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Tremarctos ornatus (aka Andean Bear) the only bear native to South America
The spectacled bear is typically uniformly black in color, but reddish-brown individuals have been observed. The common name comes from the white or tan markings on the face that create rings around the eyes, and which often extend down the chest, forming a bib-like patch of light fur. These markings are highly variable, unique to each individual, and may even be absent altogether.
Spectacled bears have a stocky build, small round ears, a thick short neck, and a stout muzzle. Like all other bears, their front limbs are longer than their hind limbs, allowing them to slip under dense vegetation and go places inaccessible to many other creatures. They also have long claws, which help them in both climbing and digging for food.
The second largest land mammal in South America (after the tapir), an adult spectacled bear can be 4-6 feet long, stand 2-3 feet at the shoulder, and weigh 132-440 pounds; males are 30 to 50 percent larger than females.
Distribution and Habitat
The spectacled bear is found throughout the more mountainous regions of the Andes from western Venezuela south to Bolivia, with some populations in northwestern Argentina and into Panama.
Although it prefers dense cloud forests where there is an abundance of food and shelter, it is also found in dry forest, scrub forest, and high-altitude grasslands, at altitudes of 1,550 to 12,000 feet.
Vulnerable to habitat loss throughout its range, it is believed that there are fewer than 20,000 (and maybe less than 10,000) spectacled bears left in the wild.
The most herbivorous bear species after the giant panda, the spectacled bear has a strong preference for bromeliads and fruits, but will also eat moss, cacti, orchids, bamboo, honey, tree wood, palms, and berries. Only about 5 to 10 percent of its diet is non-vegetable, and consists of invertebrates, small mammals, birds, and insects. Spectacled bears have been known to raid farmers' crops, especially maize, and will also readily scavenge from a carcass.
The breeding habits of wild spectacled bears have not been well studied, but mating pairs are most commonly seen between March and June, when fruit is beginning to ripen. Once paired, the male and female will stay together for a week or two, mating often during that time. Spectacled bears are believed capable of delayed implantation, which explains the variation in gestation times in captive bears, 160 to 255 days, and the "out of season" births observed in wild bears.
In the wild, 1 to 4 cubs are born in a protected, out-of-the-way den. Almost nothing is known about how the mother chooses her den site, which is thought to be a nest made under tree roots or rocks. Cubs are black in color and already show the white or yellowish "spectacle" markings. They grow fairly quickly, but will stay with their mother for up to a year after birth. The father takes no part in cub rearing, and may even kill and eat a stray cub.
Both males and females appear to reach sexual maturity at 4-6 years. Captive spectacled bears have lived up to 33 years, but average life span in the wild is believed to be about 20 years.
Spectacled bears are solitary, but will gather in areas where food is abundant. Although each individual bear does maintain a home territory, there appears to be no need for territorial defense, since spectacled bears prefer to avoid contact with each other and, therefore, tend to stay away from each other's "borders."
Whether spectacled bears are diurnal or nocturnal has not been conclusively determined.
One of the most arboreal of all bear species, spectacled bears are unique in their use of platforms or "nests" which the bears create in the understory of the trees they browse in for fruit. These platforms serve as stable "bases" from which the bears can leisurely browse for fruit, as well as sleeping accomodations.
Spectacled bears are good swimmers.
Spectacled bears are thought to use vocal communication more than any other bear except the giant panda. Mother bears may use different vocalizations to communicate with their cubs.
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This page was last updated on October 02, 2017.