Bears are a small group of mostly large mammals, with 8 species in 5 genera (Ursus, Tremarctos, Melursus, Helarctos, and Ailuropoda). Although Ursidae is not diverse, species in this family are widespread and culturally significant to human populations throughout their range.
- Flynn, J., J. Finarelli, S. Zehr, J. Hsu, M. Nedbal. 2005. Molecular phylogeny of the Carnivora (Mammalia): Assessing the impact of increased sampling on resolving enigmatic relationships. Systematic Biology, 54: 317-337.
- Nowak, R. 1991. Walker's Mammals of the World, Fifth Edition. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press.
- Vaughan, T., J. Ryan, N. Czaplewski. 2000. Mammalogy, 4th edition. New York: Saunders College Publishing.
Taxonomy and Systematics
The bear family (Ursidae) includes just eight extant species, which are often divided into three subfamilies:
(1) Ailuropodinae (including only the Giant Panda, Ailuropoda melanoleuca)
(2) Tremarctinae (including only the Andean or Spectacled Bear, Tremarctos ornatus)
(3) Ursinae or "typical bears" (including the remaining six species).
Garshelis (2009) placed the six ursines in three genera, four in the genus Ursus (Asiatic Black Bear, U. thibetanus; American Black Bear, U. americanus; Brown Bear [generally known as Grizzly Bear where it occurs in North America], U. arctos; and Polar Bear, U. maritimus) and one each in Helarctos (Sun Bear, H. malayanus) and Melursus (Sloth Bear, M. ursinus). He noted, however, that generic placements have varied considerably over the past several decades, ranging from placing each species in its own genus (including only the Brown Bear in Ursus) to placing all bears except for the Giant Panda and Andean Bear in the genus Ursus. When each species was assigned to its own genus, the Polar Bear was placed in the genus Thalarctos, the American Black Bear in Euarctos, and the Asiatic Black Bear in Selenarctos.
Recent molecular phylogenetic analyses indicate that, within Ursinae, one or both of the Sun Bear and Sloth Bear fall within the Ursus clade, suggesting they should not be placed in separate genera, but these same analyses do support the placement of the Giant Panda as basal to the other bears and the Spectacled Bear as basal to a clade including all six ursine species (Agnarsson et al. 2010; Nyakatura and Bininda-Emonds 2012 and references therein). Thus, molecular results are consistent with the recognition of the three ursid subfamilies originally erected on the basis of morphology and chromosome studies (ursines have 74 chromosome pairs, Andean Bears have 52 pairs, and Giant Pandas have 42 pairs; the chromosomes are mainly acrocentric in ursines, but mostly bi-armed in Giant Panda and Spectacled Bear).
All bear species, with the exception of the Polar Bear, are primarily forest-dwellers, although they do occupy other types of habitats, including scrub, tundra, and alpine areas above treeline. Bears are not common in deserts, although Andean Bears can be found in very dry areas at low elevations along the western slope of the Peruvian Andes, American Black Bears occur in semi-desert habitats in the southwestern United States and Mexico, and Asiatic Black Bears can be found in Baluchistan, an arid thorn brush region of southern Pakistan and Iran. Brown Bears can exist in even more arid conditions and an isolated remnant population persists even in the Gobi Desert of southwestern Mongolia, where the bears cluster around a few scattered oases that are slowly drying up. Bears are known from Africa only as fossils.
All bears exhibit sexual dimorphism in size (with males being larger). This is particularly evident among the largest Brown Bears and Polar Bears, which exhibit sexual size dimorphism exceeded among mammals only by some seals and sea lions. Bears tend to be solitary; they are probably the least social carnivores.
Bears have an extraordinarily well developed sense of smell, apparently more sensitive than that of a dog and several thousand times more sensitive than that of a human.
The food habits of bears are diverse. Polar Bears and Giant Pandas are narrow specialists, feeding almost entirely on seals and bamboo, respectively; the other six bears are omnivorous (feeding on meat, insects, foliage, roots, nuts, berries, etc.), although the Sloth Bear feeds largely on ants and termites. Giant Pandas spend around twelve hours each day collecting and eating bamboo; much of it passes through their gut undigested, so they must consume 9 to 18 kg each day. All bears have large, stout canines used in fighting with other individuals as well as for defense from predators and for acquiring food (e.g., for feeding on seals for Polar Bears, salmon and burrowing rodents for Brown Bears, and ungulates for Brown and Black Bears, and for chewing into insect-harboring wood for Black Bears and Sun Bears). Bears feasting on salmon have been shown to move significant amounts of nitrogen to surrounding terrestrial habitats when they defecate.
The Eight Living Bears
Giant Panda: Giant Pandas once lived in lowland areas of eastern China, but were driven out by habitat loss resulting from human occupation. Today, they occur only in montane forests with dense stands of bamboo at 1200 to 4100 meters (more typically, 1500 to 3000 meters)—remnant areas that could not be farmed. Although at one time the taxonomic placement of the Giant Panda was controversial, in part due to morphological similarities to another bamboo-eater , the "Red Panda" (which is now placed in a family of its own and is no longer believed to be closely related to the Giant Panda), its placement in the bear family is now well established. Giant Pandas have the largest molars of all bears, which they use for crushing and grinding bamboo. Relative to skull size, Giant Pandas have the smallest canines of all bears.
Andean Bear: Andean Bears live in South America on both the eastern and western slopes of the Andes, occurring in high elevation humid cloud forests and tussock grasslands as well as thorn, forest, and scrub desert at lower elevations. They spend much of their time in trees and feed on plants (especially terrestrial bromeliads), fruit, insects, and meat. They are apparently primarily diurnal.
Sun Bear: Sun Bears, the smallest of the bears (adult females are typically less than 45 kg and males less than 65 kg), use their remarkably long tongues to reach into crevices for honey and insects such as stingless bees. These tropical bears are the most agile climbers of all bears, often feeding and even sleeping in trees. Both the common and scientific names of this bear are derived from the yellowish (and highly variable) patch of fur on the chest. Sun Bears are believed to be generally diurnal, except when living in areas with human activity. Much of their foraging is in fruit trees, sliding quickly down the trunk when disturbed (like all bears, they descend from trees tail first). They sometimes sleep in trees, but generally only in areas with human activity; otherwise, they are likely to sleep on the ground, often in tree cavities or under fallen trees.
American Black Bear: American Black Bears can be found from the subarctic to the tropics, from boreal and temperate forests to dry scrub forests and swamps, from sea level to at least 3000 meters elevation. Of all bears, the American Black Bear coexists most easily with humans. Although it occurs in just three countries (albeit large ones: Canada, the United States, and Mexico), its total population is greater than that of all other bears combined.
Asiatic Black Bear: The Asiatic Black Bear has distinctive large "Mickey Mouse" ears. In Asia, Asiatic Black Bears dominate the temperate deciduous forest. In parts of China and the Russian Far East, where Brown Bears and Asiatic Black Bears both occur, the former tend to live in coniferous forests at higher elevations whereas the latter tend to live in broad-leaved forests at lower elevations.
