Natural Histories

photograph of a Sunda Pangolin

Sloth Bear

Melursus ursinus


The sloth bear has shaggy black fur; this fur is especially longer over the shoulders. There are brown and gray hairs on the coat of some individuals, appearing as a cinnamon color. This species has a long snout, huge feet and large claws. The face of this bear appears as a gray color and there is a “U” or “Y” shaped patch of yellow or chestnut brown on their chests. Females tend to weight 55-95kg while the males tend to weight 80-140kg.


Sloth bears can be found throughout India, Sri Lanka, and north into Bangladesh, Nepal, and Bhutan. They prefer tropical areas of drier forests or grasslands and areas with rocky outcrops. Sloth bears tend to live at lower elevations.

Feeding Behavior and Diet

These bears are omnivorous, consuming both meat and vegetation. Most of their diet consists of insects but they also consume leaves, honey, flowers, and fruits. They consume more fruit during March-June because they are more available. The favorite food of the sloth bear is termites and bees. Sloth bears will insert their long snouts into termite or bee nests and use their claws to rip open the nest. Then the bears blow away any dust and vacuum their prize insects into their mouths. This sucking can make a very loud sound that can be heard 185m away. They can voluntarily open and close their nostrils, preventing them from inhaling any dust while sucking up insects.


This species mates between May and July. Six to seven months after mating the female finds shelter in a cave or underground to give birth to one or two cubs. The eyes of the cubs are closed for the first 3 weeks. The cubs do not leave the den until they are 4-5 weeks old. This species remains with their mother until they are 2-3 years old. The mother sloth bear transports her cubs on her back while the male gives no parental care.

Months and Times of Activity

Sloth bears are mostly nocturnal animals but they have poor sense of sight and hearing so they rely mostly on their keen sense of smell. During the day these bears sleep in caves, particularly near rivers. Female bears will sometimes vary from their nocturnal tendencies to prevent predation of her cubs by leopards and tigers. This species does not hibernate but are generally inactive during the rainy season.

Special Features, Stories, Relationships

•    This species is very good at climbing trees.
•    Early explorers recorded observing these bears hanging upside down in trees and thus gave them the name “bear sloth” because they looked like a giant sloth in the tree.
•    The sloth bear was the original dancing bear in circuses, they were trained by Qualanders (a nomadic entertaining group in India) to perform in circus acts.
•    To read legends featuring this animal go to:
•    Children’s book featuring this animal: Sloth Bears by the ABDO Publishing Company


Bies, L. 2002. "Melursus ursinus" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed November 04, 2014 at