Note:  Do not rely on this information. It is very old.


Bear, the popular name for any individual of the genus Ursus, the type of the Arctoid family Ursidse, which also contains the genus Ailuropus, connecting the true bears with the Ailuridae. The species of the type-genus, though not very numerous, are extensively distributed, but are entirely absent from the Australian and Ethiopian regions, and have only one representative in the Neotropical region - U. ornatus, the Spectacled Bear, from the Peruvian and Chilian Andes. Bears are stout-built animals of considerable size, some of the forms being the largest of the Carnivora. They are the best examples of Cuvier's group Plantigrada (a name which is rapidly falling, if it has not already fallen, into disuse), the whole of the sole of the foot being applied to the ground in walking. They are the least carnivorous of the whole order, the majority being omnivorous, and some almost entirely vegetable-feeders, only the polar bear and the grizzly bear being flesh-eaters to any great extent, and of these two the former eats grass greedily in the summer, and the latter feeds largely on acorns. The dental formula I. 3-3/3-3 C. 1-1/1-1 PM. 4-4/4-4 M. 2-2/3-3 = 42; the incisors and canines resemble those of the other Carnivora, but the sectorial tooth has a tuberculate crown for grinding and crushing, totally unlike the sharp cutting edges of the corresponding tooth in the lion and tiger. The claws are large, strong, and slightly curved, but cannot be retracted within sheaths, as in the cats, and are better fitted for digging than for seizing and tearing prey. The tongue is smooth, without the horny papillae so marked in the cats; the ears are small, erect, and rounded, the tail short, and the nose forms a movable truncated snout. The soles of the feet are naked (except in the polar bear), and the fur is for the most part long, soft, and shaggy. Although so heavily built, bears can run and swim with considerable speed. Many species are good climbers, though they always come down backwards, just as a man descends a ladder. Most of them undergo at least a partial hibernation, and on recovering from this state the female brings forth her young. The earliest known bear is U. theobaldi, from the Pliocene of India. Remains of this genus have also been obtained from the Upper Pliocene and Pleistocene of Europe, and the Pleistocene of America.

Bears have played a considerable part in the folklore of the human race, and especially in that of the northern nations. The jocular name given to these animals by some of the German peoples - Bruin - comes from the bear (who is named Bruin, or brown, from the colour of his fur) in the mediaeval poem of Reynard the Fox (q.v.). From the earliest ages they have been beasts of chase, they were used in the games of the Roman amphitheatre, and, if Martial (Spec. Lib.) may be credited, as ministers of justice on malefactors. They are important commercially, for the fur of nearly all the species is valuable, the fat is made into "bear's grease," and the paws and hams are esteemed as delicacies.

The genus Ursus may be divided into four sections, to all of which some writers have given generic rank.

1. Ursus proper, containing the land bears. Black bear, brown bear, grizzly bear, spectacled bear, Syrian bear.

2. Thalassarctos, having a comparatively small head, small, narrow molar teeth, and the soles covered with hair. Polar Bear.

3. Helarctos, having the head short and broad, and the tongue long and extensile. [Sun Bear.]

4. Melursus, having the first upper incisor absent, or shedding it very early, lips very large and extensile. Sloth Bear.