In a sleepy forest, twigs snap underfoot. A wanderer stirs in the brush, moving closer and closer.
With each step, the forest awakens, and stands at attention for one of nature’s greatest beasts.
FACT 1: There are eight species of bears.
Bears are scattered over four of the seven continents.
Polar bears and brown bears can be found in North America, Europe, and Asia; American black bears are only found in North America, while South America only hosts the spectacled, or Andean, bears; and Sloth, Panda, Malayan Sun, and Asiatic (or “Moon”) bears are only found in Asia.
FACT 2: Bears come in a wide range of sizes.
The smallest bear is the sun bear, with males typically growing up to 5 feet long and weighing 150 pounds.
The largest bear is the polar bear. Males can average up to 8 feet in length and weigh up to 1,600 pounds – over 10 times as much as the sun bear.
Despite their size, bears can move swiftly, sprinting at speeds of up to 40mph – nearly twice the speed of the fastest human ever recorded.
FACT 3: Most bears are omnivorous.
Outside of the largely carnivorous polar bear, most bear species tend to have a vegetarian diet. The panda bear diet, in particular, is 99% bamboo.
The diets of black and brown bears are more varied: from seeds and berries to carrion, small mammals, and salmon.
Additionally, many bears enjoy one of nature’s sweetest treats: honey. They may even consume the bees and larvae within the beehives they raid.
FACT 4: Bears often give birth to twins.
While bears may produce up to five cubs in one litter, they usually birth two cubs at a time.
At birth, bear cubs are little. Newborn pandas can weigh as little as a fifth of a pound, and the mighty polar bear at birth only weighs about a pound and a half.
Most bear cubs remain in their mother’s care for 18 to 24 months. During that time, the mother nurses her young and then teaches the cubs how to fend for themselves.
FACT 5: The relationship between humans and bears is complicated.
For most of human history, bears have been respected and feared. Some cultures have even incorporated bears into their belief systems.
But during the Middle Ages, bears became a part of street entertainment in Europe and Asia, and then eventually featured in shows and circuses.
Today, measures are increasingly being taken to prohibit the use of bears – and other wild animals – for entertainment.
One can’t help but marvel at the sight of the great bear. But as powerful as this beast can be, much is left to be done to preserve its well-being in an ever-changing world.