Both Asiatic Black Bears and Sun Bears are found in the tropical forests of Southeast Asia, where they co-occur in lowland semi-evergreen, mixed deciduous, and dry dipterocarp forests. Asiatic Black Bears are far more common than Sun Bears in montane evergreen forests above 1200 meters, perhaps due to the scarcity of termites, an important food for Sun Bears when fruit is scarce. Sun Bears range as far west as the tropical wet evergreen forests of eastern India, where they coexist with both Asiatic Black Bears and Sloth Bears, although it is not clear whether the three ever occur ogether in a single patch of forest. The tropical evergreen forests of lower Peninsular Malaysia, Borneo, and Sumatra are occupied only by Sun Bears.
Sloth Bear: The tropical and mainly dry forests, scrub, and thorn woodlands of peninsular India and Sri Lanka are occupied only by Sloth Bears. In some areas, forest cover has been so decimated that Sloth Bears may seek shelter in boulder fields, emerging only at night to forage, often in agricultural fields. They also live in alluvial grasslands on the Indian subcontinent, where termites (a preferred prey) are abundant. At higher elevations, in the Himalayas of northern India, Nepal, Pakistan, and Afghanistan, Sloth Bears are replaced by Asiatic Black Bears in the foothills and by Brown Bears higher up (Asiatic Black Bears are replaced near the treeline by Brown Bears, which extend well into the alpine tundra; Brown Bears also occur throughout the mostly treeless Tibetan Plateau). Sloth Bears (which were mistakenly classified as sloths two centuries ago) have a shaggy coat, small molars, and a gap in their teeth through which they suck termites (they lack the inner upper incisors). They dig for termites and ants with their long, straight claws and also eat fruit, collected mainly from the ground.
Brown Bear: Brown Bears are so large they face little danger from predators other than other Brown Bears. Despite their imposing bulk, however, they subsist mainly on plant matter, although larger individuals may be more reliant on meat. Bear species often exhibit variation in coat patterns (for example, Black Bears can be black, brown, or even white), but this phenomenon is especially striking in Brown Bears—so much so that early naturalists thought there were some 80 species in North America alone (the "Grizzly Bear" among them). The Brown Bear occurs in North America, Europe, and Asia (and formerly in North Africa). It has the largest range (in terms of latitude, longitude, and elevation), and occupies the greatest diversity of habitats, of any bear species. All other bear species occupy a single continent (or, in the case of the Polar Bear, a single geographic region).
Polar Bear: Polar Bears have a thick layer of fat and dense fur that insulates them in the icy waters of the Arctic. They are very capable swimmers and are often considered marine mammals (although they can stay underwater for just two minutes). Some individuals stay near shore whereas others are more pelagic, but all depend on ice as a platform for hunting seals. Under its thick fur, a Polar Bear's skin is black; the "white" fur is actually translucent. Polar Bears and Brown Bears are closely related and occasionally hybridize. Although some individual Brown Bears may be larger than any Polar Bear, Polar Bears are generally larger than Brown Bears, making the Polar Bear the largest bear. They are almost entirely carnivorous. Polar Bears can have enormous home ranges. One female was tracked traveling from Alaska to Greenland (males are difficult to track since their heads are smaller than their necks, making it difficult to secure a radio collar).
The conservation status of bears varies greatly among species. Populations of the American Black Bear have actually increased in recent decades. Brown Bears in North America and parts of Europe are also doing well. In stark contrast, most bear populations in southern Asia (especially Southeast Asia) and probably South America are declining due to habitat loss and poaching. Six of the eight bears (all but American Black Bear and Brown Bear) have been listed as globally threatened on the IUCN Red List (the Giant Panda as Endangered and the others as Vulnerable)—all due to human impacts.
(Garshelis 2009 and references therein)http://www.biomedcentral.com/1741-7007/10/12
Bears are found on all continents except Antarctica and Australia, but are primarily found throughout the northern hemisphere, historically occurring as far south as the Atlas Mountains of northwestern Africa, the Andes of South America, and the Sunda shelf region. This range has been reduced in historical times as a result of human persecution and habitat destruction. For example, brown bear (Ursus arctos) populations in the Atlas Mountains are thought to be extinct and their range has been significantly altered in North America and Europe.
Biogeographic Regions: nearctic (Native ); palearctic (Native ); oriental (Native ); neotropical (Native )
- Pasitchniak-Arts, M. 1993. Ursus arctos. Mammalian Species, 439: 1-10.
Bears are large, robustly built animals. The smallest species, Helarctos malayanus ranges in size from 25 to 65 kg, the largest individuals can weigh up to 800 kg (Ursus maritimus). Males are larger than females, sometimes more than twice their size. Bears have small, rounded ears, small eyes, and very short tails. Most species have long, rough fur, and the hairs that make it up are generally unicolored (rather than being agouti, the common pattern among mammals). Sun bears have a smooth coat. Most bears are brown, black, or white; some have striking white marks on the chest or face. Giant pandas are well-known for their distinctive bands of black and white fur. Bear skulls are massive, with unspecialized incisors, elongate canines, reduced premolars, and bunodont cheek teeth. All bear species possess robust, recurved, non-retractile claws that they use for digging and ripping. The feet of bears are plantigrade, and most have hairy soles, although tree climbing bears, such as Helarctos, have naked soles. There are five digits on each foot. Giant pandas (Ailuropoda melanoleuca) have an additional, opposable feature of the forepaws, sometimes called a panda's "thumb". It is not a true digit but a pad-covered enlargement of the radial sesamoid bone. Pandas use this opposable structure to manipulate bamboo.
The skulls of bears are elongated. They have an alisphenoid canal, and the paroccipital processes are large and not fused to the bullae, which are not enlarged. Curiously, the lacrimal bone of bears is vestigial. Their cheekteeth are bunodont, and the carnassials are flattened and specialized for crushing, not secodont. The incisors are unspecialized; the canines are long and slightly hooked; and the first three premolars are small and weakly developed if present at all. The dental formula is 3/3, 1/1, 3-4/4, 2/3 = 40-42.
Other Physical Features: endothermic ; heterothermic ; bilateral symmetry
Sexual Dimorphism: male larger
- Lawlor, T. 1979. Handbook to the Orders and Families of Living Mammals. Eureka, California: Mad River Press.
Bears occur in nearly all terrestrial habitats throughout their range, from Arctic tundra and polar ice floes to tropical and temperate forests, mountains, grasslands, and deserts. Although some bear species occur in arid areas, proximity to water is important. Bears are most abundant and diverse in temperate and boreal regions. Most species are habitat generalists, changing preferred foods, activity patterns, and denning quarters with local conditions. Ailuropoda melanoleuca, however, is found primarily in the montane bamboo forests of southern China.
Habitat Regions: temperate ; tropical ; polar ; terrestrial
Terrestrial Biomes: tundra ; taiga ; desert or dune ; savanna or grassland ; chaparral ; forest ; rainforest ; scrub forest ; mountains
- Chorn, J., R. Hoffman. 1978. Ailuropoda melanoleuca. Mammalian Species, 110: 1-6.
