sun bear

sun bear facts

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Taxonomy and evolution of sun bears

Sun bears are descendants of black bears and have developed some unique traits to suit their arboreal and primarily herbivorous lifestyle:

  • Inwardly turned claws, flat chest, powerful forearms and claws, suitable for climbing trees
  • A long tongue that evolved from Asiatic black bears to reach honey and termites on trees
  • Flat molars for grinding, not tearing
  • Loose neck skin, so if attacked, it can turn its head and bite its predator
sun bear
The sun bear is an arboreal bear with a long tongue.

©Vladimir Wrangel/


The sun bear is a small bear that inhabits the dense tropical forests of Southeast Asia. The sun bear is the smallest bear in the world and one of the most unique, being the only member of its family that has not only adapted to living in the jungle but has also lived a fully arboreal life. Also known as the honey bear, the sun bear is an animal with many unique characteristics, most notably the orange U-shaped marking on its chest, from which it gets its name. Sun bears are both rare and elusive, meaning that little is known about their behavior and habits in the wild (or just how rare they really are). However, sun bears are known to be in sharp decline, as they are threatened by hunting and habitat loss throughout much of their natural range.

anatomy and appearance

Not only is the sun bear the smallest bear in the world, it also has the shortest fur. The sun bear's smooth, glossy fur ranges in color from black to dark brown or gray, and its distinctive chest markings range from white to yellow or orange, and can take many shapes, including the standard crescent, round or Irregular shaped points. The sun bear, an animal with a light-colored face and short muzzle, combined with its short fur and ears, is thought to be adapted to spending such a long time in the trees. It also has long, curved claws on its front paws that help it climb trees and break open hollow logs in search of termites, as do its large canines and strong jaws. One of the sun bear's most distinctive features is its long tongue, up to 25 cm long, used to suck larvae and honey from nests and crevices.

Sun bears live in the wild mainly in Borneo, Sumatra and Southeast Asia.

© Ryan E. Poplin/Creative Commons

Distribution and Habitat

Sun bears once ranged across many countries in Southeast Asia, but due to continued human development, they now only exist in a handful of increasingly isolated habitats. Sun bears can be found in the forests of Borneo and Sumatra, as well as on the mainland (Malaysia, Thailand, Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam), and there are also some remote sun bear populations in eastern India and southern China. Sun bears inhabit pristine lowland rainforests, where not only is there a variety of food available, but there is also ample shelter to protect them from predators. However, throughout most of their natural range (especially in Indonesia and Malaysia), large swathes of the sun bear's native habitat have been lost to deforestation, mainly to clear land for agriculture (e.g. palm oil plantations) And felling rare and valuable tropical trees for the timber industry.

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Behavior and Lifestyle

Sun bears spend most of their lives in trees. It sleeps in a nest in the tree canopy, which is built by folding leafy branches. As a result, sun bears are very good at climbing at incredible speeds using their long, curved claws. However, sun bears have also been known to climb trees by gripping the trunk with their forelimbs and biting down on the trunk with their strong teeth so they can pull themselves up. Curiously, sun bears are primarily diurnal animals, foraging for food during the day and nesting high in tree tops at night. However, in areas increasingly affected by human activity, sun bears have been known to adopt a more nocturnal lifestyle to avoid confrontation. Like other bears, sun bears are solitary animals, and only when males and females want to mate do they actually show up in each other's company.

Reproduction and Life Cycle

sun bear cub
Newborn sun bear cubs are tiny.

© paramarta

Like many other animal species found in the tropics, sun bears can mate and give birth year-round. After a gestation period that varies considerably (3 to 8 months) depending on the individual and the amount of food available, a female sun bear gives birth to up to three cubs (but usually only one) in a nest. Do it in a large hole, such as a hollow tree. Young sun bear cubs are taught the skills to survive in the tropics under the care and close care of their mothers until they leave to establish their own territories independently of their mothers at nearly two years old. Females are usually able to reproduce when they are three years old, and males a year later. Sun bears are thought to live an average of 25 years in the wild, but have been known to live over 30 years in captivity.

diet and prey

Although technically classified as a carnivore, the sun bear's diet consists of much of the fruit and other plants it finds in the surrounding forest. Like other bears, their molars have lost their "meat-cutting" ability and have instead become flatter to help grind up vegetation. Sun bears eat a variety of fruits, nuts, berries, and twigs, and supplement their diet with small animals such as insects, grubs, honey, eggs, and rodents when plant matter is scarce. Using their strong teeth and sharp claws, sun bears are able to break hollow logs before using their long tongues to suck termites out. However, when unable to break a nest in a tree trunk, sun bears have been known to place their front paws into the holes one at a time, allowing termites to crawl over their paws before the bear licks them off.

A close-up of a sun bear shows loose skin around its neck.

© Tambako Jaguar / Flickr

Predators and Threats

Due to their relatively large size and arboreal habitat, adult sun bears have relatively few predators in their native environment. Large carnivores like tigers are the main predators of sun bears, but the animals have evolved another unique adaptation to help them escape in these situations. The sun bear has loose skin, especially around the neck, which means that if it is grabbed by a predator, it can still turn its head and try to bite the attacker. Sun bear cubs, however, are much more vulnerable and are preyed on by a variety of bush predators including snakes and large birds of prey. However, the biggest threat to the remaining sun bear populations in Southeast Asia is deforestation that has drastically reduced much of their natural habitat. In areas where agricultural plantations have encroached on their territory, sun bears also attack oil palm trees, especially to eat the young shoots. As a result, they too are persecuted by farmers concerned about the stability of their crops.

