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Sun Bear Fun Facts

sun bear lying on a rock

The Sun Bear is the smallest bear species in the world. Sun Bears are found in the tropical forests of Asia. In particular, they are found in Southeast Asian forests. 

The taxonomic name of a sun bear is Helarctos Malayanus.

Sun bears are found in eastern India, Southern China, and Indonesia. They live in tropical forests. 

These bears are small as compared to other bears. They have smaller bodies. Sun Bears have large paws and strong claws. Their claws are curved and sharp. Usually, these bears have jet black fur. Sometimes, the color varies from grey to red too. 

Their fur is soft and silky. Since they live in tropical climates, it is not very dense. They have fine fur so they don’t trap heat. Their paw pads are hairless. They have the shortest hair of all bear species. Yet, the fur is coarse enough to protect the bear’s skin.

Sun bears have the shortest snout of any bear. The total length of a sun bear is around 100-140 centimeters (39-55 inches). From its height or length, we see that it is the smallest bear species in the animal kingdom. Adults weigh anywhere between  25–65 kilograms (55–143 pounds).

sun bear chest pattern

The coat of a sun bear is almost entirely black. They have a ‘U”-shaped patch on their chest. This patch is yellowish. It might be either white or completely absent in some cases. 

The sun bears earn their name from this little patch. When a sun bear stands up, this patch gives the appearance of a rising sun on its chest

Their tongue is unusually long. The tongue of a sun bear can be around 10 inches long! That’s around 25 centimeters. Their tongues are the longest of any bear species. There are many adorable photographs of sun bears sticking their tongues out. Take a look!

This patch makes the bear appear more dangerous. It is used as a display of threat or aggression. When the bear stands up on its hind feet, this patch appears big and threatening. It helps the bear ward off predators. It can also keep away rivals.

Where Do Sun Bears Live?

Sun Bears are the most “arboreal” bear species. This means that they spend a lot of time in treetops. We know what you’re thinking – “Are Sun Bears that agile?” The answer is simple. The bear is an excellent tree-climber. A Sun Bear spends its days 2-7 meters above the ground in the trees. They are also very good swimmers.

sun bar climbing tree

Their hairless paws help them in climbing trees. They build “bear beds” in treetops. For this bed, they use fallen logs and leaves. These beds are high up in the trees to keep the bears safe. They can also hunt for insects in the branches around their beds.

The lifespan of a sun bear is dependent on its surroundings. In the wild, a sun bear can live up to 25 years. In captivity, it can be a little more. Most sun bears in captivity live for up to 31 years

Sun bears are considered very intelligent animals. One particular bear opened a cupboard with sugar in it by watching humans do the same with a key. They can also mimic or copy some human facial expressions. 

Unlike other bears, the sun bear does not hibernate. It has food sources all year long. Sun Bears do not need to save their energy resources. Hence, they do not need to hibernate.
What is Hibernation?
A lot of mammals hibernate. This means that they do not do any activity. This is to conserve their energy. Their body temperature drops. Their breathing slows. Their heart rates drop too. 

What do Sun Bears eat?

Sun Bears are omnivores. They eat insects like bees, earthworms, termites, and more. They also eat fruit. To grab insects from trees, sun bears have long tongues. Their long tongues help them get honey from beehives as well. Sometimes, sun bears will eat leftover carrion from tigers or other big predators. The Sun bear also catches lizards and other small creatures. 

sun bear claws

Sun bears have sharp claws. They use their claws to rip apart the beehive. With their long tongues, they luck up all the delicious honey in the hive. Wondering how they don’t get stung? The sun bear’s fur protects it against bee stings!

The Sun bear has a very sensitive nose. This nose helps a bear to locate food sources easily. They can also smell food sources at night!

Reproduction in Sun Bears

Sun bears live in isolation. It is rare to see even two sun bears together. The rare times that sun bears are seen together are during the mating season. But, because their habitats are tropical, there is no particular season for mating. 

The female sun bear can reproduce throughout the year. However, she will usually only have one cub a year. There are cases of female bears having two cubs in a year. But, that is a rare instance. 

The gestation period for female sun bears is anywhere between 3 to 9 months. That is less than the period for humans. 

Sun bear cubs are raised only by their mothers. A mother sun bear will protect her cub from all harm. She is very protective of her cub. 

Usually, sun bears are not that aggressive. However, if a cub is in danger, its mother will fight ferociously to protect it. 

The mother bear puts her cub first. She has to look for food for both of them. If there is less food, the mother will give the food to her cub first. She will not eat till her cub has had its fill. She puts the well-being of her offspring before her own. 

When a cub is growing, the mother will scavenge for extra food in the day. A growing cub needs more nutrition. Thus, the mother has to hunt or scavenge more. However, she will not go too far away from their den, even while searching for food. 

The bear beds are usually built at a height. Cold temperatures on ground can be fatal to newborn cubs. To maintain temperature and safety, the mother bear will build a den a little above ground. In other cases, she might build a den with lots of insulation. 

Baby cubs become independent between one and two years of age. Once a bear is independent, it will not have too much contact with its mother. The independent bear will now fend for itself. The mother will not help it in gathering food or hunting. From that point, the bear will have no interaction with other bears till it is ready to mate. 

baby sun bear

The mother bear makes sure that her cub learns everything about adult life. She will teach it to hunt and gather food. The mother bear will make sure that the cub observes her. She will teach it to observe her and learn. The bear must observe its mother and learn how to take care of itself. 

The mother bear will also teach the cub to climb trees. When it is old enough, the bear must climb trees on its own. The bear will have to look for food and build its bed in the trees. 

Sun Bear’s Importance to the Ecosystem

The sun bears love fruits. Because of this food habit, it is a very good disperser of seeds. These seeds help in pollinating, and growing into new plants. The sun bear thus maintains the ecosystem around its habitat. 

The Sun Bear is a ‘keystone species’. The number of sun bears in an environment affects it greatly. In order to maintain the flora of an environment, we must protect the sun bear and other pollinators like them. 

Sun Bear – An Endangered Species

The Sun Bears are largely found in Indoneisa and Malaysia. In these countries, the sun bear population is under threat. There is large-scale deforestation in these countries. Deforestation means a rapid cutting-down of trees. 

When we cut down trees, the sun bears lose their habitat. Trees and green tropical forests are necessary for the bears. Without them, the bears don’t have resources and food supplies to survive.

Another important reason for the endangered status of the sun bear is the bear bile trade. Bear bile is known for its healing properties. It is used to treat haemorrhoids, epilepsy, fevers, inflammation, and more. For this reason, they are farmed and their bile is extracted. However, this farming is carried out in terrible conditions. 

The bears are caught from the wild. They are not bred in captivity. This reduces the number of sun bears still out in the wild, living in their natural habitats. In total, their numbers are reduced drastically. 

Saving the sun bear requires an effort to save their habitat. It also depends on an effort to stop the use of bear bile. There can be synthetic alternatives to bear bile. It needs to be accepted as the norm in order to protect the sun bear. 

Their endangered status will not get better unless their habitats are saved. Forests need to be conserved so that the sun bears can live peacefully. Their population needs to be conserved. They are an important species to the environment around them.