- DeMaster, D., I. Stirling. 1981. Ursus maritimus. Mammalian Species, 145: 1-7.
- Fitzgerald, C., P. Krausman. 2002. Helarctos malayanus. Mammalian Species, 696: 1-5.
- Lariviere, S. 2001. Ursus americanus. Mammalian Species, 647: 1-11.
Bears are omnivorous and opportunistic. Specific food types may vary by habitat or season. For example, North American brown bears (Ursus arctos) may rely extensively on fruits and insect larvae throughout the year, or may prey extensively on calves during ungulate breeding seasons and on migrating fish. Most species eat primarily fruits and insect larvae but will include vertebrates when they can, carrion, honey, forbs and grasses, seeds, nuts, tubers, fish, and eggs. Bears use their formidable strength, massive forelimbs, and robust claws to tear apart logs and capture prey. Giant pandas (Ailuropoda melanoleuca) are dietary specialists, eating primarily bamboo stems and shoots, but will also include small vertebrates, insects, and carrion in their diet. Polar bears (Ursus maritimus) are the most carnivorous species, preying mainly on seal species, but including fish, small mammals, birds and their eggs, and will scavenge carcasses of whales, walruses, and seals.
Primary Diet: carnivore (Eats terrestrial vertebrates); herbivore (Folivore ); omnivore
All bear species, because of their omnivorous diet and large size, impact the populations of prey animals and plant communities in the ecosystems in which they live. Polar bear populations and brown bear populations that rely on large prey, exert significant pressure on prey populations, including breeding seals and elk. Bear species may help to disperse seeds from the fruits they eat. Arctic foxes (Vulpes lagopus) rely heavily on scavenging polar bear kills.
Bears are infected by a wide variety of endo and ectoparasites, including: protozoans (Eimeria and Toxoplasma), trematodes (Nannophyetus salminicola, Neoricketsia helminthoeca), cestodes (Anacanthotaenia olseni, Mesocestoides krulli, Multiceps serialis, Taenia species, and Diphyllobothrium species), nematodes (Baylisascaris transfuga, B. multipapillata, Uncinaria yukonensis, U. rauschi, Crenosoma, Thelazia californiensis, Dirofilaria ursi, Trichinella spiralis, and Gongylonema pulchrum), lice (Trichodectes pinguis), fleas (Chaetopsylla setosa, C. tuberculaticeps, Pulex irritans, and Arctopsylla species), and ticks (Dermacentor and Ixodes species). Infection by Trichinella spiralis is especially common, affecting up to 60% of Ursus maritimus and U. arctos.
Ecosystem Impact: disperses seeds
- Vulpes lagopus
- Trichinella spiralis
- Nannophyetus salminicola
- Neoricketsia helminthoeca
- Anacanthotaenia olseni
- Mesocestoides krulli
- Multiceps serialis
- Baylisascaris transfuga
- B. multipapillata
- Uncinaria yukonensis
- U. rauschi
- Thelazia californiensis
- Dirofilaria ursi
- Gongylonema pulchrum
- Trichodectes pinguis
- Chaetopsylla setosa
- C. tuberculaticeps
- Pulex irritans
Once bears reach their adult size it is unlikely that they will be subject to predation. Cubs are at risk of predation from conspecific bears, sympatric bear species, and other large predators, such as large cats and canids. Female bears are aggressive in defense of their young.
- conspecific and sympatric bears
- large cats (Felidae)
- social canids (Canidae), such as wolves (Canis lupus)
Known prey organisms
This list may not be complete but is based on published studies.
Life History and Behavior
Vision and hearing in bears is not well-developed, but they have a keen sense of smell and use their sensitive lips to locate and maneuver food. Ursus americanus has color vision and has been demonstrated using vision to distinguish food items at close range. Little is known about communication in bears, but grunts, moans, and roars are known from most species. Cubs may be especially vocal, uttering "woofs" and shrill howls when distressed. "Chuffing" is used as a greeting in Ursus arctos. Chemical cues may be used by males in locating receptive females. Home range boundaries, individual identity, and sexual condition may be advertised, both visually and chemically, by tree-scratching and by urinating and defecating on boundary trails.
Communication Channels: acoustic ; chemical
Perception Channels: visual ; tactile ; acoustic ; chemical
Bears are long-lived if they survive their first few years of life. Most mortality occurs in young cubs or dispersing juveniles as a result of food stress. Pre-weaning cub mortality was estimated at 10-30% in polar bears and sub-adult mortality at between 3 and 16%. In American black bears in Alaska, sub-adult mortality was estimated at 52 to 86%. Estimates of longevity in the wild are as high as 25 years. Captive animals have been known to live to 50 years or more (Ursus arctos).
Male and female bears generally associate only briefly for mating. Males monitor the estrus condition of females in their home range and will remain close for a few days when females are receptive. Multiple mating is practiced by both sexes.
Mating System: polygynandrous (promiscuous)
Bears give birth to 1 to 4 young, usually 2, at intervals of 1 to 4 years. There is evidence of delayed implantation in all species. Gestation lengths ranging from 95 to 266 days, with implantation being delayed from 45 to 120 days. Actual gestation lengths may be closer to 60 to 70 days. Births in temperate species occur during the winter when the female is dormant. The cubs nurse during the dormant period and the entire metabolic demands of the female must be met by her fat reserves. Births in Helarctos malayanus may occur at any time of the year. Sexual maturity occurs at from to 3 to 6.5 years old, usually occurring later in males. Growth continues after sexual maturity. Males may not reach their adult size until 10-11 years old. Females reach adult sizes usually around 5 years old.
Key Reproductive Features: iteroparous ; seasonal breeding ; year-round breeding ; gonochoric/gonochoristic/dioecious (sexes separate); sexual ; viviparous ; delayed implantation
Females give birth to their young in protected areas, often a den of some kind, until they are capable of getting around well, at several months of age. Bears are very small when born, from 90 (Ailuropoda melanoleuca) to 680 (Ursus arctos) grams at birth. They are born with their eyes and ears closed and are either naked or with only a fine layer of fur. Cubs grow rapidly, polar bears go from 600 grams at birth to 10 to 15 kg within 4 months. Weaning occurs from 3.5 (Ursus thibetanus) to 9 (Ailuropoda melanoleuca) months. Young stay with their mother for up to 3 years, but young of most species disperse after 18 to 24 months. Females are very protective of their young and it is likely that cubs learn about obtaining food and shelter during their extended juvenile time with their mother.
Parental Investment: altricial ; pre-fertilization (Provisioning, Protecting: Female); pre-hatching/birth (Provisioning: Female, Protecting: Female); pre-weaning/fledging (Provisioning: Female, Protecting: Female); pre-independence (Provisioning: Female, Protecting: Female); extended period of juvenile learning
- Chorn, J., R. Hoffman. 1978. Ailuropoda melanoleuca. Mammalian Species, 110: 1-6.
