Interesting facts about sun bears

sun bear

The sun bear (Helarctos malayanus) is one of the rarest bear species in the world.

Its common name comes from the white or yellowish crescent marking on its chest, which many people think looks like the rising or setting sun.

Dog-face bear,” “Malay bear,” and “honey bear” are common nicknames for the sun bear.

Sun bears are found in the tropical rainforest of Southeast Asia ranging from northeastern India, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Thailand, Malaysia, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam to southern Yunnan Province in China, and on the islands of Sumatra and Borneo in Indonesia.

The sun bear is, by nature, a long-living animal. The lifespan is about 25 years in the wild and up to 30 years in captivity.


The sun bear is the smallest of the world’s eight bear species. Adults are about 70 cm (27 in) at the shoulder and are 120 to 150 cm (47–59 in) from head to tail. The tail itself is 3 to 7 cm (1.2 to 2.7 in). They weigh from 27 to 80 kg (60–176 lb). Males are 10 to 20% larger than females.

They have short, wide, flat heads with short muzzle and small round ears.

The paws are large, and the soles are naked, which is thought to be an adaptation for climbing trees.

Their fur is rather coarse but appears sleek. This coat is usually black except for a white or yellowish chest mark and a grey to faintly orange muzzle.


Each bear’s chest mark is individual — like fingerprints.

These bears have an interesting walk, with all four legs turned in while walking.

Sun bears are active at night and are excellent and agile climbers. They sleep and sun bath in trees at heights from 2 to 7 m (6.5 to 23 ft).

In the Malay language, the sun bear is called basindo nan tenggil, which means “he who likes to sit high.”


This species does not go through periods of hibernation, probably because they live in tropical areas and their food sources are present year round.

Except for females with their offspring, they are usually solitary.

Like other bear species, sun bears have a keen sense of smell, thought to be several thousand times better than that of humans. Bears tend to use their senses of smell and touch to find and manipulate food.

sun bear smell

Sun bears are opportunistic omnivore, feeding primarily on termites, ants, beetle larvae, bee larvae and a large variety of fruit species, especially figs when available. Bees, beehives, and honey are important food items of sun bears. Other occasional food choices include small birds, lizards, rodents, and soft parts of palm trees.

During feeding, the sun bear can extend the exceptionally long tongue 20–25 cm (7.9–9.8 in) to extract insects and honey. Its front paws and long claws rip open trees in search of insects or sap. Strong jaws and teeth even help this bear open coconuts!

sun bear tongue

Sun bears probably use olfactory cues to find potential mates and use some vocalizations.

During time of mating, the sun bear shows behaviours such as hugging, mock fighting, and head bobbing with its mate.

Gestation has been reported at 95 and 174 days. Nests have been observed in leafy vegetation on the ground or in hollow logs. Litters consist of one or two cubs. Cubs are born hairless and helpless, unable to hear or smell, and are completely dependent upon their mother for food, warmth, and protection. After one to three months, the young can run, play, and forage near their mothers. Cubs remain with their mothers until they are fully grown, at about 2 years of age.

sun bear cubs

Sun bears are known as very fierce animals when surprised in the forest.

The main predator of sun bears throughout its range by far is man.

Tigers, leopards and clouded leopards are potential predators, although the clouded leopard could be too small to kill an adult sun bear.

A wild female sun bear was swallowed by a large reticulated python in a lowland dipterocarp forest in
East Kalimantan. The python possibly had come across the sleeping bear.

Sun bears are considered a vulnerable species by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) due mainly to habitat loss from farming and logging, and poaching (both for meat and use in medicines).

Killing of sun bears is strictly prohibited under national wildlife protection laws throughout their range. However, little enforcement of these laws occurs

The population of this rare bear is thought to have declined more than 30% in the last 30 years.