Helarctos malayanus ranges from the eastern Himalayas to Szechuan in China, then southward throughout Burma, parts of Indochina and the Malayan peninsula. Their range is probably greater than what is actually known. (Sanderson, 1972; Ward and Kynaston, 1995)
Sun bears are found in dense lowland tropical forests. They can commonly be found climbing in trees. (Sanderson, 1972)
Sun bears are the smallest bears in the family Ursidae. They stand 70 cm at the shoulder and are 1.2 to 1.5 m from head to tail. The tail itself is 3 to 7 cm. Males are larger than the females but only by 10 to 20%. They have short, wide, flat heads with small round ears. Their fur is rather coarse but appears sleek. This coat is entirely black except for a "U" shaped patch on the chest and a grey to faintly orange muzzle. The yellowish or white chest patch is highly variable, "U" shaped in some and completely absent in others. This mark may exaggerate bears' sizes during fights. The young are born with soft, shiny coats. The paws are fairly large with sickle-shaped claws and naked soles which are thought to be helpful in climbing trees. These bears have an interesting walk, with all four legs turned in while walking. (International Association for Bear Research and Management (IBA), 1999; Nowak, 1997; Sanderson, 1972; Ward and Kynaston, 1995)
Little is known about mating in sun bears.
Little is known about the reproductive behavior of sun bears in the wild. Gestation period lasts about 95 days, but there is evidence of delayed implantation. Some sun bear pregnancies in a zoo in Fort Worth lasted 174 to 240 days. A sun bear at the Berlin Zoo actually gave birth two times in one year in 1961, first in April, then again in August, but this is rare. Litter size is usually around one to two but occasionally there are three. Newborns are blind, hairless, and helpless and weigh a mere 300 grams. Cubs stay with their mothers until fully grown and reach sexual maturity around three years of age. (International Association for Bear Research and Management (IBA), 1999)
Like other bear species, sun bear females invest large amounts of energy into raising their altricial young to a stage at which they are able to be independent.
In captivity sun bears have lived up to 24 years and nine months. (Helin, 1999)
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. This species does not go through periods of hibernation, probably because they live in tropical areas and their food sources are present year round. (Nowak, 1997; Sanderson, 1972)
Like other bear species, sun bears have a keen sense of smell. Bears tend to use their senses of smell and touch to find and manipulate food. They probably use olfactory cues to find potential mates and use some vocalizations. (Nowak, 1997)
Sun bears are opportunistic omnivores, with bees, termites, and earthworms comprising the main part of their diet. Fruit is also eaten when available. The former are more regular food sources than fruit and usually there is no need for H. malayanus to cover great distances in their search for food. These bears have long tongues that are helpful for obtaining insects from trees, termites from their nests, and honey from bee hives. Should the opportunity present itself, sun bears will eat small rodents, birds, and lizards along with scavenging tiger kills. In human populated areas their diet may include rubbish, livestock, and agricultural fruit such as bananas. (Ward and Kynaston, 1995)
Predation on sun bears is not reported. Because of their size they are likely to have few natural predators. Young bears may be killed by aggressive conspecifics or by tigers.
In certain regions, sun bears are important in seed dispersal. In a study of H. malayanus in Borneo, one sample of these bear feces was found to contain 309 seeds of a certain species of plant. They also impact the colonial insect populations that they prey on. (McConkey and Galetti, 1999)
The gall bladders and other body parts of sun bears are used in folk medical practices. It has been proven, though, that they have no medicinal value. People hunt them for sport and profit. They are commonly sold as pets when they are cubs, but quickly outgrow the stage when they are manageable as pets. (Sanderson, 1972)
Sun bears have been known to cause damage to crops such as oil palms, coconuts, and bananas.