- DeMaster, D., I. Stirling. 1981. Ursus maritimus. Mammalian Species, 145: 1-7.
- Fitzgerald, C., P. Krausman. 2002. Helarctos malayanus. Mammalian Species, 696: 1-5.
- Lariviere, S. 2001. Ursus americanus. Mammalian Species, 647: 1-11.
- Nowak, R. 1991. Walker's Mammals of the World, Fifth Edition. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press.
- Pasitchniak-Arts, M. 1993. Ursus arctos. Mammalian Species, 439: 1-10.
- Rogers, L. 1999. American black bear. Pp. 157-160 in D Wilson, S Ruff, eds. The Smithsonian Book of North American Mammals. Washington, D.C.: The Smithsonian Institution Press.
- Vaughan, T., J. Ryan, N. Czaplewski. 2000. Mammalogy, 4th edition. New York: Saunders College Publishing.
Molecular Biology and Genetics
Statistics of barcoding coverage
Specimens with Sequences:506
Specimens with Barcodes:307
Species With Barcodes:12
Bears have been hunted and persecuted throughout human history. Most bear populations continue to face hunting pressure and have become fragmented as a result of human habitat destruction and hunting.
The IUCN ranks Malayan sun bears (Helarctos malayanus) as data deficient, polar bears (Ursus maritimus) as lower risk, Asiatic black bears (Ursus thibetanus), sloth bears (Melursus ursinus), and spectacled bears (Tremarctos ornatus) as vulnerable, and giant pandas (Ailuropoda melanoleuca as endangered.
Several brown bear subspecies are listed as endangered under the United States Endangered Species Act: Mexican grizzly bears, Ursus arctos nelsoni, European brown bears, U. arctos arctos, and Tibetan brown bears or horse bears, U. arctos pruinosus. Baluchistan bears, Ursus thibetanus gedrosianus, are also considered endangered.
The following species are on Appendix I of CITES: Ailuropoda melanoleuca, Helarctos malayanus, Melursus ursinus, Tremarctos ornatus, Ursus thibetanus, and populations of Ursus arctos in Bhutan, China, Mexico and Mongolia. All other populations of U. arctos are included in Appendix II.
- Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna, 2005. "CITES Appendices I, II, and III" (On-line). Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna. Accessed July 13, 2005 at http://www.cites.org/eng/app/appendices.shtml.
- IUCN Species Survival Commission, 2004. "The 2004 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species" (On-line). International Union for the Conservation of Nature. Accessed July 13, 2005 at http://www.redlist.org/.
- U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 2005. "U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Endangered Species Program" (On-line). Accessed July 13, 2005 at http://www.fws.gov/endangered/.
Relevance to Humans and Ecosystems
Bears are often implicated in predation on livestock, although their impact on livestock populations is most often vastly over-stated. This is particularly true of Tremarctos ornatus, which is persecuted for livestock predation despite its primarily frugivorous lifestyle. Bears regularly attack and kill humans when they feel threatened. Females accompanied by their young may be especially aggresssive and unpredictable. Bear attacks that seem at first to be unprovoked, often prove to be inadvertently provoked when investigated. Bears that live near humans, or have become habituated to humans, cause damage by breaking into homes, food stores, and garbage. Some bear species damage crops, such as manioc and corn.
Negative Impacts: injures humans (bites or stings); crop pest
Bears are important members of healthy ecosystems and are sometimes used as indicator species of habitat health and wildness. Bears have also been hunted by humans throughout history for their meat, fat, and fur. Other body parts are used in traditional Chinese pharmacopias, although their usefulness in curing ailments has never been demonstrated. Research on the metabolic pathways black bears use during their winter torpor may help in the development of treatments for kidney failure, gallstones, severe burns, and other illnesses.
Positive Impacts: body parts are source of valuable material; research and education
List of bears
Below follows a list of the different species of bears. Bears indented are a subspecies or type of the species listed above it that is non-indented.
Types of bears
- American Black Bear
- Asiatic Black Bear
- Brown bear
- Giant panda
- Sloth bear
- Sun bear
- Polar bear
- Ursid hybrid
- Spectacled Bear
Extinct bear species
- Tremarctos floridanus Florida spectacled bear
- Ailuropoda microta Dwarf Giant Panda
- Ursus arctos californicus "California Grizzly Bear"
Bears are mammals of the family Ursidae. Bears are classified as caniforms, or doglike carnivorans, with the pinnipeds being their closest living relatives. Although only eight species of bears are extant, they are widespread, appearing in a wide variety of habitats throughout the Northern Hemisphere and partially in the Southern Hemisphere. Bears are found on the continents of North America, South America, Europe, and Asia.
Common characteristics of modern bears include large bodies with stocky legs, long snouts, shaggy hair, plantigrade paws with five nonretractile claws, and short tails. While the polar bear is mostly carnivorous, and the giant panda feeds almost entirely on bamboo, the remaining six species are omnivorous with varied diets.
With the exception of courting individuals and mothers with their young, bears are typically solitary animals. They are generally diurnal, but may be active during the night (nocturnal) or twilight (crepuscular), particularly around humans. Bears possess an excellent sense of smell and, despite their heavy build and awkward gait, are adept runners, climbers, and swimmers. In autumn, some bear species forage large amounts of fermented fruits, which affects their behaviour. Bears use shelters, such as caves and burrows, as their dens; most species occupy their dens during the winter for a long period (up to 100 days) of sleep similar to hibernation.
Bears have been hunted since prehistoric times for their meat and fur. With their tremendous physical presence and charisma, they play a prominent role in the Arts, mythology, and other cultural aspects of various human societies. In modern times, the bears' existence has been pressured through the encroachment on their habitats and the illegal trade of bears and bear parts, including the Asian bile bear market. The IUCN lists six bear species as vulnerable or endangered, and even least concern species, such as the brown bear, are at risk of extirpation in certain countries. The poaching and international trade of these most threatened populations are prohibited, but still ongoing.
- 1 Etymology
- 2 Evolutionary history
- 3 Classification
- 4 Biology
- 5 Relationship with humans
- 6 Culture
- 7 Organizations regarding bears
- 8 See also
- 9 References
- 10 Further reading
- 11 External links
The English word "bear" comes from Old English bera and belongs to a family of names for the bear in Germanic languages that originate from an adjective meaning "brown". In Scandinavia, the word for bear is björn (or bjørn), and is a relatively common given name for males. The use of this name is ancient and has been found mentioned in several runestone inscriptions.
The reconstructed Proto-Indo-European name of the bear is *h₂ŕ̥tḱos, whence Sanskrit r̥kṣa, Avestan arša, Greek ἄρκτος (arktos), Latin ursus, Welsh arth (whence perhaps "Arthur"), Albanian ari, Armenian արջ (arj). Also compared is Hittite ḫartagga-, the name of a monster or predator. In the binomial name of the brown bear, Ursus arctos, Linnaeus simply combined the Latin and Greek names.
