been reported from habitats as diverse as rain forest, cloud forest, dry forest, steppe lands, and coastal scrub desert.
Range elevation: 180 to 4200 m.
Habitat Regions: temperate ; tropical ; terrestrial
Terrestrial Biomes: forest ; rainforest ; scrub forest ; mountains
- International Association for Bear Research and Management, 1999. "Bear Species Description" (On-line). Accessed Dec. 3, 2001 at http://www.bearbiology.com/spdesc.html.
For the most part T. ornatus is an omnivore (but almost exclusively vegetarian) with a preference for fruit, particularly those in the family Bromeliaceae. Plants in this family can make up as much as 50% of spectacled bears' diet. These bears climb large cacti to get to the fruit at the top. They also strip the bark off of trees to eat. These bears have been known to climb over 10 meters to gather food and are incredibly mobile traveling from tree to tree in search of food. They may stay in one fruit tree for 3 to 4 days awaiting the ripening period. They eat a variety of food, depending what is available in the season. Their diet includes berries, cacti, tree shrubs, honey, and sugarcane. If necessary these bears will eat small rodents, birds, or insects and will kill cattle if other food is not available. Roughly 4% of their diet is animal matter. Spectacled bears have extremely strong jaws allowing them to eat foods other animals cannot, such as tree bark and bromeliad hearts.
Animal Foods: birds; mammals; insects
Plant Foods: wood, bark, or stems; fruit
Primary Diet: herbivore (Frugivore )
Spectacled bears are very important to the floral ecology of the forests they inhabit. They are also an important disperser of the tree seeds they consume.
Ecosystem Impact: disperses seeds
Known prey organisms
This list may not be complete but is based on published studies.
Life History and Behavior
Lifespan in the wild is unknown, but in captivity Tremarctos ornatus can reach 20-25 years. One bear lived for 36 years and 5 months in captivity.
Status: captivity: 36 (high) years.
Status: wild: 25 years.
Status: captivity: 20 to 25 years.
Lifespan, longevity, and ageing
Mating pairs usually stay together one or two weeks, copulating many times. While the female is in estrus, which only occurs for one to five days, the male and female go through a ritual of mock fighting and playing until the female is ready to mate.
Mating System: polygynous
Details of the reproductive behavior of spectacled bears in the wild are few. Mating usually takes place between April and June, and the litters are born between November and February. When the egg is fertilized, it divides a few times, and then floats freely in the uterus for several months. This is called delayed implantation, and it helps to ensure that the young are born when food is available. Gestation length in captivity is about 8 months. The litters range from one to three young. At birth, cubs are blind and weigh between 300-360 grams.
Breeding season: April-June
Range number of offspring: 1 to 3.
Average gestation period: 8 months.
Range weaning age: 6 to 8 months.
Range age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female): 4 to 7 years.
Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female): 4 years.
Range age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male): 4 to 7 years.
Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male): 4 years.
Key Reproductive Features: iteroparous ; seasonal breeding ; gonochoric/gonochoristic/dioecious (sexes separate); viviparous ; delayed implantation
Average birth mass: 320 g.
Average gestation period: 228 days.
Average number of offspring: 1.5.
Cubs are taken care of by their mothers, but grow quickly. After about a month cubs are able to go out with their mothers in search of food and after 6-8 months they can go off on their own.
Parental Investment: altricial
- Ward, P., S. Kynaston. 1995. Bears of the World. London: Blandford.
- 2001. "All About Bears" (On-line). Accessed Dec. 3, 2001 at http://www.bears-bears.org/index.htm.
- International Association for Bear Research and Management, 1999. "Bear Species Description" (On-line). Accessed Dec. 3, 2001 at http://www.bearbiology.com/spdesc.html.
Molecular Biology and Genetics
Barcode data: Tremarctos ornatus
There are 2 barcode sequences available from BOLD and GenBank. Below is a sequence of the barcode region Cytochrome oxidase subunit 1 (COI or COX1) from a member of the species. See the BOLD taxonomy browser for more complete information about this specimen and other sequences.
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Download FASTA File
Statistics of barcoding coverage: Tremarctos ornatus
Public Records: 2
Specimens with Barcodes: 3
Species With Barcodes: 1
IUCN Red List Assessment
Red List Category
Red List Criteria
Based just on trends in human population density (and the deterioration of habitat and increased exploitation of animal populations that this inevitably entails), Cardillo et al. (2004) listed Andean bears among the Carnivores that are most likely to move toward extinction. By 2030, they predict that this species would meet the IUCN criteria for Endangered.
