The sloth bear (Melursus ursinus) is a bear species native to the Indian subcontinent. It has two subspecies - Melursus ursinus ursinus (the Indian sloth bear) widespread in the forests of India and Melursus ursinus inornatus (the Sri Lankan sloth bear) found in the eastern and northern lowlands of Sri Lanka.
The term 'sloth' means 'laziness.' However, the sloth bear species is in no way related to the sloths, the lethargic mammals found in the tropical rainforests of Central and South America. So, how did they get the name 'sloth bear'? Well, the credit goes to an 18th-century European zoologist George Shaw who 'thought' that the sloth bears were not bears but sloths. He based his conclusion on two observations; first, the sloth bears have long, curved claws like the three-toed long claws of the sloths and secondly, both sloths and sloth bears have their two front teeth missing. Shaw did not stop at giving the sloth bears a common name but also went on to assigning them a scientific name, Bradypus ursinus, and placed them in the sloth family. However, it was later determined that the sloth bears are actually bears of the family Ursidae and consequently, the scientific classification had to be changed. But the name 'sloth bear' lived on as a major scientific blunder.
The sloth bear species are unkempt and dusty with a shaggy coat. Found in the forests of South Asia, particularly India and Sri Lanka, these reclusive animals with long claws mostly feed on termites and ants and have the ability to climb trees. Read on to know more about the sloth bear's habitat, lifestyle, diet, and behavior.
Sloth bears are a species of bear native to the subcontinent of India.
What class of animal does a Sloth Bear belong to?
Sloth bears belong to the class Mammalia, that is, they are mammals.
How many Sloth Bears are there in the world?
There is no reliable population survey data to indicate the exact number of sloth bears present in the world. But, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) lists them as a Vulnerable species with a declining population.
Where does a Sloth Bear live?
The sloth bears' habitat is spread throughout India and parts of Sri Lanka. Historically, the sloth bears were also found further up in Bhutan and Nepal but now they are locally extinct in Bhutan. In India, the habitat of sloth bears mainly comprises grasslands below 4,921 ft (1,500 m) and in the dry forests of Sri Lanka, they inhabit regions with elevation lower than 984 ft (300 m). Sloth bears are widespread in the forest covers on the outer range of the Himalayas but are absent in the mountainous regions of Jammu and Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh, and the unforested desert areas of Rajasthan.
What is a Sloth Bear's habitat?
Sloth bears primarily live in tropical grasslands and forested areas, which include both moist and dry forests. The habitat of sloth bears may also include savannahs and scrublands. However, sloth bears mostly prefer rocky outcrops and drier forests with an abundance of trees to provide shelter.
Who do Sloth Bears live with?
Sloth bears are primarily solitary animals that live by themselves and hunt for food alone at night. However, adult sloth bears may be seen traveling in pairs and female sloth bears may stick around with their cubs. A unique aspect of the sloth bears is that they can sometimes fight off tigers. Neither can these bears outpace tigers nor can they climb trees quickly enough to escape tigers. Hence, the sloth bears have adapted to fight off tigers by evolving an aggressive behavior towards the latter. The sloth bear's hostility leaves the tigers with no other option but to just leave the bears to themselves. But, no matter how aggressive the sloth bears are, in a fight of the sloth bear vs tiger, they stand no chance against tigers and can even get killed by these apex predators. There has been no instance of tigers getting killed by sloth bears.
How long does a Sloth Bear live?
The average lifespan of sloth bears in the wild is around 20 years. But those in captivity can live for as long as 40 years.
How do they reproduce?
There is no consensus on the reproductive behavior of sloth bears and it is primarily due to the fact that the breeding season varies with the location of the bears studied. Field studies conducted in India have revealed that the sloth bears mate during the peak summer months (usually April, May, or June). Following the gestation period, they give birth around December or the earlier part of January. On the other hand, their Sri Lankan counterparts have no breeding seasonality and mate almost all around the year. Sloth bears in captivity mate for a maximum of one or two days.
The average gestation period is about 198 days (six to seven months), after which the female sloth bears give birth to cubs in caves, ground shelters, or under boulders. Embryonic development takes around two months but the reason for the long gestation period is that the implantation (attachment of the embryo to the wall of the uterus) is slow and delayed. The average litter comprises one to three cubs.
After birth, the cubs are blind and their eyes remain shut until after three weeks have passed. A sloth bear weight at birth is usually around 1 lb (0.4 kg). The cubs have a fast rate of development compared to other species of bears. The cubs start to walk after about four weeks from birth and they become fully independent by about two to three years of age. Both male and female sloth bear cubs reach sexual maturity when they are about three years old but do not mate until they are older. These animals breed about once every three years.
What is their conservation status?