The Proto-Indo-European (PIE) word for bear, *h₂ŕ̥tḱos seems to have been subject to taboo deformation or replacement in some languages (as was the word for wolf, wlkwos), resulting in the use of numerous unrelated words with meanings like "brown one" (English bruin) and "honey-eater" (Slavic medved). Thus, some Indo-European language groups do not share the same PIE root.
The family Ursidae is one of nine families in the suborder Caniformia, or "doglike" carnivores, within the order Carnivora. Bears' closest living relatives are the pinnipeds, canids, and musteloids.
- presence of an alisphenoid canal
- paroccipital processes that are large and not fused to the auditory bullae
- auditory bullae are not enlarged
- lacrimal bone is vestigial
- cheek teeth are bunodont and hence indicative of a broad, hypocarnivorous (not strictly meat-eating) diet (although hypercarnivorous (strictly meat-eating) taxa are known from the fossil record)
- carnassials are flattened
Additionally, members of this family possess posteriorly oriented M2 postprotocrista molars, elongated m2 molars, and a reduction of the premolars.
Modern bears comprise eight species in three subfamilies: Ailuropodinae (monotypic with the giant panda), Tremarctinae (monotypic with the spectacled bear), and Ursinae (containing six species divided into one to three genera, depending on the authority).
The earliest members of Ursidae belong to the extinct subfamily Amphicynodontinae, including Parictis (late Eocene to early middle Miocene, 38–18 Mya) and the slightly younger Allocyon (early Oligocene, 34–30 Mya), both from North America. These animals looked very different from today's bears, being small and raccoon-like in overall appearance, and diets perhaps more similar to that of a badger. Parictis does not appear in Eurasia and Africa until the Miocene. It is unclear whether late-Eocene ursids were also present in Eurasia, although faunal exchange across the Bering land bridge may have been possible during a major sea level low stand as early as the late Eocene (about 37 Mya) and continuing into the early Oligocene. European genera morphologically are very similar to Allocyon, and also the much younger American Kolponomos (about 18 Mya), are known from the Oligocene, including Amphicticeps and Amphicynodon.
The raccoon-sized, dog-like Cephalogale is the oldest-known member of the subfamily Hemicyoninae, which first appeared during the middle Oligocene in Eurasia about 30 Mya ago. The subfamily also includes the younger genera Phoberocyon (20–15 Mya), and Plithocyon (15–7 Mya).
A Cephalogale-like species gave rise to the genus Ursavus during the early Oligocene (30–28 Mya); this genus proliferated into many species in Asia and is ancestral to all living bears. Species of Ursavus subsequently entered North America, together with Amphicynodon and Cephalogale, during the early Miocene (21–18 Mya).
Members of the living lineages of bears diverged from Ursavus between 15 and 20 Mya ago, likely via the species Ursavus elmensis. Based on genetic and morphological data, the Ailuropodinae (pandas) were the first to diverge from other living bears about 19 Mya ago, although no fossils of this group have been found before about 5 Mya.
The New World short-faced bears (Tremarctinae) differentiated from Ursinae following a dispersal event into North America during the mid Miocene (about 13 Mya). They invaded South America (~1 Ma) following formation of the Isthmus of Panama. Their earliest fossil representative is Plionarctos in North America (~ 10–2 Ma). This genus is probably the direct ancestor to the North American short-faced bears (genus Arctodus), the South American short-faced bears (Arctotherium), and the spectacled bears, Tremarctos, represented by both an extinct North American species (T. floridanus), and the lone surviving representative of the Tremarctinae, the South American spectacled bear (T. ornatus).
The subfamily Ursinae experienced a dramatic proliferation of taxa about 5.3–4.5 Mya ago, coincident with major environmental changes; with the first members of the genus Ursus also appearing around this time. The sloth bear is a modern survivor of one of the earliest lineages to diverge during this radiation event (5.3 Mya); it took on its peculiar morphology, related to its diet of termites and ants, no later than by the early Pleistocene. By 3–4 Mya ago, the species Ursus minimus appears in the fossil record of Europe; apart from its size, it was nearly identical to today's Asiatic black bear. It is likely ancestral to all bears within Ursinae, perhaps aside from the sloth bear. Two lineages evolved from U. minimus: the black bears (including the sun bear, the Asiatic black bear, and the American black bear); and the brown bears (which includes the polar bear). Modern brown bears evolved from U. minimus via Ursus etruscus, which itself is ancestral to both the extinct Pleistocene cave bear and today's brown and polar bears. Species of Ursinae have migrated repeatedly into North America from Eurasia as early as 4 Mya during the early Pliocene.
The fossil record of bears is exceptionally good. Direct ancestor-descendent relationships between individual species are often fairly well established, with sufficient intermediate forms known to make the precise cut-off between an ancestral and its daughter species subjective.
Taxonomic revisions of living bear species
The giant panda's taxonomy (subfamily Ailuropodinae) has long been debated. Its original classification by Armand David in 1869 was within the bear genus Ursus, but, in 1870, it was reclassified by Alphonse Milne-Edwards to the raccoon family. In recent studies, the majority of DNA analyses suggest that the giant panda has a much closer relationship to other bears and should be considered a member of the family Ursidae. Estimates of divergence dates place the giant panda as the most ancient offshoot among living taxa within Ursidae, having split from other bears as recently as 11.6 Mya to as distantly as 22.1 Mya. The red panda was included within Ursidae in the past. However, more recent research does not support such a conclusion, and instead places it in its own family Ailuridae, in superfamily Musteloidea along with Mustelidae, Procyonidae, and Mephitidae. Multiple similarities between the two pandas, including the presence of false thumbs, are thus thought to represent an example of convergent evolution for feeding primarily on bamboo.
Unlike their neighbors elsewhere, the brown bears of Alaska's ABC Islands evidently are more closely related to polar bears than to other brown bears in the world. Researchers Gerald Shields and Sandra Talbot of the University of Alaska Fairbanks Institute of Arctic Biology studied the DNA of several samples of the species and found that their DNA is different from that of other brown bears. The discovery has shown that, while all other brown bears share a brown bear as their closest relative, those of Alaska's ABC Islands differ and share their closest relation with the polar bear. Also, the very rare Tibetan blue bear is a type of brown bear. This animal has never been photographed.
(Extant species in bold.)
