Photo: Sloth bear

Sloth bears extract termites by gouging a hole in a mound and sucking out the insects through a gap in their front teeth.

Photograph by Zigmund Leszczynski/Animals Animals-Earth Scenes

Map

Map: Sloth bear range

Sloth Bear Range

Fast Facts

Type:
Mammal
Diet:
Omnivore
Average life span in captivity:
Up to 40 years
Size:
5 to 6 ft (1.5 to 1.8 m); Tail, 2.7 to 4.7 in (7 to 12 cm)
Weight:
120 to 310 lbs (54 to 141 kg)
Group name:
Solitary
Protection status:
Threatened
Did you know?
Sloth bears are the only bears that carry their young on their back.
Size relative to a 6-ft (2-m) man:
Illustration: Bear compared with adult man

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.

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.

Sloth bears are solitary creatures and generally nocturnal. They grow up to 6 feet (1.8 meters) in length, and males can weigh up to 310 pounds (140 kilograms), while females weigh up to 210 pounds (95 kilograms). 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.

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.

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.

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