Facts about the Family Ursidae

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Ursidae is a small family of large carnivores that are found worldwide, except for in Antarctica and Australia. Just eight species in five Genera belong to the family Ursidae, including some of the largest land carnivores on the planet. People most commonly knows bears as members of this family and are often in awe of these huge, powerful animals.

It is hard to mistake any species of bear for being another type of animal, although recognizing individual species is not that hard. Robust bodies are the norm for bears, as are powerful jaws and paws. Small eyes and rounded ears are common in all bear species, along with short tails. The largest of all bears is the polar bear, which stands up to 8 feet and weighs as much as 1,600 pounds. Even the smallest species, the Malaysian sun bear, stands 5 feet tall and weighs 150 pounds. Depending on the species, bears can be brown, white, black or a mixture of black and white like the panda.

North America is home to the three largest species: the polar bear, brown bear and the American black bear. All three species are found in mainly natural habitats, but they sometimes encroach on urban areas where they pose real dangers to humans. The spectacled bear is native to South America and is the only species of the Ursidae family found there. Europe has its own populations of brown bears, while the remaining bear species, including the panda, sun bears and sloth bears are found in various regions of Asia.

Bears are omnivores and tend to be opportunistic, eating whatever food is available to them. The polar bear is entirely carnivorous, and living so far north in the colder climates it needs the protein that only meat can provide. Other bears will eat what they can get including nuts, fruits, berries and larvae. When given the chance, some species will catch fish from rivers, or hunt small mammals as well as scavenge from larger dead carcasses. This scavenging behavior often brings species like the brown and black bears into contact with humans. The panda bear tends to be vegetarian and feeds heavily on select bamboos and grasses. If it gets the chance, however, it will eat small mammals to supplement a diet that offers poor nutrition.

Outside of breeding season, bears tend to live separately. When they do meet to breed it is a short union and the males do not stick around. The female gives birth to her cubs alone and usually has just one, but twins are not uncommon. Cubs will stay with their mothers for food and protection for between 1-3 years, depending on the species. If bears survive their first few years, they quickly take their place among the top members of the local food chain and have few natural predators. Because of this, bears can be long-lived, with some species living up to 25 years in the wild. 

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