- Family Ursidae
- Subfamily Ailuropodinae
- † Ailurarctos
- † Ailurarctos lufengensis
- † Ailurarctos yuanmouenensis
- Ailuropoda (pandas)
- † Ailurarctos
- Subfamily Ailuropodinae
- Subfamily Tremarctinae
- † Plionarctos
- † Plionarctos edensis
- † Plionarctos harroldorum
- Tremarctos (spectacled bears)
- † Arctodus
- † Arctodus simus - giant short-faced bear
- † Arctodus pristinus
- † Arctotherium
- † Arctotherium angustidens
- † Arctotherium bonariense
- † Arctotherium brasilense
- † Arctotherium latidens
- † Arctotherium tarijense
- † Arctotherium vetustum
- † Arctotherium wingei
- † Plionarctos
- Subfamily Tremarctinae
- Subfamily Ursinae
- † Ursavus
- † Ursavus brevirhinus
- † Ursavus depereti
- † Ursavus elmensis
- † Ursavus pawniensis
- † Ursavus primaevus
- † Ursavus tedfordi
- † Indarctos
- † Indarctos anthraciti
- † Indarctos arctoides
- † Indarctos atticus
- † Indarctos nevadensis
- † Indarctos oregonensis
- † Indarctos salmontanus
- † Indarctos vireti
- † Indarctos zdanskyi
- † Agriotherium
- † Agriotherium inexpetans
- † Agriotherium schneideri
- † Agriotherium sivalensis
- † Ursus rossicus
- † Ursus sackdillingensis
- † Ursus minimus
- Ursus thibetanus - Asian black bear
- † Ursus abstrusus
- Ursus americanus - American black bear
- Ursus americanus altifrontalis, Olympic black bear
- Ursus americanus amblyceps, New Mexico black bear
- Ursus americanus americanus, Eastern black bear
- Ursus americanus californiensis, California black bear
- Ursus americanus carlottae, Haida Gwaii black bear or Queen Charlotte black bear
- Ursus americanus cinnamomum, cinnamon bear
- Ursus americanus emmonsii, glacier bear
- Ursus americanus eremicus, Mexican black bear
- Ursus americanus floridanus, Florida black bear
- Ursus americanus hamiltoni, Newfoundland black bear
- Ursus americanus kermodei, Kermode bear or spirit bear
- Ursus americanus luteolus, Louisiana black bear
- Ursus americanus machetes, West Mexico black bear
- Ursus americanus perniger, Kenai black bear
- Ursus americanus pugnax, Dall black bear
- Ursus americanus vancouveri, Vancouver Island black bear
- † Ursus etruscus
- Ursus arctos - brown bear
- Ursus arctos arctos; Eurasian brown bear
- Ursus arctos alascensis
- Ursus arctos beringianus; Kamchatka brown bear or Far Eastern brown bear
- † Ursus arctos californicus; California golden bear
- † Ursus arctos crowtheri; Atlas bear
- † Ursus arctos dalli
- Ursus arctos gobiensis; Gobi bear (very rare)
- Ursus arctos horribilis; grizzly bear, North American brown bear, or silvertip bear
- Ursus arctos isabellinus; Himalayan brown bear or Himalayan red bear
- Ursus arctos lasiotus; Ussuri brown bear or black grizzly
- Ursus arctos middendorffi; Kodiak bear
- † Ursus arctos nelsoni; Mexican grizzly bear
- Ursus arctos piscator; Bergman's bear (extinct?)
- Ursus arctos pruinosus; Tibetan blue bear, Tibetan bear, or Himalayan blue bear
- Ursus arctos sitkensis
- Ursus arctos syriacus; Syrian (brown) bear
- Ursus maritimus - polar bear
- † Ursus savini
- † Ursus deningeri
- † Ursus spelaeus - cave bear
- † Ursus inopinatus, MacFarlane's bear (cryptid; if an authentic species, extinct)
- † Ursavus
- † Kolponomos
- † Kolponomos clallamensis
- † Kolponomos newportensis
- Subfamily Ursinae
The genera Melursus and Helarctos are sometimes also included in Ursus. The Asiatic black bear and the polar bear used to be placed in their own genera, Selenarctos and Thalarctos; these names have since been reduced in rank to subgeneric rank.
A number of hybrids have been bred between American black, brown, and polar bears.
Bears are generally bulky and robust animals with relatively short legs. They are sexually dimorphic with regard to size, with the males being larger. Larger species tend to show increased levels of sexual dimorphism in comparison to smaller species, and where a species varies in size across its distribution, individuals from larger-sized areas tend also to vary more. Bears are the most massive terrestrial members of the order Carnivora. Some exceptional polar bears and Kodiak bears (a brown bear subspecies) have been weighed at over 750 kg (1,650 lb). As to which species is the largest depends on whether the assessment is based on which species has the largest individuals (brown bears) or on the largest average size (polar bears), as some races of brown bears are much smaller than polar bears. Adult male Kodiak bears average 480 to 533 kg (1,058 to 1,175 lb) compared to an average of 386 to 408 kg (851 to 899 lb) in adult male polar bears, per the Guinness Book of World Records. The smallest bears are the sun bears of Asia, which weigh an average of 65 kg (143 lb) for the males and 45 kg (99 lb) for the females, though the smallest mature females can weigh only 20 kg (44 lb). All "medium"-sized bear species (which include the other five extant species) are around the same average weight, with males averaging around 100 to 120 kg (220 to 260 lb) and females averaging around 60 to 85 kg (132 to 187 lb), although it is not uncommon for male American black bears to considerably exceed "average" weights. Head-and-body length can range from 120 cm (47 in) in sun bears to 300 cm (120 in) in large polar and brown bears and shoulder height can range from 60 cm (24 in) to over 160 cm (63 in) in the same species, respectively. The tails of bears are often considered a vestigial feature and can range from 3 to 22 cm (1.2 to 8.7 in).
Unlike most other land carnivorans, bears are plantigrade. They distribute their weight toward the hind feet, which makes them look lumbering when they walk. They are still quite fast, with the brown bear reaching 48 km/h (30 mph), although they are still slower than felines and canines. Bears can stand on their hind feet and sit up straight with remarkable balance. Bears' nonretractable claws are used for digging, climbing, tearing, and catching prey. Their ears are rounded.
Bears have an excellent sense of smell, better than the dogs (Canidae), or possibly any other mammal. This sense of smell is used for signalling between bears (either to warn off rivals or detect mates) and for finding food. Smell is the principal sense used by bears to find most of their food.
Unlike most other members of the Carnivora, bears have relatively undeveloped carnassial teeth, and their teeth are adapted for a diet that includes a significant amount of vegetable matter. The canine teeth are large, and the molar teeth flat and crushing. Considerable variation occurs in dental formula even within a given species. This may indicate bears are still in the process of evolving from carnivorous to predominantly herbivorous diets. Polar bears appear to have secondarily re-evolved fully functional carnassials, as their diets have switched back towards carnivory. The dental formula for living bears is: 3.1.2-4.2
Distribution and habitat
Bears are primarily found in the Northern Hemisphere, and with one exception, only in Asia, North America and Europe. The single exception is the spectacled bear (Tremarctos ornatus); native to South America it inhabits the Andean region. The Atlas bear, a subspecies of the brown bear, was the only bear native to Africa. It was distributed in North Africa from Morocco to Libya, but has been extinct since around the 1870s. The most widespread species is the brown bear, which occurs from Western Europe eastwards through Asia to the western areas of North America. The American black bear is restricted to North America, and the polar bear is restricted to the Arctic Sea. All the remaining species are Asian.
With the exception of the polar bear, bears are mostly forest species. Some species, particularly the brown bear, may inhabit or seasonally use other areas, such as alpine scrub or tundra.
While many people think bears are nocturnal, they are, in fact, generally diurnal, active for the most part during the day. The belief that they are nocturnal apparently comes from the habits of bears that live near humans, which engage in some nocturnal activities, such as raiding trash cans or crops while avoiding humans. The sloth bear of Asia is the most nocturnal of the bears, but this varies by individual, and females with cubs are often diurnal to avoid competition with males and nocturnal predators. Bears are overwhelmingly solitary and are considered to be the most asocial of all the Carnivora. Liaisons between breeding bears are brief, and the only times bears are encountered in small groups are mothers with young or occasional seasonal bounties of rich food (such as salmon runs).
Bears produce a variety of vocalizations such as:
- Moaning, produced mostly as mild warnings to potential threats or in fear,
- Barking, produced during times of alarm, excitement or to give away the animal's position.
- Huffing, made during courtship or between mother and cubs to warn of danger.
- Growling, produced as strong warnings to potential threats or in anger.
- Roaring, used much for the same reasons as growls and also to proclaim territory and for intimidation.
- Humming, a loud monotonous buzzing sound, primarily employed by cubs.
Diet and interspecific interactions
Most bears have diets of more plant than animal matter and are completely opportunistic omnivores. Some bears will climb trees to obtain mast (edible vegatative or reproductive parts, such as acorns); smaller species that are more able to climb include a greater amount of this in their diets. Such masts can be very important to the diets of these species, and mast failures may result in long-range movements by bears looking for alternative food sources. One exception is the polar bear, which has adopted a diet mainly of marine mammals to survive in the Arctic. The other exception is the giant panda, which has adopted a diet mainly of bamboo. Stable isotope analysis of the extinct giant short-faced bear (Arctodus simus) shows it was also an exclusive meat-eater, probably a scavenger. The sloth bear, though not as specialized as the previous two species, has lost several front teeth usually seen in bears, and developed a long, suctioning tongue to feed on the ants, termites, and other burrowing insects they favour. At certain times of the year, these insects can make up 90% of their diets. All bears will feed on any food source that becomes available, the nature of which varies seasonally. A study of Asiatic black bears in Taiwan found they would consume large numbers of acorns when they were most common, and switch to ungulates at other times of the year.
When taking warm-blooded animals, bears will typically take small or young animals, as they are easier to catch. However, both species of black bears and the brown bear can sometimes take large prey, such as ungulates. Often, bears will feed on other large animals when they encounter a carcass, whether or not the carcass is claimed by, or is the kill of, another predator. This competition is the main source of interspecies conflict. Bears are able to defend a carcass against some comers. Mother bears also can usually defend their cubs against other predators.
The tiger is the only predator known to regularly prey on adult bears, including fully grown adults of brown bears, sloth bears, Asiatic black bears and sun bears When hunting bears, tigers will position themselves from the leeward side of a rock or fallen tree, waiting for the bear to pass by. When the bear passes, the tiger will spring from an overhead position and grab the bear from under the chin with one forepaw and the throat with the other. The immobilised bear is then killed with a bite to the spinal column. After killing a bear, the tiger will concentrate its feeding on the bear's fat deposits, such as the back, legs and groin.
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The age at which bears reach sexual maturity is highly variable, both between and within species. Sexual maturity is dependent on body condition, which is in turn dependent upon the food supply available to the growing individual. The females of smaller species may have young in as little as two years, whereas the larger species may not rear young until they are four or even nine years old. First breeding may be even later in males, where competition for mates may leave younger males without access to females.
The bear's courtship period is very brief. Bears in northern climates reproduce seasonally, usually after a period of inactivity similar to hibernation, although tropical species breed all year round. Cubs are born toothless, blind, and bald. The cubs of brown bears, usually born in litters of one to three, will typically stay with the mother for two full seasons. They feed on their mother's milk through the duration of their relationship with their mother, although as the cubs continue to grow, nursing becomes less frequent and cubs learn to begin hunting with the mother. They will remain with the mother for about three years, until she enters the next cycle of estrus and drives the cubs off. Bears will reach sexual maturity in five to seven years. Male bears, especially polar and brown bears, will kill and sometimes devour cubs born to another father to induce a female to breed again. Female bears are often successful in driving off males in protection of their cubs, despite being rather smaller.
Many bears of northern regions are assumed[by whom?] to hibernate in the winter, a belief supported by a number of scientific studies. While many bear species do go into a physiological state often colloquially called "hibernation" or "winter sleep", it is not true hibernation. In true hibernators, body temperatures drop to near ambient and heart rates slow drastically, but the animals periodically rouse themselves to urinate or defecate and to eat from stored food. The body temperature of bears, on the other hand, drops only a few degrees from normal, and the heart rate slows from a normal value of 55 to just 9 beats per minute. They normally do not wake during this "hibernation", so do not eat, drink, urinate, or defecate the entire period. Higher body heat and being easily roused may be adaptations, because females give birth to their cubs during this winter sleep.
Relationship with humans
Some species, such as the polar bear, American black bear, sloth bear, and brown bear, are dangerous to humans, especially in areas where they have become used to people. All bears are physically powerful and are likely capable of fatally attacking a person, but they, for the most part, are shy, are easily frightened and will avoid humans. Injuries caused by bears are rare, but are often widely reported. The danger that bears pose is often vastly exaggerated, in part by the human imagination. However, when a mother feels that her cubs are threatened, she will behave ferociously. It is recommended to give all bears a wide berth because they are behaviorally unpredictable.
Where bears raid crops or attack livestock, they may come into conflict with humans. These problems may be the work of only a few bears, but they create a climate of conflict, as farmers and ranchers may perceive all losses as due to bears and advocate the preventive removal of all bears. Mitigation methods may be used to reduce bear damage to crops, and reduce local antipathy towards bears.
Laws have been passed in many areas of the world to protect bears from habitat destruction. Public perception of bears is often very positive, as people identify with bears due to their omnivorous diets, ability to stand on two legs, and symbolic importance, and support for bear protection is widespread, at least in more affluent societies. In more rural and poorer regions, attitudes may be more shaped by the dangers posed by bears and the economic costs they cause to farmers and ranchers. Some populated areas with bear populations have also outlawed the feeding of bears, including allowing them access to garbage or other food waste. Bears in captivity have been trained to dance, box, or ride bicycles; however, this use of the animals became controversial in the late 20th century. Bears were kept for baiting in Europe at least since the 16th century.
Some cultures use bears for food and folk medicine. Their meat is dark and stringy, like a tough cut of beef. In Cantonese cuisine, bear paws are considered a delicacy. The peoples of China, Japan, and Korea use bears' body parts and secretions (notably their gallbladders and bile) as part of traditional Chinese medicine. More than 12,000 bile bears are thought to be kept on farms, for their bile, in China, Vietnam, and South Korea. Bear meat must be cooked thoroughly, as it can be infected with Trichinella spiralis, which can cause trichinosis.
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The female first name "Ursula", originally derived from a Christian saint's name and common in English- and German-speaking countries, means "little she-bear" (diminutive of Latin ursa). In Switzerland, the male first name "Urs" is especially popular, while the name of the canton and city of Bern is derived from Bär, German for bear. The Germanic name Bernard (including Bernhardt and other forms) means "bear-brave", "bear-hardy", or "bold bear".
In Scandinavia, the male personal names Björn (Sweden, Iceland) and Bjørn (Norway, Denmark), meaning "bear", are relatively common. In Finland, the male personal name Otso is an old poetic name for bear, similar to Kontio.
In East European Jewish communities, the name Ber (בער)—Yiddish cognate of "Bear"—has been attested as a common male first name, at least since the 18th century, and was, among others, the name of several prominent rabbis. The Yiddish Ber is still in use among Orthodox Jewish communities in Israel, the US, and other countries. With the transition from Yiddish to Hebrew under the influence of zionism, the Hebrew word for "bear", dov (דב), was taken up in contemporary Israel and is at present among the commonly used male first names in that country.
Myth and legend
There is evidence of prehistoric bear worship. Anthropologists such as Joseph Campbell have regarded this as a common feature in most of the fishing and hunting-tribes. The prehistoric Finns, along with most Siberian peoples, considered the bear as the spirit of one's forefathers. This is why the bear (karhu) was a greatly respected animal, with several euphemistic names (such as otso, mesikämmen and kontio). The bear is the national animal of Finland.
This kind of attitude is reflected in the traditional Russian fairy tale "Morozko", whose arrogant protagonist Ivan tries to kill a mother bear and her cubs—and is punished and humbled by having his own head turned magically into a bear's head and being subsequently shunned by human society.
"The Brown Bear of Norway" is a Scottish fairy tale telling the adventures of a girl who married a prince magically turned into a bear, and who managed to get him back into a human form by the force of her love and after many trials and difficulties. In the 1970s, this story was adapted into the East German fantasy film The Singing Ringing Tree and broadcast on British television.
Evidence of bear worship has been found in early Chinese and Ainu cultures, as well (see Iomante). Korean people in their mythology identify the bear as their ancestor and symbolic animal. According to the Korean legend, a god imposed a difficult test on a she-bear; when she passed it, the god turned her into a woman and married her.
Legends of saints taming bears are common in the Alpine zone. In the arms of the bishopric of Freising, the bear is the dangerous totem animal tamed by St. Corbinian and made to carry his civilised baggage over the mountains. A bear also features prominently in the legend of St. Romedius, who is also said to have tamed one of these animals and had the same bear carry him from his hermitage in the mountains to the city of Trento.
This recurrent motif was used by the Church as a symbol of the victory of Christianity over paganism. In the Norse settlements of northern England during the 10th century, a type of "hogback" grave cover of a long narrow block of stone, with a shaped apex like the roof beam of a long house, is carved with a muzzled, thus Christianised, bear clasping each gable end. Though the best collection of these is in the church at Brompton, North Yorkshire, their distribution ranges across northern England and southern Scotland, with a scattered few in the north Midlands and single survivals in Wales, Cornwall, and Ireland; a late group is found in the Orkney Islands.
"En uheldig bjørnejakt" (An Unfortunate Bear Hunt) by Theodor Kittelsen.
Onikuma from Ehon Hyaku Monogatari
Coat of Arms of the Abbey of Saint Gall
"The Three Bears", Arthur Rackham's illustration to English Fairy Tales, by
In the United States, the black bear is the state animal of Louisiana, New Mexico, and West Virginia; the grizzly bear is the state animal of both Montana and California. Bears also appear in the state seals of California and Missouri.
Also, "bear", "bruin", or specific types of bears are popular nicknames or mascots, for example, for sports teams (Bayern Munich, Chicago Bears, California Golden Bears, UCLA Bruins, Boston Bruins); and a bear cub called Misha was mascot of the 1980 Summer Olympics in Moscow, Soviet Union.
Smokey Bear has become a part of American culture since his introduction in 1944. Known to almost all Americans, he and his message, "Only you can prevent forest fires" (updated in 2001 to "Only you can prevent wildfires"), have been a symbol of preserving woodlands. Smokey wears a hat similar to one worn by U.S. Forest Service rangers; state police officers in some states wear a similar style, giving rise to the CB slang "bear" or "Smokey" for the highway patrol.
Figures of speech
The physical attributes and behaviours of bears are commonly used in figures of speech in English.
- In the stock market, a bear market is a period of declining prices. Pessimistic forecasting or negative activity is said to be bearish (due to the stereotypical posture of bears looking downwards), and one who expresses bearish sentiment is a bear. Its opposite is a bull market, and bullish sentiment from bulls.
- In gay slang, the term "bear" refers to male individuals who possess physical attributes much like a bear, such as a heavy build, abundant body hair, and commonly facial hair.
- A bear hug is typically a tight hug that involves wrapping one's arms around another person, often leaving that person's arms immobile.
- Bear tracking – in the old Western states of the U.S. and, to this day, in the former Dakota Territory, the expression "you ain't just a bear trackin'" is used to mean "you ain't lying" or "that's for sure". This expression evolved as an outgrowth of the experience pioneer hunters and mountainmen had when tracking bear. Bears often lay down false tracks and are notorious for doubling back on anything tracking them. If you are not following bear tracks, you are not following false trails or leads in your thoughts, words or deeds.
- In Korean culture, a person is referred to as being "like a bear" when they are stubborn or not sensitive to what is happening around their surroundings. Used as a phrase to call a person "stubborn bear".
- The Bible compares King David's "bitter warriors", who fight with such fury that they could overcome many times their number of opponents, with "a bear robbed of her whelps in the field" (2 Samuel 17:8 s:Bible (King James)/2 Samuel#Chapter 17). The phrase "a bereaved bear" (דב שכול), derived from this Biblical source, is still used in the literary Hebrew of contemporary Israel.
Around the world, many children have stuffed toys in the form of bears.
Organizations regarding bears
Two authoritative organizations for seeking scientific information on bear species of the world are the International Association for Bear Research & Management, also known as the International Bear Association (IBA); and the Bear Specialist Group of the Species Survival Commission, a part of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature. These organizations focus on the species' natural history, management, and conservation.
Other organizations exist to further wild bear education and conservation. Bear Trust International works for wild bears and other wildlife through four core program initiatives: 1) Conservation Education, 2) Wild Bear Research, 3) Wild Bear Management, and, 4) Habitat Conservation. Speciality organizations for each of the eight species of bears worldwide include:
- Brown bear: "Vital Ground".
- Asiatic black bear: "Moon Bears".
- North American black bear: "Black Bear Conservation Coalition".
- Polar bear: "Polar Bears International".
- Sun bear: "Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre".
- Sloth bear: "Wildlife SOS".
- Andean bear: "Andean Bear Conservation Project".
- Giant panda: "Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding".
- List of fatal bear attacks in North America
- List of fictional bears
- List of individual bears
- Ursa minor
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