Sun bears are one of the rarest bears. The exact number alive today is not known, but the population is steadily declining due to deforestation and hunting. Habitat destruction is causing these bears to live in smaller and more isolated patches. The land is being cleared to create coffee, rubber and oil palm plantations. Poachers are flocking to protected areas and reserves because they know there are bears there. Reserves may not even be providing sufficient habitats for these bears because their needs are not completely known. Not many conservation attempts have been done to save these bears because so little is known about them. (Servheen Christopher, March/April 1999; Ward and Kynaston, 1995)
One sun bear demonstrated his intelligence while in captivity. This particular bear took the rice that was given to him for food and scattered it on the ground. There were also chickens in this bear's lair and the scattered rice attracted these chickens, which the bear then captured and ate. (Nowak, 1997)
Tanya Dewey (editor), Animal Diversity Web.
LeeAnn Bies (author), University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, Cynthia Sims Parr (editor), University of Michigan-Ann Arbor.
uses sound to communicate
young are born in a relatively underdeveloped state; they are unable to feed or care for themselves or locomote independently for a period of time after birth/hatching. In birds, naked and helpless after hatching.
having body symmetry such that the animal can be divided in one plane into two mirror-image halves. Animals with bilateral symmetry have dorsal and ventral sides, as well as anterior and posterior ends. Synapomorphy of the Bilateria.
flesh of dead animals.
uses smells or other chemicals to communicate
having markings, coloration, shapes, or other features that cause an animal to be camouflaged in its natural environment; being difficult to see or otherwise detect.
in mammals, a condition in which a fertilized egg reaches the uterus but delays its implantation in the uterine lining, sometimes for several months.
a substance used for the diagnosis, cure, mitigation, treatment, or prevention of disease
animals that use metabolically generated heat to regulate body temperature independently of ambient temperature. Endothermy is a synapomorphy of the Mammalia, although it may have arisen in a (now extinct) synapsid ancestor; the fossil record does not distinguish these possibilities. Convergent in birds.
forest biomes are dominated by trees, otherwise forest biomes can vary widely in amount of precipitation and seasonality.
offspring are produced in more than one group (litters, clutches, etc.) and across multiple seasons (or other periods hospitable to reproduction). Iteroparous animals must, by definition, survive over multiple seasons (or periodic condition changes).
having the capacity to move from one place to another.
the area in which the animal is naturally found, the region in which it is endemic.
active during the night
an animal that mainly eats all kinds of things, including plants and animals
found in the oriental region of the world. In other words, India and southeast Asia.
the business of buying and selling animals for people to keep in their homes as pets.
rainforests, both temperate and tropical, are dominated by trees often forming a closed canopy with little light reaching the ground. Epiphytes and climbing plants are also abundant. Precipitation is typically not limiting, but may be somewhat seasonal.
remains in the same area
reproduction that includes combining the genetic contribution of two individuals, a male and a female
uses touch to communicate
Living on the ground.
the region of the earth that surrounds the equator, from 23.5 degrees north to 23.5 degrees south.
uses sight to communicate
reproduction in which fertilization and development take place within the female body and the developing embryo derives nourishment from the female.
breeding takes place throughout the year
Helin, S. 1999. Mammalian of China. Beijing, China: China Forestry Publishing House.
International Association for Bear Research and Management (IBA), 1999. "Sun Bear" (On-line). Accessed Nov. 27, 2001 at http://www.bearbiology.com/sudesc.html.
McConkey, K., M. Galetti. 1999. Seed dispersal by sun bear *Helarctos malayanus* in Central Borneo. Tropical Ecology, 15: 237-241.
Nowak, R. 1997. ""Walker's Mammals of the World"" (On-line). Accessed Nov. 1, 2001 at http://www.press.jhu.edu/books/walkers_mammals_of_the_world/special.html.
Sanderson, I. 1972. Living Mammals of the World. Garden City, New York: Doubleday and Company.
Servheen Christopher, March/April 1999. "Bear COnservation Around the World" (On-line). Accessed Nov. 27, 2001 at http://www.fonz.org/zoogoer/zg1999/28%282%29bearconserve.htm.
Ward, P., S. Kynaston. 1995. Bears of the World. London: Blanford.