This particular bear sometimes appears to wear a pair of eyeglasses, which is exactly why it was called the way it is.
In this post, we’ll take a closer look at some interesting spectacled bear facts, a unique bear species in the world!
1 This type of bear has a couple of different names
The spectacled bear is scientifically known as “Tremarctos ornatus” and is one of the 8 members of the Ursidae family. The name “tremarctos” is derived from the Greek words “trem,” which means “hole,” and “arctos” which means “bear.” This refers to a remarkable hole this type of bear has in its arm.
The common name, spectacled bear, refers to the markings on its face, neck, and chest, which sometimes resemble a pair of eyeglasses. We say sometimes because not all bears have markings that look exactly like spectacles.
Other names sometimes used to describe this fascinating creature are the Andean bear, the Andean short-faced bear, and the mountain bear.
2. It’s native to a famous mountain range in South America
The reason they are also referred to as Andean bears or even mountain bears is that their natural habitat is the Andes Mountain range in South America. Apart from some individuals that might be found in Panama, most of these bears exist in western Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, western Bolivia, and northwestern Argentina.
Their geographical range has a width of between 200 and 650 kilometers (124 and 403 miles) and a length of approximately 6,500 kilometers (4,038 miles).
Regardless of their rather extended range, their population has been seriously fragmented as the bears have suffered from severe habitat loss in the past 500 years. They almost exclusively live in dense cloud forests at a height of anywhere between 250 meters (820 feet) and all the way up to 5,000 meters (16,000 feet) above sea level.
3. It’s one of the 4 extant bear species that likes to hang out in trees
One of the most fascinating spectacled bear facts is that these are arboreal animals, which means they prefer to stay in trees. It’s not the only bear species in the world that displays such behavior because the American black bear (Ursus americanus), Asian black bear (U. thibetanus), and the sun bear do so too.
They are also known to build a platform, the equivalent of a bear treehouse, to rest, store food, or hide from the presence of unwanted visitors.
4. It’s the last remaining bear species of its kind
The type of bear is part of the Tremarctinae, a subfamily of the Ursidae. The bears in this subfamily are referred to as “short-faced bears.” There are 4 genera in this subfamily and a total of 11 different species, of which spectacled bears are one.
Unfortunately, the spectacled bear is the only extant short-faced bear still living on the planet today. Its closest relative was the Florida Spectacled bear but this species became extinct at the end of the Pleistocene epoch around 12,000 years ago.
5. It’s the largest carnivore in South America but it eats little meat
One of the most intriguing facts about Spectacled bears is that they are considered to be the largest land carnivores in South America, even though only about 5 to 7% of their diet actually consists of meat.
6. It has extremely powerful muscles in order to chew food
So what do spectacled bears eat?
Their diet consists mostly of cactus, bromeliads, palm nuts, bamboo hearts, fragile on, orchid bulbs, and palm leaves. They also constantly look around for fruit that has fallen from trees and can be spotted pulling away the tree bark to eat the much softer second layer of the tree.
To chew these rather hard plant materials they are equipped with some of the largest zygomatic mandibular muscles, located inside the jaw, so they can easily chew away. Only the giant panda, a bear that loves to feast on bamboo sticks, has a similar large muscle inside its jaw.
7. It sometimes attacks and kills prey twice its own size
If they are extremely hungry, they will kill an unlucky animal they come across. In the Andes Mountains, this can range from adult deer, llama (Lama Glama), and domestic cattle.
In case these animals are not around they can take on much larger prey as well including horses and even an adult mountain tapir, an animal about twice its own size!
8. The markings around their eyes can be used to distinguish them
Even though they are referred to as spectacled bears because they have distinctive markings around their eyes which sometimes resemble eyeglasses, these markings vary significantly per individual. The pattern of these markings is an easy way to differentiate individual bears.
The color of this type of bear is usually completely black, but can also differ quite a bit per individual. It can range from pitch black to a dark brown tint and even sometimes contains a reddish shade.
9. The male spectacle bear is much bigger than the female
These bears can be described as medium-sized as they are substantially smaller than some of their Ursidae counterparts such as the brown bear and polar bear. The male Andean bear is also much larger than the female with the size of the males ranging anywhere between 150 to 200 centimeters (47 and 78.5 inches).
The weight of the male bears is anywhere between 100 and 200 kilos (220 to 440 lbs). The weight of the females is not even half that, ranging anywhere between 35 and 82 kilos (77 and 181 lbs).
This also means that this species is about the most sexually dimorphic bear on the planet, almost similar to the polar bear.
10. Their sense of smell is adapted to find food in trees
The eyesight of this type of bear isn’t adapted to spot things far away as they are short-sighted. Their sense of hearing isn’t that great as well as they don’t really have to rely on it to avoid predators.
Their sense of smell is top-notch though as it allows them to smell fruit hanging on trees from a far distance, a pretty remarkable feature which they exploit to the fullest!
11. This particular bear species prefers to mind its own business
Spectacled bears are for the most part solitary creatures and avoid the company of other bears completely, except during mating season. Instead of mingling, they simply avoid interacting with other bears, which is also why they build shelters in trees.
These bears are not territorial, so instead of fighting to defend their personal range, they simply avoid conflict altogether. Regardless, if there’s plenty of food, they don’t mind feasting together with other bears.
Their territory can range from anywhere between 23 square kilometers (8.9 square miles) and 27 square kilometers (10 square miles) for males, and between 7 square kilometers (2.7 square miles) and 10 square kilometers (3.9 square miles) for females.
12. We’re not exactly sure when mating season happens in the wild
One of the most remarkable spectacled bear facts is that it appears that mating in captivity can happen at any point in the year. It does appear, though, that this peaks in between April and June
In the wild, births happen mostly between December and February, mainly because mating happens when most fruit is available, something that certainly makes them more active!
13. The gestation period of these bears is relatively long
Between 1 and 4 young are born, with the average being two, after a gestation period that lasts between 5.5 and 8.5 months. The cubs weigh anywhere between 300 to 330 grams (11 to 12 oz) each and after birth, they spend about 1 year together with their mother before heading out into the jungle by themselves.
For the first 3 to 4 months, the cubs stay together with both the father and mother. As soon as they can walk and see, she takes off together with them.
14. Spectacled bears are an endangered species
The two main dangers for this fascinating animal are poaching and habitat loss. The latter is the reason why their population in their native range has become extremely fragmented.
During the 19th century, they were the target of trophy hunters. Some indigenous people in the Andes also killed them for religious reasons or plain superstition.
These are the main reasons why these animals are now considered to be endangered and are listed as “Vulnerable” on the IUCN Red List with only between 2,500 and 10,000 individuals still roaming around the Andes mountains today.
15. An organization in Peru protects these animals from extinction
Since 2006, the Spectacled Bear Conservation Society has put in a lot of effort to protect these amazing creatures. This organization was established in Peru and has the sole aim to protect the natural habitat of the only bear left in South America!