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. It is believed that these bears travel between habitat types depending on the season, but the timing of these migrations and what drives them is unknown. They are found from 475 to 3658 meters elevation, mostly between 1900 and 2350 meters. (Kattan, et al., 2004; Servheen, et al., 1999)
Spectacled bears are medium sized bears that are typically uniformly black in color, but reddish-brown individuals have been observed. The common name "spectacled bears" comes from the white or tan 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 70mm long, that is often completely hidden by the fur. They have a stocky build, small round ears, a thick short neck, and a stout muzzle. Like all bears, spectacled bears are equipped with a plantigrade stance and the front limbs are longer than their hind limbs. This feature of the limbs gives most bears amazing climbing abilities. Relative to their body size, spectacled bears have the largest zygomaticomandibularis muscle of any bear species. This musculature feature, along with the blunt lophs of the cheek teeth are adaptations for their primarily herbivorous diet. (Kattan, et al., 2004; Nowak, 1999; Servheen, et al., 1999)
Much of the mating behavior of this species remains unstudied. Males and females come together to mate between the months of April and June. The pair remains together for 1 to 2 weeks, copulating several times during this period. ("International Association for Bear Research and Management", 1999)
Mating pairs of spectacled bears have been seen together between March and October, during the time of year when fruit is beginning to ripen. This indicates that, like bears in captivity, spectacled bears are probably adapted to breeding at various times throughout the year. Spectacled bears are monestrous and are probably capable of delayed implantation. This would explain the variation in gestation times in captive bears, 160 to 255 days, and the "out of season" births observed in wild bears. Cubs are typically born several months before the fruit season begins, this allows the cubs sufficient time to be weaned before the fruit ripens for them to eat. In the wild, 1 to 4 cubs are born to a single female. The cubs are born with their eyes closed and weigh about 300 g each. The size of the litter is positively correlated with the weight of the female and the abundance and variety of food sources. In captive bears, a female gives birth to two cubs on average. Both male and female bears reach sexual maturity between the ages of 4 and 6. ("International Association for Bear Research and Management", 1999; Hunter, 2011; Nowak, 1999; Servheen, et al., 1999)
Spectacled bear cubs stay with their mother for up to a year after birth. The cubs are born blind and their eyes do not open until 30 days, during which time they are completely dependent on their mother. There is no known paternal involvement in the rearing of the cubs and males may eat any cubs they come into contact with. (Nowak, 1999)
The longest recorded life span 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. Not much is known about the average lifespan of a wild bear, but it is believed to be around 20 years. (Nowak, 1999; Paisley, 2008)
Spectacled bears tend to be solitary animals (except when a female is with cubs) but they have been reported to gather in areas where food is abundant. There is some disagreement over their activity pattern. Some argue that they are strictly diurnal and crepuscular, whereas others have stated that they are nocturnal as well. There is no evidence to suggest that this species spends any portion of the year hibernating. These bears are excellent climbers and spend a fair amount of time in trees. 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. (Castellanos, 2011; Nowak, 1999; Servheen, et al., 1999)
It is unlikely that these bears are highly territorial, as they have been observed feeding in small groups where food is abundant. Some sources report seasonal and sex based differences in the home ranges of spectacled bears. Males are reported to have an average home range of 23 square kilometers during the wet season and 27 square kilometers during the dry season. Females are reported to have an average home range of 10 square kilometers in the wet season and 7 square kilometers in the dry season. (Hunter, 2011)
Olfaction is the dominant form of communication for spectacled bears. At least five distinct vocal communication sounds used between mothers and cubs have been described. (Nowak, 1999; Servheen, et al., 1999)
Besides giant pandas, spectacled bears are probably the most herbivorous bear species. They seem to have a strong preference for bromeliads and fruits, but have also been observed eating moss, cacti, orchids, bamboo, honey, tree wood, palms, invertebrates, small mammals, birds, and insects. Spectacled bears have been known to raid farmers crops, especially maize, which often results in the bears being shot. They have rarely been observed killing livestock and will readily scavenge from a carcass. One of their more unique feeding techniques is the construction and use of feeding platforms to obtain easier access to food high in the canopy. (Hunter, 2011; Nowak, 1999; Servheen, et al., 1999)
Spectacled bears are one of the largest mammals in South America and there are no reported predators on adult bears. Spectacled bear cubs may be preyed on by mountain lions, jaguars, and occasionally by adult male spectacled bears. (Nowak, 1999)
The roll that spectacled bears play in the ecosystem remains largely unstudied. However, because of their largely herbivorous diet it is likely that they play a role in seed dispersal.
Spectacled bears possess great religious and cultural value to the native people who share their range. Spectacled bears are sometimes hunted illegally for medicinal or ritual purposes. In some parts of their range the meat is highly prized. The gallbladder is often sold to the east Asian market, where it is used for traditional medicinal purposes, although there is no proven benefit of these materials for humans and the effect of this illegal hunting on populations can be devastating. (Paisley, 2008; Ruiz-Garcia, et al., 2006; Servheen, et al., 1999)
As with many species, loss of habitat plays a major role in the population decline of spectacled bears. In Ecuador alone there has been an estimated 40% loss of suitable habitat in the bears natural range. This creates small isolated island populations of bears. Since spectacled bears rely on different habitats to produce their food supply during different seasons, it is essential to preserve large areas to ensure that the bears have a sufficient supply of food throughout the year. (Peralvo, et al., 2005)
Kesley Fenner (author), Michigan State University, Barbara Lundrigan (editor), Michigan State University, Tanya Dewey (editor), University of Michigan-Ann Arbor.
living in the southern part of the New World. In other words, Central and South America.
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.
Referring to an animal that lives in trees; tree-climbing.
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
active at dawn and dusk
in mammals, a condition in which a fertilized egg reaches the uterus but delays its implantation in the uterine lining, sometimes for several months.
humans benefit economically by promoting tourism that focuses on the appreciation of natural areas or animals. Ecotourism implies that there are existing programs that profit from the appreciation of natural areas or animals.
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.
parental care is carried out by females
an animal that mainly eats leaves.
A substance that provides both nutrients and energy to a living thing.
forest biomes are dominated by trees, otherwise forest biomes can vary widely in amount of precipitation and seasonality.
an animal that mainly eats fruit
An animal that eats mainly plants or parts of plants.
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).
makes seasonal movements between breeding and wintering grounds
having the capacity to move from one place to another.
This terrestrial biome includes summits of high mountains, either without vegetation or covered by low, tundra-like vegetation.
the area in which the animal is naturally found, the region in which it is endemic.
active during the night
having more than one female as a mate at one time
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.
scrub forests develop in areas that experience dry seasons.
breeding is confined to a particular season
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.
A terrestrial biome. Savannas are grasslands with scattered individual trees that do not form a closed canopy. Extensive savannas are found in parts of subtropical and tropical Africa and South America, and in Australia.
A grassland with scattered trees or scattered clumps of trees, a type of community intermediate between grassland and forest. See also Tropical savanna and grassland biome.
A terrestrial biome found in temperate latitudes (>23.5° N or S latitude). Vegetation is made up mostly of grasses, the height and species diversity of which depend largely on the amount of moisture available. Fire and grazing are important in the long-term maintenance of grasslands.
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.
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