Types Of Bears – Explanation + Visual Guide

As far as different types of bears go, there are 8 different bear species that you’d find around the world. However, within the different species of bears, you’d find different types of bears or subspecies.

Bears can live in a variety of terrain types and they are omnivorous animals with some favoring a plant-based diet (Pandas and Black bears) while others prefer meat (Polar bears).

Bear sizes , bears by size.
Bear sizes , bears by size.

North American Black Bear

The North American black bear (Ursus Americanus) is black, bluish-black, brown, white (Kermode or Spirit bear) in color. Their the smallest bear species that you’d find in North America. It’s also the most common bear in the region.

North American black bear (Ursus Americanus).
North American black bear (Ursus Americanus).

American black bears have a variety of colors despite their name. Most have black fur but there are some that are fully brown or brown & black in color.

Brown North American Black Bear.
Brown North American Black Bear.

There is even a rare occurrence where black bears have a white coat of fur (much like a polar bear). However, this usually only happens with black bears in British Columbia, Canada. These black bears are typically referred to as Kermode or Spirit bears (Ursus americanus kermodei).

Spirit Bear, Kermode Bear (Ursus americanus kermodei)
Spirit Bear, Kermode Bear (Ursus americanus kermodei)

There’s also the glacier bear (Ursus americanus emmonsii) that has bluish-black or dark bluish gray with silver-tipped guard hairs. 

Glacier bear (Ursus americanus emmonsii)
Glacier bear (Ursus americanus emmonsii)

Black bears in North America eat mostly vegetables/plants. The male black bear reaches full size at about 8 years old. Females are able to reproduce between the ages of 5 to 8 years.

The male North American black bear can weigh up to 280kg (600 pounds), sometimes more. Females, on the other hand, weigh between 90 – 180 pounds. They usually live up to 25 years in the wild.

Brown Bear (Grizzly Bears)

 The brown bear or grizzly bear (Ursus Arctos) is one of the most omnivorous types of animals in the world and has been documented consuming the greatest variety of foods of any bear.

People also read:  Formosan Black Bears

These kinds of bears inhabit areas of North America and can be found in parts of Asia and Russia as well.

These types of bears also vary in colors and sizes. Their fur can be almost black, brown to very light brown or blonde in color.

Ursus arctos - brown bear - grizzly bear.
Ursus arctos – Brown bear – Grizzly bear

The brown bear’s size varies considerably depending on geographic location and general food availability.

The largest brown bears, the “Big Browns” live along the coast of Alaska and Russia growing to very large sizes rivaling that of the Polar Bear.

The bears of the North American Rocky Mountains (Grizzly Bear) and the mountains of Europe tend to be much smaller in size. 

The above 3 types of bears tend to slow down during the winter. However, they are not true hibernators. Black bearsGrizzly bears and Brown bears go into a deep sleep during the winter months, known as torpor. They usually find a cave or another appropriate form of shelter, during that time, to do so.

Polar Bear

The Ursus Maritimus is commonly known as the polar bear and its one of the biggest bear species in the world. Adult male polar bears normally can reach up to 1100 pounds while females typically grow to 660 pounds.

Ursus Maritimus, Polar bear cubs.
Ursus Maritimus, Polar bears.

These large-sized bears live in the Arctic Circle where they hunt mainly seals. They can also be found in Canada, Alaska (US), Greenland, Russia, and Norway.

Polar bears are the largest land carnivores currently in existence, the only other bear to rival it in size is the Kodiak bear (see below).

Ursus Maritimus, polar bear
Ursus Maritimus, Polar bear.

Polar bears also eat a variety of other animals including muskox, reindeer, birds, eggs, rodents, crabs, other crustaceans and even other polar bears.

Kodiak Bear

The second biggest bear species is the Kodiak bear (Ursus arctos middendorffi) also known as the Alaskan brown bear or Kodiak brown bear.

