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The largest carnivore that ever lived on land was the giant short-faced bear. Twice the size of the biggest modern bear, it was 6' 5" tall at the shoulder when standing on all fours. Scientists believe it had very long legs and chased antelope on the North American prairies. It died around 12,000 years ago.

Bears are classified as caniforms, or doglike carnivorans, with the pinnipeds being their closest living relatives.

•  Although there are only eight living species of bear, they are widespread, appearing in a wide variety of habitats throughout the Northern Hemisphere and partially in the Southern Hemisphere.

Bears are found on the continents of North America, South America, Europe, and Asia.

•  The sloth bear has the shaggiest fur. The sun bear has the shortest fur so it can keep cool in the hot forests of Southeast Asia.

•  Common characteristics of modern bears include a large body with stocky legs, a long snout, shaggy hair, plantigrade paws with five nonretractile claws, and a short tail.

The most accurate way to determine the age of a bear is to count the rings in a cross section of its tooth root under a microscope.

•  Bears have two layers of fur. A short layer of fur keeps the bear warm. And a long layer keeps water away from the skin and short fur.

•  American black bears inhabit parts of North America and Mexico. The diet of American black bears consists primarily of plant material such as leaves, buds, shoots, berries and nuts. American black bear subspecies include the cinnamon bear, glacier bear, Mexican black bear, Kermody bear, Louisiana black bear and several others.

Asian black bears are medium-sized bears that inhabit parts of Southeast Asia and the Russian Far East. Asian black bears have a patch of yellowish-white fur on their chest and a black body. They resemble American black bears in body shape and behavior. Asian black bears feed on a variety of plant materials including bamboo shoots, leaves, herbs, grasses, fruits and nuts.

 

•  Bears are very smart and have been known to roll rocks into bear traps to set off the trap and eat the bait in safety.

•  Bears live as long as 30 years in the wild. One captive brown bear lived to the age of 47.

•  Brown bears are the largest of all the bear species and are considered to be the largest living land carnivore. Brown bears are widely distributed, inhabiting a range that includes the northern parts of North America, Europe and Asia. There are numerous subspecies of brown bears including the Carpathian bear, European brown bear, Gobi bear, grizzly bear, Kodiak bear and several others.

Giant pandas are small bears that feed almost exclusively on bamboo shoots and leaves. They have a distinct color pattern, a black body, white face, black ears and black eye spots. Giant pandas are native to the central and southern parts of western China.

Only the polar bear is a true carnivore. All other bears are omnivores, or animals that eat both plants and meat.

•  Sun bears have the longest claws of any bear. They also have the longest tongues, which can reach 9.8" long.

The Sun bear (Helarctos malayanus) is the smallest of the bears and is about the size of a large dog. It gets its name from a blond chest patch of fur that looks like a setting sun. Sun bears are also known as honey bears.

•  Sloth bears are medium-sized bears that inhabit grasslands, forests and scrublands in Southeast Asia. Sloth bears have long, shaggy fur and a white chest mark. They feed on termites which they find using their acute sense of smell.

•  Spectacled bears are the only bear species that lives in South America. Today, spectacled bears inhabit cloud forests at elevations between 3300 to 8900 feet. Historically, spectacled bears also inhabited coastal deserts and high elevation grasslands, but the encroachment of humans into those habitats has restricted their range.

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