- 1994Vulnerable(Groombridge 1994)
- 1990Vulnerable(IUCN 1990)
- 1988Vulnerable(IUCN Conservation Monitoring Centre 1988)
- 1986Vulnerable(IUCN Conservation Monitoring Centre 1986)
- 1982Vulnerable(Thornback and Jenkins 1982)
Populations of Andean bears may be in decline. Habitat destruction and fragmentation due to agricultural growth are the biggest causes of these bears' decline. Hunting by sportsmen and landowners are also contributing factors, dating back to the 1800's, when the Spanish first arrived in South America. Poachers killed the bear because of the large market for bear paws, where one paw can bring in between $10 and $20 U.S. dollars. Around 1980 these bears were not thought to be in much danger because they are so adaptable, many using habitats people could not access. It has been discovered since then that surviving populations are fragmentary and restricted to isolated forests on mountainsides. Protection for spectacled bears is minimal. National parks of South America have a low budget and the government supports the settler farmers. Some farmers even have permission to use the land that is protected. Scientists are worried because inbreeding has started to occur in Peru, bringing about a decrease in adult size and the size of litters. Education of the local people is important to conservationists to get public support.
US Federal List: no special status
CITES: appendix i
IUCN Red List of Threatened Species: vulnerable
Many Andean bear populations are isolated in small to medium-sized patches of intact habitat, particularly in the northern part of the range (Yerena et al. 2003, Kattan et al. 2004). The situation tends to improve towards the southern range, with some large patches of wilderness still remaining (Peyton 1999a). Nevertheless, human population growth and national development plans throughout the Tropical Andes continue to be an important cause of habitat fragmentation and to threaten the connectivity among remaining wilderness patches.
Poaching is a serious threat throughout the Andean bear range. Bears are often killed after damaging crops, particularly maize, or after purportedly killing livestock (Goldstein 1991, Peyton 1999b, Rumiz and Salazar 1999, Suarez 1999, Castellanos 2002, Morales 2003). Also, Andean bear products are used for medicinal or ritual purposes and at some localities Andean bear meat is highly prized (Yerena 1999). Live bears are also sometimes captured and sold (Jorgenson and Sandoval 2005). Human induced mortality endangers the viability of small remnant populations.
Lack of knowledge about the distribution and status is a problem throughout the region. In many areas, information about the status of Andean bears is outdated or, particularly in the southern portion of the range, simply non-existent. The absence of knowledge makes it difficult to develop realistic management plans for the conservation of this species, or to monitor changes in its distribution (reflective of changes in population status).
Studies on the distribution, frequency and intensity of Andean bear-human conflicts have been carried out in some areas in order to better understand these situations and thereby develop management measures to reduce conflicts and the consequent killing of bears (Goldstein et al. 2006). Management plans to reduce bear-cattle conflicts have been developed at the Oyacachi, Ecuador, based on predation probability models (Goldstein 2006).
Workshops have been conducted in several of the range countries to train researchers and personnel from national parks on survey techniques, development of habitat models, and general knowledge about the ecology, distribution and status of the species (Goldstein 2006).
Andean bears are listed on Appendix I of CITES and are protected through national legislation in each range country. However, there are loopholes in these laws by which bears can be (and thus frequently are) killed or removed from the wild (Orejuela and Jorgenson 1999, Peyton 1999b, Rumiz and Salazar 1999, Suarez 1999, Yerena 1999, Jorgenson and Sandoval 2005).
Relevance to Humans and Ecosystems
Economic Importance for Humans: Negative
South American farmers have persecuted these bears for attacking their livestock. Some bears have been known to kill a cow every day until they were killed. Farmers also consider the bears to be a threat to maize fields. Special pesticides are sprayed onto the fields to keep the bears away. Sometimes whole families of bears are destroyed by these poisons. The actual damage done from these bears may be overestimated and in reality is caused by birds and forest rodents (Ward and Kynaston, 1995).
Negative Impacts: crop pest
Economic Importance for Humans: Positive
These bears are hunted for their meat, fur, fat, grease, and bile. The meat is especially liked in northern Peru. The fat is said to cure rheumatism and arthritis.
Positive Impacts: food
The spectacled bear (Tremarctos ornatus), also known as the Andean bear and locally as ukuko, jukumari, or ucumari, is the last remaining short-faced bear (subfamily Tremarctinae) and the closest living relative to the Florida spectacled bear and short-faced bears of the Middle Pleistocene to Late Pleistocene age. Spectacled bears are the only surviving species of bear native to South America, and the only surviving member of the subfamily Tremarctinae.