The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species classifies the sloth bear as Vulnerable with a decreasing population trend.
Sloth Bear Fun Facts
What do Sloth Bears look like?
A sloth bear has a shaggy coat of black fur but it is devoid of any undercoat, helping to keep the animals relatively cool in their native habitats characterized by a warm climate. Further, the thick furry coat offers protection from dreadful tropical insects. These bears have elongated snouts or muzzles with wide nostrils and short hairs and a characteristic 'Y' or 'V'-shaped whitish patch on their chest. The sloth bear has large paws with long, curved claws that help them to probe around mounds of termites and ants. The toe pads are joined by a hairless web.
Unlike other bears that chew on a lot of vegetation, the molars and pre-molars of the sloth bear are relatively smaller. However, the sloth bears have large canines to assist in defense and their two upper incisors are missing, a feature that enables them to suck up plenty of insects. Add to that, the sloth bear tongue is extremely large and the movable snout further helps them to feed on ants, termites, and other insects which form a predominant part of their diet.
The females are smaller than the males and even have more fur on their shoulders compared to their male counterparts. Even though these bears do not have very strong legs, their knee-joint allows them to assume a variety of positions. The sloth bear's ears are large and droopy and they have the longest tails in the bear family that can grow to as much as 6 to 7 in (15 to 18 cm) in length.
How cute are they?
Keeping aside their aggressive nature, sloth bears with their clumsy demeanor, furry unkempt body, and long snouts look pretty adorable and cute.
How do they communicate?
Sloth bears are known to have an excellent sense of smell. They tend to be territorial and mark their areas by scraping nearby trees with their paws and rubbing their sides against them. In addition, these bears are capable of making a great variety of sounds. When a sloth bear is afraid or hurt, it may make whimpering, yowling, or shrieking sounds. When threatened or angered, these bears usually yelp, woof, whicker, snarl, roar, grunt, scream, or bark. The females are also known to make crooning sounds to their offspring. Cubs, while feeding, may make loud sucking noises, and bears that are resting or sucking their paws may gurgle or make a humming sound. Sloth bears are particularly loud during mating.
How big is a Sloth Bear?
An average-sized sloth bear has a body length of 5-6 ft (1.5-2 m) and is 2-3 ft (0.6-1 m) high at the shoulder. The females are smaller than the males. The sloth bear size is almost comparable to that of the Asian black bears.
How fast can a Sloth Bear move?
Although the sloth bears appear clumsy and slow, they are quite good runners and climbers and can gallop faster than a running person.
How much does a Sloth Bear weigh?
On average, a sloth bear weighs around 200-300 lb (90-136 kg).
What are their male and female names of the species?
An adult male sloth bear does not have any special name but an adult female may be referred to as a sow.
What would you call a baby Sloth Bear?
A baby sloth bear is called a cub.
What do they eat?
The diet of sloth bears mainly comprises termites and ants. Their long claws help them to dig out insects from hard mounds. Besides ants and termites, these bears may also feed on grubs, beetles, fruits, flowers, and honey.
Are they dangerous?
Sloth bears are known to be one of the most dangerous and aggressive animals found in the forests of India. Do not be fooled by the 'sloth' in their name because a sloth bear attack results in frequent human casualties in areas where they are found.
Would they make a good pet?
A sloth bear is best left in the wild and is not at all suitable for keeping as pets.
Did you know...
Sloth bears are not known to hibernate.
Even though sloth bears are primarily nocturnal, the females may be active during the day when they are with the cubs. The females also carry around the cubs on their backs.
The pregnant females of the sloth bear species exhibit 'denning behavior' in the period preceding birth. They prepare a safe space in a cave or dig a den for giving birth. Owing to hormonal changes, the female gets easily flustered, becomes less interactive, develops an aversion towards food, and sleeps a lot. They may also become extremely defensive and protective of the area prepared for birth.
The nostrils of a sloth bear can close completely, thereby protecting the animal from insects and dust while they are raiding beehives or probing the nest of ants and termites.
Is the Sloth Bear endangered?
The sloth bears are not endangered, but they do fall in the Vulnerable category of the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species with a decreasing population trend. Their primary threats include climate change, hunting, human intrusions, and habitat loss due to various anthropological factors such as commercial development projects, transportation projects, mining, quarrying, and agriculture. The sloth bears are listed in Appendix I of CITES and are protected under the Indian Wildlife Protection Act of 1972.
Different types of bears
There are eight species of bears that are extant today. These include the brown bears (including the grizzlies), Asiatic black bears, North American black bears, giant pandas, sloth bears, polar bears, sun bears, and spectacled bears.
Here at Kidadl, we have carefully created lots of interesting family-friendly animal facts for everyone to discover! Learn more about some other mammals including sun bear, or striped polecat.
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