The spectacled bear (Tremarctos ornatus), also known as the Andean bear is the only bear species living in South America.
Spectacled bears inhabit a wide variety of habitats throughout their range. They are most commonly found in dense cloud forests where there is an abundance of food and shelter. They are also found in paramo, scrub forest and grasslands.
Occasionally, they may reach altitudes as low as 250 m (820 ft), but are not typically found below 1,900 m (6,200 ft) in the foothills. They can even range up to the mountain snow line at over 5,000 m (16,000 ft) in elevation.
The average lifespan of the spectacled bear is about 20 years in the wild. The longest recorded lifespan of a spectacled bear was at the National Zoo in Washington D.C., where the bear lived to be 36 years, 8 months of age.
Spectacled bears are medium-sized bears. They grow from 120 to 200 cm (47 to 78.5 in) long, though mature males do not measure less than 150 cm (59 in). They stand 60 to 90 cm (23.5 to 35.5 in) high at the shoulder. Males grow up to 50 percent larger than females, and weigh from 100 to 175 kg (220 to 385 pounds). Females rarely grow heavier than 80 kilograms (180 pounds).
Spectacled bears are typically uniformly black in color, but reddish-brown individuals have been observed.
The common name “spectacled bears” comes from the white or cream markings on the face that create rings around the eyes; these lighter markings often extend down the chest, forming a bib-like patch of light fur. The lighter markings are highly variable, unique to each individual, and may be absent altogether.
The coat is of medium to long length. Spectacled bears have a short tail, about 7 cm (2.8 in) long, that is often completely hidden by the fur.
Compared to other living bears, this species has a more rounded face with a relatively short and broad snout.
Spectacled bears have only 13 pairs of ribs, one less than other bears.
Although this bear is typically diurnal, very little is known about them in the wild, as they are shy and tend to avoid humans, making them hard to find for researchers to study!
Spectacled bears are true arboreal bears, using their long, sharp front claws to climb and forage for food.
One of the more unique features of spectacled bears is their use of platforms or “nests” which the bears create in the understory of the trees that they browse in for fruit. These platforms are also used for sleeping.
Although spectacled bears are solitary and tend to isolate themselves from one another to avoid competition, they are not territorial. They have even been recorded to feed in small groups at abundant food sources.
Spectacled Bears are primarily herbivores but are generally classed as omnivores. They are more herbivorous than most other bears; normally about 5 to 7% of their diets is meat, usually rodents and insects.
The most common foods for these bears include cactus, bromeliads, palm nuts, bamboo hearts, frailejon, orchid bulbs, different kinds of fruits, and unopened palm leaves.These bears also eatcultivated plants, such as sugarcane and corn; of course they also eat honey.
The spectacled bear plays an important role in the ecology of the rain forest because they eat so much fruit. The seeds they eat are excreted in their droppings as the bears move around, spreading the seeds over long distances for the production of the next generation of fruit trees throughout the forest.
Because of their tropical native climate, spectacled bear do not hibernate and are active year-round.
Mating may occur at almost any time of the year, but activity normally peaks in April and June, at the beginning of the wet season and corresponding with the peak of fruit-ripening. The mating pair are together for one to two weeks. The gestation period is 5.5 to 8.5 months. A female gives birth to one to three cubs in a protected, out-of-the-way den. Cubs first leave the safety of the den when they are about three months old. They often stay with their mother for one year before striking out on their own.
With regard to the bear’s natural enemies, cubs may be attacked by pumas or occasionally jaguars and even other male adult bears. Once bears reach adulthood, there are no real natural enemies other than humans.
The species is classified as Vulnerable by the IUCN due to poaching and habitat loss.
Perhaps the most epidemic problem for the species is extensive logging and farming, which has led to habitat loss for the largely tree-dependent bears. As little as 5% of the original habitat in Andean cloud forest remains.
Poaching might have several reasons: trophy hunting, pet trade, religious or magical beliefs, and natural products trade.
Spectacled bears are the only bears found in South America. Since literature’s Paddington Bear came from “darkest Peru,” he would have been an spectacled bear.
Colombian 50 pesos coin has an image of a spectacled bear on one side.