With a name like sloth bear, you may be expecting these animals to live in the South American rain forests, move really slowly, hang around upside down. If you had those thoughts, you may be surprised to learn that sloth bears actually live in India, where they spend their time digging for termites or raiding beehives. They live in warm climates, in dry forests and some grasslands where there are plenty of trees and boulders to provide shelter. Sloth bears do not have an undercoat like other bear species because they don’t need it to stay warm. Their homes are already warm enough and their lack of an undercoat in fact keeps them cool.
Sloth bears are primarily insectivorous, finding termites and ants all year round. Their inward-turned feet make digging through the solid termite mounds easier. During the monsoon season, sloth bears will take eat fruit or, when food sources are especially scarce, turn to farmers’ crops. In order to make eating termites easier, sloth bears are missing their two front top teeth, which they use to their advantage by sucking the bugs out of the ground. From time to time, sloth bears will knock down a beehive to eat the honeycomb. This has given them the nickname of “Honey Bear”.
Sloth bears tune their sleep schedule to their changing environment, and become diurnal (active during the day), nocturnal (active at night), or crepuscular (active at twilight) depending on a variety of factors, such as food source availability, the population size of sloth bears in the area, and relative safety from predators. These factors may change throughout the year and so their sleeping habits also change.
Sloth bears are generally solitary creatures, but if the food is plentiful, they happily tolerate others with them and form groups. Sloth bears have a few natural predators, including wolves, wild dogs, and leopards. To protect themselves, they can raise themselves onto their back legs and lash out with their front claws, and being in a group no doubt will also help to keep predators away.
Sloth bears are considerably smaller than humans, which is unusual for a bear. They stand on average 3 to 4 feet tall, and 5 to 6 feet long. They weigh anywhere from 120 to 310 pounds and have a lifespan of about 40 years.
Bear cubs are typically born in a litter of two, in an underground den. Unlike any other bears, the babies will ride on their mother’s back for a period of time for protection. The little ones are born weighing only one pound, and will open their eyes after 2 or 3 weeks, and start learning to walk at 4 weeks. Upon emerging from the den, the cubs will stay with their mother for a couple of years. This is a long time when compared to other bears. At three years old, sloth bears are mature, but they normally do not become parents themselves until much later in their lives.
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