People also read:  Sloth Bears

It is a subspecies of the brown bear, and one of the two largest bears alive today, the other being the polar bear.

Ursus arctos middendorffi - Kodiak bear.
Ursus arctos middendorffi/Kodiak bear.

Kodiak bears are found only on the islands in the Kodiak Archipelago off the south coast of Alaska (hence their name). 

For the most part, all five species of Pacific salmon run wild throughout most of Kodiak Archipelago. So, there’s an abundance of fish for them to eat. However, Kodiak bears often prefer to feed on vegetation.

Asian Black Bear

The Asian black bear (Ursus thibetanus), also known as the moon bear, Himalayan black bear, and the white-chested bear, is a medium-sized bear species native to Asia.

Asian black bears have long black fur and a white patch of fur on their chest that’s often crescent-shaped.

Asian black bear (Ursus thibetanus)
Asian black bear (Ursus thibetanus).

These types of bears have a varied diet, although mostly carnivorous, that includes small mammals, birds, fish, mollusks, and carcasses as well as grass, fruits, berries, seeds, insects and honey.

The ones that live in northern climates are known to hibernate, however, those in southern climates they do not hibernate.

Andean Bear

The Andean bear (Tremarctos ornatus) also known as the spectacled bear is only found in South American in the Andes mountains. They are the only species of bears alive in South America.

Spectacled bear (Tremarctos ornatus)
Spectacled bear (Tremarctos ornatus)

The Spectacled bear is a mid-sized species of bear and only Baird’s and South American Tapirs are heavier. Their fur is usually jet black to dark brown and can sometimes even have a reddish hue.

On some of them, there exists notable beige-colored fur across the face and upper chest, though not all Spectacled bears have “spectacle” markings. 

Andean bear (Tremarctos ornatus), spectacled bear.
Spectacled bear/Andean bear (Tremarctos ornatus).

Male of this species can weigh between 220 – 440 lb and females 77 – 181 lb. These types of bears have a more rounded face with a relatively short and broad snout when compared to other bear species.

People also read:  Giant Panda

Panda Bear

The panda bear species are white and black bears that are native to Asia. Pandas (Ailuropoda melanoleuca) have large, characteristic black patches around their eyes, over the ears, and across their round bodies. 

Most males pandas weigh around 250 lbs while the females are around 220 lbs. Their diet is 99% bamboo and they eat about 50 pounds of it every day.

Pandas (Ailuropoda melanoleuca).
Pandas (Ailuropoda melanoleuca).

Baby pandas are very small when they are born, weighing about 120 grams. About 1/900th the size of its mother. The babies are also born pink, hairless, and blind.

Pandas do not hibernate. Instead, they move to higher elevations (in the summer) to stay cool and travel to lower elevated (in the winter) areas to keep warm.

Sloth Bear

The sloth bear (Melursus ursinus) is an insect-hunting bear that feeds on termites, ants, and even honeybees. English naturalist George Shaw, in 1791, named it Bradypus ursinus (sloth bear), believing it to be related to sloths.

They have large lips and a long tongue (perfect for sucking up ants and termites). They also have well-developed hook-like claws that enable them to climb trees and dig for termites and ants.

Sloth bear, Melursus ursinus.
Melursus ursinus – Sloth bear.

In addition to insects, a sloth bear will also eat fruits such as mangoes and figs and are even known to eat flowers.

On the sloth bear’s chest is a cream-colored, ‘u’ or ‘v’ shaped patch of fur. Although, it’s not present on all sloth bears.

Sun Bear

If you ever wanted to know what is the smallest bear, then, the sun bear (Ursus malayanus) is the smallest bear species in existence today.

These types of bears have short black/dark brown water-repellent fur, with a yellow crescent on their chest.

sun bear (Ursus malayanus)
Sun bear (Ursus malayanus)

They have similar features to the sloth bear in that they also have flexible snouts and extremely long tongues which they use for extracting termites from nests.