Spectacled Bears

Tremarctos ornatus or the spectacled bear, also known as the Andean bear, is the only extant bear species native to South America. Spectacled bears are considered one of the most endangered bear species, second only to the giant panda bear.

A spectacled bear.

Habitat

Spectacled bears inhabit the Andes mountain range in South America (hence the name Andean bear). They range from Venezuela to Argentina and usually dwell between 600 to 14,000 feet high.

Their numbers are more on the eastern side of the mountains in humid to very humid montane forests. where they spend most of their time in trees feeing or sleeping. The spectacled bear is non-territorial and prefers to be alone outside of the mating season.

Description

The spectacled bear is the second largest mammal in South America (the tapir is the largest). They usually reach lengths from 5 to 6 feet and weigh between 175 to 275 pounds. The males are larger than females which are 30-40% smaller than males.

The color of this bear’s fur ranges from black to brownish-red. The fur on its face, nose, and throat/chest area can be a beige color. The fur around the eyes sometimes forms a brownish-black circle making the bear appear to be wearing spectacles (hence the name Spectacled bear).

Spectacled bears have lighter and thinner fur compared to other bear species due to their living in a warmer climate. They also do not hibernate.

Diet

Like other bears, the spectacled bear is an omnivorous mammal. However, they prefer a more vegetarian diet. They are known to eat cactus, palm nuts, orchid pseudobulbs, etc. Most of which are unedible by other animals because they are too hard. Spectacled bears also eat sugarcane, corn, honey, and berries. On occasion, they will eat rabbits, mice, birds, and can even feed on llamas and domestic cattle.

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Reproduction

Spectacled bears are able to reproduce between the ages of 4-7 years. Mating occurs between April and June. Gestation lasts anywhere between 5.5 to 8 months. Like other bears, the spectacled bear can delay its pregnancy and, in the event that food is scarce, the embryos are absorbed and the bear will not give birth.

When they do give birth, they do so in a den that they build. The bears give birth to 1 or 2 cubs sometime between November and January. Newborn spectacled bears weigh between 10-18 ounces and are blind for the first month. The mother and her cubs live together for 6-8 months.

Status

In the wild, it is estimated that the spectacled bears live up to 25 years with an estimated 2000 spectacled bears in the wild. The Andean bear is threatened due to poaching and habitat loss due to deforestation, agriculture, and mining. These bears are also hunted for the perceived threat to livestock though they eat very little meat. Their gall bladders are also sought after for traditional Asian medicine.

Interesting Facts About Spectacled Bears

  • The spectacled bear is also known as the Andean bear because they live in the Andes Mountains.
  • The face markings of the spectacled bear make it look like it is wearing glasses or spectacles.  
  • It is the only bear species that can be found only in South America.
  • Spectacled bears are excellent climbers with short but strong legs.
  • They build nests high in trees for sleeping and eating in.
  • They are the most vegetarian of bears; only roughly 5% of their diet is meat.
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