The spectacled bear is the only bear native to South America and is technically the largest land carnivore on that continent, although as little as 5% of its diet is composed of meat. South America's largest obligate carnivore is the jaguar (Panthera onca). Among South America's extant, native land animals, only the Baird's (Tapirus bairdii) and South American tapirs (T. terrestris) are heavier than this species. The spectacled bear is a mid-sized species of bear. Overall, its fur is blackish in color, though bears may vary from jet black to dark brown and to even a reddish hue. The species typically has distinctive beige or ginger-coloured markings across its face and upper chest, though not all spectacled bears have "spectacle" markings. The pattern and extent of pale markings are slightly different on each individual bear, and bears can be readily distinguished by this. Males are a third larger than females in dimensions and sometimes twice their weight. Males can weigh from 100 to 200 kg (220 to 440 lb), and females can weigh from 35 to 82 kg (77 to 181 lb). Head-and-body length can range from 120 to 200 cm (47–79 in), though mature males do not measure less than 150 cm (59 in). The tail is a mere 7 cm (2.8 in) in length, and the shoulder height is from 60 to 90 cm (24–30 in). Compared to other living bears, this species has a more rounded face with a relatively short and broad snout. In some extinct species of the Tremarctinae subfamily, this facial structure has been thought to be an adaptation to a largely carnivorous diet, despite the modern spectacled bears' herbivorous dietary preferences.
Distribution and habitat
Despite some spilling over rarely into eastern Panama, Spectacled Bears are mostly restricted to certain areas of northern and western South America. They can range in western Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, western Bolivia, and northwestern Argentina. The species is found almost entirely in the Andes Mountains. Before spectacled bear populations became fragmented during the last 500 years, the species had a reputation for being adaptable, as it is found in a wide variety of habitats and altitudes throughout its range, including cloud forests, high-altitude grasslands, dry forests and scrub deserts. A single spectacled bear population on the border of Peru and Ecuador inhabited as great a range of habitat types as the world's brown bears (Ursus arctos) now occupy. The best habitats for Spectacled bears are humid to very humid montane forests. These cloud forests typically occupy a 500 to 1,000 m (1,600 to 3,300 ft) elevational band between 1,000 and 2,700 m (3,300 and 8,900 ft) depending on latitude. Generally, the wetter these forests are the more food species there are that can support bears. Occasionally, they may reach altitudes as low as 250 m (820 ft), but are not typically found below 1,900 m (6,200 ft) in the foothills. They can even range up to the mountain snow line at over 5,000 m (16,000 ft) in elevation.
Naming and etymology
Tremarctos ornatus is commonly referred to in English as the "spectacled bear", a reference to the light colouring on its chest, neck and face, which may resemble eyeglasses in some individuals, or the "Andean bear" for its distribution along the Andes.
The root trem- comes from a Greek word meaning "hole;" arctos is the Greek word for "bear." Tremarctos is a reference to an unusual hole on the animal's humerus. Ornatus, Latin for "decorated", is a reference to the markings that give the bear its common English name.
Behavior and diet
Spectacled bears are one of the half of extant bear species that are habitually arboreal, alongside the American (Ursus americanus) and Asian black bears (U. thibetanus) and the sun bears (Helarctos malayanus). In Andean cloud forests, Spectacled bears may be active both during the day and night, but in Peruvian desert are reported to bed down under vegetative cover during the day. Their continued survival alongside humans has depended mostly on their ability to climb even the tallest trees of the Andes. They usually retreat from the presence of humans, often by climbing trees. Once up a tree, they may often build a platform, perhaps to aid in concealment, as well as to rest and store food on. Although spectacled bears are solitary and tend to isolate themselves from one another to avoid competition, they are not territorial. They have even been recorded to feed in small groups at abundant food sources. Males are reported to have an average home range of 23 km2 (8.9 sq mi) during the wet season and 27 km2 (10 sq mi) during the dry season. Females are reported to have an average home range of 10 km2 (3.9 sq mi) in the wet season and 7 km2 (2.7 sq mi) in the dry season. When encountered by humans or other spectacled bears, they will react in a docile but cautious manner, unless the intruder is seen as a threat or a mother's cubs are endangered. Like other bears, mothers are protective of their young and have attacked poachers. There is only a single reported human death due to a spectacled bear, which occurred while it was being hunted and was already shot. The only predators of cubs are cougars (Puma concolor) and jaguars. Though the latter normally has considerably different habitat preferences, the altitudinal range of the jaguar does overlap rarely with the bear and bears are reported to actively avoid jaguars. Generally, the only threat against adult bears is humans. The longest-lived captive bear, at the National Zoo in Washington, DC, attained a lifespan of 36 years and 8 months. Lifespan in the wild has not been studied, but bears are believed to commonly live to 20 years or more unless they run afoul of humans.
