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.

Sloth Bear

Female sloth bear, Hana. Smithsonian National Zoo.

Female sloth bear, Hana
Photo courtesy of Smithsonian National Zoo

Scientific Name:  Melursus ursinus

Melursus means “dark (hair) honey bear.”  Ursinus is Latin for “bear.”

Where Sloth Bears Live:   

Throughout India, Sri Lanka, and further north into Bangladesh, Nepal, and Bhutan in mainly tropical, forested areas and grasslands.  They are more often found at lower elevations and prefer drier forests and areas with rocky outcrops where there are more cave areas to serve as dens.

The distribution map for sloth bears is available at the International Union for Conservation of Nature here 

What Sloth Bears Eat:   

Sloth bears are omnivorous, meaning they eat plant and animal based foods. Their diet includes leaves, honey, flowers, and fruits. However, they mostly eat insects, preferring termite or bee nests. 

How Long Sloth Bears Live:  30-40 years

Why Sloth Bears are Awesome: 

Sloth bears are the only bear species with specific physical adaptations for eating ants and termites.  While raiding termite nests, sloth bears rip open the nests with their long claws and insert their long snouts into the nest, blow away the earth and dust, and then vacuum the termites into their mouths.  They can voluntarily open and close their nostrils, preventing the inhalation of dust while feeding.

Sloth bears are the only bears to carry young on their backs.

Sloth bear Hana and her cub, Hank. Photo courtesy of Smithsonian National Zoo. Photo by Barbara Statas, FONZ Photo Club

Sloth bear Hana and her cub, Hank.
Photo courtesy of Smithsonian National Zoo.
Photo by Barbara Statas, FONZ Photo Club

Why We Care about Sloth Bears:   

Wild populations of sloth bears are rapidly declining due to loss of habitat and poaching.  Sloth bears are important to the ecosystem as seed dispersers and in controlling termite populations.

BBC Natural World produced a fantastic documentary on the sloth bear, narrated by the beloved Sir David Attenborough.  I watched it last night and it made my heart sing.  I hope this little bear that was the inspiration for Rudyard Kipling’s Baloo in the Jungle Book will make your heart sing too!


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This entry was posted on January 21, 2014 by in Bears, Mammals, Wildlife and tagged , , , , , .
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