Imagine sticking your nose in the air and sniffing the smell of a hamburger cooking a mile away. Some bears can do just that. Bears have a keen sense of smell. They use this sense to help them find food. Bears are meat eaters, or carnivores. But most bears also eat fruits, nuts, and other foods. Bears live in North America, South America, Europe, and Asia. They do not live in Africa, Australia, or Antarctica.
WHAT MAKES A BEAR A BEAR?
Bears are powerful animals with lots of thick fur and a short, stumpy tail. They have big heads with a long snout (nose and mouth) and small ears and eyes. They have four short legs that end in paws, each with five sharp claws. They use their claws to climb trees, dig up roots, or catch prey. Male bears are much bigger than female bears.
BEARS ARE LONERS
Bears usually live alone unless they are mothers with cubs. Each bear claims an area, or territory, as its own. It chases other bears away. A bear stands up on its hind legs to look frightening. It uses its claws to slash at enemies.
Bears roam over large areas looking for food. They need to eat a lot of food for energy. Most bears can climb trees to find honey in a bee’s nest or other food. Polar bears and brown bears are too heavy to climb trees. These bears are the biggest of all the bears. They can weigh up to 1,760 pounds (800 kilograms).
Bears that live in cold places go into dens and sleep through most of the winter. They make their dens in caves, trees trunks, and other hollow places. They eat plenty of food during the summer to store up body fat. Their body fat gives them energy to sleep through the cold winter.
Bears mate in the spring after they wake up from winter sleep. The cubs are born the next winter in the mother’s den. Females usually have between one and three cubs at a time. The newborn cubs are tiny, blind, and helpless. They have no teeth or hair. But they are warm and safe in the mother bear’s den. They feed on their mother’s milk. The milk is rich and helps the baby bears grow quickly. When they are three months old, the cubs are ready to go outside the den and look for food. The cubs stay close by their mother, however.
Cubs live with their mother until they are two or three years old. During this time, they learn what to eat and where to find food. Then they go off and find their own territory. When females are between four and seven years old, they are ready to have cubs of their own. Bears in the wild may live to be from 25 to 40 years old, but scientists do not know for sure.
KINDS OF BEARS
There are eight major kinds, or species, of bears. These species are giant panda, spectacled bear, sun bear, sloth bear, Asiatic black bear, American black bear, brown bear, and polar bear. The best-known bears are giant pandas, American black bears, brown bears, and polar bears.
The giant panda has shaggy white fur with a black patch around each eye and a ring of black around the shoulders, front legs, and chest. The biggest giant pandas are about 5 feet (1.5 meters) long and weigh up to 220 pounds (100 kilograms).
The giant panda lives in the mountains of south central China. It eats the leaves and stems of bamboo trees. The giant panda is an endangered species. There may only be about 1,000 of these animals left in the wild.
AMERICAN BLACK BEAR
Most American black bears have black fur. But some have reddish or yellowish fur. Males can be 6 feet (1.8 meters) long and weigh up to 660 pounds (300 kilograms).
American black bears live in Canada, the United States, and northern Mexico. Scientists think there may be as many as 700,000 black bears in the United States. American black bears eat grasses, berries, acorns, and walnuts.
Brown bears have fur that is light or dark brown. They also have a big hump on their shoulders. Their snout is turned upward. Brown bears live in Asia, Europe, and North America. Grizzly bears are a kind of brown bear.
Brown bears are among the largest bears. Large males weigh up to 1,760 pounds (800 kilograms). The Alaskan brown bear and other brown bears that live along seacoasts eat salmon. Brown bears that live inland eat plants and insects. There are more than 120,000 brown bears in Russia and about 32,000 in Alaska.
Polar bears have white fur. They live in the Arctic near the North Pole. Their fur blends in with the ice and snow all around them. Polar bears are huge. Big males can be 7 feet (2 meters) long and weigh as much as a big brown bear.
Polar bears eat mostly meat. Their favorite foods are seal and walrus. Polar bears can hunt for food on land or in the icy water. Polar bears are very good swimmers. Their thick fur keeps them warm and dry.
BEARS AND PEOPLE
People have hunted bears since prehistoric times. They ate bear meat and used bear fur as robes or blankets to keep warm. Once there were many bears all over the world. Today, there are few. People destroyed the places where bears lived when they cleared land for farms and towns. Governments and conservation groups are working to save the bears that are left.