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Interesting Facts and Features

sun bear sleeping
Sun bears, also known as dog bears, do not hibernate.

© Moore

The sun bear goes by many different names, but its small size, short nose and ears, and short, sleek fur are often referred to as "dog bears" in local communities. While sun bears are generally solitary, on rare occasions some individuals have been known to congregate around mature fruit trees and tolerate each other as they feed. Although sun bears are similar in different parts of their natural range, there is actually a smaller recognized subspecies of sun bear found on the island of Borneo, but little is known about it. Unlike the other eight bear species in the world, the sun bear does not hibernate. Since sun bears live in the tropics without such drastic seasonal changes, they don't need to sleep during the winter at all (breeding happens year-round for the same reason).

If you're looking for more amazing facts about sun bears, be sure to read "10 Unbelievable Sun Bear Facts".

relationship with humans

Since modern humans arrived in Southeast Asia thousands of years ago, sun bears, along with all other bear species, have been hunted, mostly for their body parts. Gallbladder is especially sought after by the Asian pharmaceutical market. Due to their small size and docile temperament, sun bears are also captured and sold to the exotic pet market around the world. However, the biggest problem facing the sun bear today is that it has lost large areas of its once vast natural habitat due to deforestation and land clearing for agriculture (much of it illegal). Because sun bears spend most of their lives in trees, they rely heavily on the rich, dense rainforest they were accustomed to, much of which has now been lost due to increased human activity.

malayan sun bear
The rare sun bear with its tongue bared is protected by anti-poaching laws but remains endangered by deforestation.


Protect the status quo and life today

Today, the sun bear is listed by the IUCN as vulnerable in its natural environment and therefore at risk of becoming extinct in the wild in the future. The elusive nature of sun bears makes it difficult for anyone to really understand just how threatened they are, but their numbers are thought to have declined by as much as 30 percent over the past few decades. The number of sun bears is still declining. Although their exact population size is unknown, there may be fewer than 1,000 left in the wild today. While illegal deforestation is harder to control, sun bears are at least protected by anti-poaching laws to help prevent so many sun bears from being hunted.


The sun bear is considered a monotypic species; that is, no subspecies have developed from it. However, there are two proposed but not yet recognized subspecies: the Malayan sun bear (from Malaysia) and the Bornean sun bear (from Borneo). The Borneo type has a smaller skull, but other differences are minor and are still being studied scientifically. Since there are so few sun bears in existence and they are well hidden in forests, it is difficult to determine from the few individuals if there are really any unique subspecies.

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Sun Bear FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions)

Are sun bears herbivores, carnivores or omnivores?

Sun bears are omnivores, which means they eat both plants and other animals.

To which kingdom does the sun bear belong?

Sun bears belong to the animal kingdom.

What category do sun bears belong to?

Sun bears belong to the class Mammalia.

What phylum do sun bears belong to?

Sun bears belong to the phylum Chordate.

What family do sun bears belong to?

Sun bears belong to the bear family.

What order do sun bears belong to?

Sun bears belong to the order Carnivora.

What type of mulch do sun bears have?

Sun bears are covered with fur.

What genus does the sun bear belong to?

Sun bears belong to the genus Sun Ursus.

Where do sun bears live?

Sun bears live in Southeast Asia.

What type of habitat do sun bears live in?

Sun bears live mainly in lowland tropical forests.

Who are the natural enemies of the sun bear?

Predators of the sun bear include tigers, snakes and birds of prey.

How many children does Sun Bear have?

The average number of babies for a Sun Bear is 2.

What's a fun fact about sun bears?

Sun bears are the smallest bears in the world!

What is the scientific name of the sun bear?

The scientific name of the sun bear is Helarctos malayanus.

What is the lifespan of a sun bear?

Sun bears can live 15 to 30 years.

How many kinds of sun bears are there?

There are 2 kinds of sun bears.

What is the biggest threat to the sun bear?

The biggest threats to sun bears are hunting and habitat loss.

What is another name for a sun bear?

Sun bears are also known as Malaysian sun bears, sun bears, honey bears or dog bears.

How many sun bears are left in the world?

The population size of the sun bear is unknown.

How fast is the sun bear?

Sun bears can travel at speeds of up to 30 miles per hour.

What is the difference between a sun bear and a moon bear?

The biggest difference between moon bears and sun bears is their form and behavior. Moon bears are solitary animals that are aggressive towards humans and hibernate in colder climates. They have longer black fur than sun bears, a chevron marking on their chest, large bell ears and a light brown muzzle. The sun bear, which does not hibernate and rarely has fatal encounters with humans, has short black fur, small ears, a short nose, and a U-shaped or semicircular patch of white or orange fur on its chest.

What is the difference between a sun bear and a sloth bear?

The biggest difference between sloth bears and sun bears is their form and behavior.

how does sun bear say in


Malayan nymph


Malayan nymph


Niezviz Malajski

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  2. Tom Jackson, Lorenz Books (2007) Encyclopedia of World Animals
  3. David Burney, Kingfisher (2011) The Animal Encyclopedia of Kingfishers
  4. Richard Mackay, University of California Press (2009) Atlas of Threatened Species
  5. David Burnie, Dorling Kindersley (2008) Illustrated Animal Encyclopedia
  6. Dorling Kindersley (2006) Dorling Kindersley Animal Encyclopedia
  7. David W. Macdonald, Oxford University Press (2010) Encyclopedia of Mammals
  8. About Sun Bear, available here:
  9. Sun Bear Information, available here: