These shaggy-haired bears were originally classed as sloths. When feeding, they can be heard sucking up termites from many miles away.
Body length: 140-190cm, Weight: male: 80-140kg, female: 55-95kg.
Sloth bears are stocky with long, shaggy, black hair and a white U- or Y-shaped marking on the chest. They have large lips, a long tongue, a pale muzzle and well-developed hook-like claws that enable them to climb trees and dig for termites.
Sloth bears live in Sri Lanka, India, Bhutan, Nepal and Bangladesh.
They inhabit thorn forests, wet forests and grassland.
Sloth bears are omnivorous and feed on a variety of foods depending on what is available. They mainly feed on ants and termites and are specially equipped for feeding on them. They use their long claws to expose the insect's nests. Then they blow out the dirt and suck out the termites. They are able to close their nostrils to create a vacuum, and their mobile lips enable them to scoop up their prey. Their hairless muzzles are thought to be an adaptation to the stings of the insects.
They also eat fruits, berries, ants, bees, honey, carcasses and sometimes small vertebrates.
Sloth bears are nocturnal and occupy home ranges that they seem happy to share with other sloth bears. Male sloth bears have an average range of 13 square km. This is much smaller than most other bears, probably due to the fact that they do not suffer from seasonal fluctuations of food supply (ants and termites are available all year round). This means that they do not have to travel so far in search of food. The constant availability of ants and termites also mean that they do not need to undergo a winter sleep.
They use a wide variety of facial expressions and calls to communicate with one another. Sloth bears are also good climbers.
According to the limited information available, it appears that the mating season is variable, and that sloth bears may mate and give birth at any time of the year. Females give birth to 1-2 cubs, and the cubs ride on their mothers back.
Sloth bears are classified as Vulnerable by the IUCN and are listed on CITES: Appendix I. They are hunted by farmers due to the damage they cause to crops, and also by hunters seeking the prized gall bladder of the sloth bear, which is used in medicine in Asia.
Sloth bears were originally classified as belonging to the sloth family in the 1700s, and were named bear sloths. It wasn't until the first live sloth bear was shipped from India to Europe in 1810 that scientists corrected the error and they were renamed.