Spectacled bears are more herbivorous than most other bears; normally about 5 to 7% of their diets is meat. The most common foods for these bears include cactus, bromeliads (especially Puya ssp., Tillandsia ssp. and Guzmania ssp.)palm nuts, bamboo hearts, frailejon (Espeletia spp.), orchid bulbs, fallen fruit on the forest floor, and unopened palm leaves. They will also peel back tree bark to eat the nutritious second layer. Much of this vegetation is very tough to open or digest for most animals, and the bear is one of the few species in its range to exploit these food sources. The Spectacled Bear has the largest zygomatic mandibular muscles relative to its body size and the shortest muzzle of any living bear, slightly surpassing the relative size of the Giant panda's (Ailuropoda melanoleuca) morphology here. Not coincidentally, both species are known for extensively consuming tough, fiberous plants. Unlike the ursid bears whose fourth premolar has a more well-developed protoconid, an adaptation for shearing flesh, the fourth premolar of spectacled bears has blunt lophs has three pulp cavities instead of two, and can have three roots instead of the two that characterize ursid bears. The musculature and tooth characteristics are designed to support the stresses of grinding and crushing vegetation. Besides the Giant Panda, the Spectacled Bear is perhaps the most herbivorous living bear species. These bears also eat cultivated plants, such as sugarcane (Saccharum ssp.), honey (made by Apis ssp.), and corn (Zea mays), and have been known to travel above the tree line for berries and more ground-based bromeliads. When food is abundant, such as large corn fields, up to nine individual bears have feed close by each other in a single vicinity. Animal prey is usually quite small, but these bears can prey on adult deer, llama (Lama glama) and domestic cattle (Bos primigenius taurus) and horses (Equus ferus caballus). Animal prey has included rabbits, mice, other rodents, birds at the nest (especially ground-nesting birds like tinamous or lapwings (Vanellus ssp.)), arthropods, and carrion. They are occasionally accused of killing livestock, especially cattle, and raiding corn fields. Allegedly, some bears become habituated to eating cattle, but the bears are actually more likely to eat cattle as carrion and some farmers may accidentally assume the spectacled bear killed them. Due to fear of loss of stock, bears may be killed on sight.
Mating may occur at almost any time of the year, but activity normally peaks in April and June, at the beginning of the wet season and corresponding with the peak of fruit-ripening. The mating pair are together for one to two weeks, during which they will copulate multiple times. Births usually occur in the dry season, between December and February. The gestation period is 5.5 to 8.5 months. From one to three cubs may be born, with four being rare and two being the average. The cubs are born with their eyes closed and weigh about 300 to 330 g (11 to 12 oz) each. Although this species does not give birth during the hibernation cycle as do northern bear species, births usually occur in a small den and the female waits until the cubs can see and walk before she leaves with them. The size of the litter has been positively correlated with both the weight of the female and the abundance and variety of food sources, particularly the degree to which fruiting is temporally predictable. The cubs often stay with the female for one year before striking out on their own. Breeding maturity is estimated to be reached at between four and seven years of age for both sexes, based solely on captive bears.
The spectacled bear population is under threat for a number of reasons. Unfortunately, still no species-level conservation efforts are known to exist for Spectacled bears. Each government has made differing commitments to conservation in this species range, with Venezuela, thanks to its relatively high level of scientific industry and relatively stable economy being the most advanced at bear conservation to Colombia, where the species and its habitats are largely unprotected. The bears are hunted by locals due to a belief they will eat livestock (although spectacled bears do not normally eat large quantities of meat). Their gall bladders are also valued in traditional Chinese medicine and can fetch a high price on the international market. Perhaps the most epidemic problem for the species is extensive logging and farming, which has led to habitat loss for the largely tree-dependent bears. As little of 5% of the original habitat in Andean cloud forest remains. As the bear's food sources have been disappearing, it relies on crops for food. So, farmers see the bears as competition and hunt them. Legislation against hunting the bears exists, but is rarely enforced. The IUCN has recommended the following courses for Spectacled bear conservation: expansion and implementation of conservation land to prevent further development, greater species level research and monitoring of trends and threats, more concerted management of current conservation areas, stewardship programs for bears which engage local residents and the education of the public regarding spectacled bears, especially the benefits of conserving the species due to its effect on natural resources.
In the documentary Paddington Bear: The Early Years, British actor Stephen Fry encounters a spectacled bear called Yogi, which was kept in a small cage by Andean villagers (see also Paddington Bear). Fry bartered with the villagers to have the bear released, and it was taken to an enclosure in Machu Picchu. Fry's interest in the bears led to the follow-up documentary, Stephen Fry and the Spectacled Bears, and he also wrote and published his experiences in Rescuing the Spectacled Bear: A Peruvian Diary.
In the BBC television programme Serious Andes, a team of eight teenagers built a prerelease enclosure for two spectacled bears before returning them to the wild. The BBC documentary "Spectacled Bears: Shadows of the Forest" looks at some of the bear research being done in Peru and Ecuador and what the researchers are discovering.
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