The Whisker Chronicles

Whiskers are also known as vibrissa, from the latin vibrare "to vibrate". Vibrissa are the specialized hairs on mammals and the bristlelike feathers near the mouths of many birds. Their resonant design is symbolic of the energies, good and bad, that are reverberating throughout the natural world. Every living thing is connected and, by birthright, deserves to exist.

Andean Bear


Billie Jean, adult female Andean bear at Smithsonian’s National Zoo.
Photo by Maymie Higgins

Scientific Name:  Tremarcto ornatus

Tremarctos is a combination of Latin words that translate to “tremendous bear”.  Ornatus is in reference to the ornate design on face and around the eyes like spectacles.  Hence, the common name spectacled bear.

Where Andean Bears Live: 

The Andean bear is the only remaining species of bear native to South America. Andean bears live in the Andes Mountains in Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela, Peru, Bolivia, Argentina and Panama.  They prefer dense cloud forests, abundant in food and shelter.


What Andean Bears Eat: 

All bears are omnivores but Andean bears eat more plants than other bear species with the possible exception of the Giant panda. They eat bromeliads, fruits, moss, cacti, orchids, bamboo, honey, tree wood, palms, invertebrates, small mammals, birds, and insects. They will also eat meat, opportunistically feeding on fresh carcasses and occasionally taking down prey as well.

How Long Andean Bears Live:  20-30 years

Why Andean Bears are Awesome:

Andean bears contribute to seed dispersal in the ecosystems in which they live.  They are also the largest carnivore on the South American continent and the sole bear species to survive in South America after the end of the last ice age.  The Incas considered them to be divine beings.

Kurt and Nicole

Kurt and Nicole, twin Andean bear cubs at Smithsonian’s National Zoo
Photo by Maymie Higgins.

Why We Care about Andean Bears: 

They are the very last living species of the evolutionary short-faced bear, and their habitat is shrinking.  In Ecuador, for example, approximately 40% of suitable habitat has been destroyed, creating small and separated populations of bears known as island populations.  This makes preserving genetic diversity very difficult. Spectacled bears also require a large, diverse habitat to meet their food requirements throughout the year. 

Thanks for reading.  Keep checking in because I’m going to write a little about the two rascals you see above, Kurt and Nicole, at Smithsonian’s National Zoo and how much fun I had photographing them.  Their mother is pictured above also.

In the meantime, please watch this BBC video of Andean bears in the wild, narrated by the beloved David Attenborough.

Silly baby bear foot. Smithsonian's National Zoo. Photo by Maymie Higgins.

Silly baby bear foot.
Smithsonian’s National Zoo.
Photo by Maymie Higgins.

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This entry was posted on January 6, 2014 by in Bears, Mammals, Wildlife.
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