A sloth bear photographed at Sunset Zoo in Manhattan, Kansas
A sloth bear photographed at Sunset Zoo in Manhattan, Kansas
Photograph by Joel Sartore, National Geographic Photo Ark

Sloth Bear

Common Name:
Sloth Bear
Scientific Name:
Melursus ursinus
Type:
Mammals
Diet:
Omnivore
Group Name:
Solitary
Average Life Span In Captivity:
Up to 40 years
Size:
5 to 6 feet; tail: 2.7 to 4.7 inches
Weight:
120 to 310 pounds
IUCN Red List Status:
Vulnerable
Current Population Trend:
Decreasing

Shaggy, dusty, and unkempt, the reclusive sloth bear makes its home in the forests of South Asia. Emitting noisy grunts and snorts, it wanders alone, usually at night, in search of insects and fresh fruit.

Feeding Behavior

Sloth bears feed predominantly on termites and ants and employ a well-evolved method to dig them out. Their long, curved claws are used for penetrating nest mounds, which can be rock-hard. Once they’ve opened a hole, they blow away excess dirt then noisily suck out the insects through a gap in their front teeth. To do so, they close their nostrils and use their lips like a vacuum nozzle.

Beyond insects, sloth bears feast on a variety of fruit and flowers, including mango, fig, and ebony. They are also known to scale the occasional tree to knock down a bee honeycomb, which they will then enjoy on the ground below. It is this habit that’s given rise to their nickname, honey bears.

Size and Appearance

Sloth bears are solitary creatures and generally nocturnal. They grow up to 6 feet in length, and males can weigh up to 310 pounds, while females weigh up to 210 pounds. When threatened they respond by standing on their hind legs and displaying their formidable foreclaws.

They wear an extremely shaggy black coat and a cream-colored snout, and their chest is usually marked with a whitish “V” or “Y” design.

Reproduction

After a six- to seven-month gestation period sloth bears normally give birth to a litter of two cubs in an underground den. The cubs will often ride on their mother’s back, a unique trait among bears.

Threats to Survival

Sloth bears are considered vulnerable animals. They are threatened by habitat loss and are sometimes captured for use in performances or hunted because of their aggressive behavior and destruction of crops.

This photo was submitted to Your Shot, our photo community on Instagram. Follow us on Instagram at @natgeoyourshot or visit us at natgeo.com/yourshot for the latest submissions and news about the community.
This photo was submitted to Your Shot, our photo community on Instagram. Follow us on Instagram at @natgeoyourshot or visit us at natgeo.com/yourshot for the latest submissions and news about the community.
Photograph by Sakthi Karthikeyan, National Geographic Your Shot

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