bears species honey found family polar
BEAR, the common name of the Ursidte, a typical family of Plantigrade Mammals, distinguished by their massive bodies, short limbs, and almost rudimentary tails. With the single exception of the Honey Bear, all the species have forty-two teeth, of-which the incisors and canines closely resemble those of the purely carnivorous mammals ; while the molars, and especially that known as the " carnassial," have their surfaces tuberculated so as to adapt them for grinding vegetable substances. As might have been supposed from their dentition, the bears are truly omnivorous ; but most of the family seem to prefer vegetable food, including honey, when a sufficient supply of this can be had. The Grizzly Bear, however, is chiefly carnivorous ; while the Polar Bear, in a state of nature, is believed to be almost wholly so. The strength and ferocity of different species and of different individuals of the same species seem to depend largely on the nature of their diet„ - those restricted to purely vegetable food showing an approach to that mildness of disposition characteristic of herbivorous animals.
Bears are five-toed, and are provided with formidable claws, but these are not retractile as in the cats, and are thus better fitted for digging and climbing than for tearing. Most of the bears climb trees, which they do in a slow, lumbering fashion, and, in descending, always come hindquarters first. The Grizzly Bear is said to lose this power of climbing in the adult state. In northern countries the bear retires during the winter season into caves and the hollows of trees, or allows the falling snow to cover it, where it remains dormant till the advent of spring, about which time the female usually produces her young. These are born naked and blind, and it is commonly five weeks before they see, or become covered with hair. Before hibernating they grow very fat, and it is by the gradual consumption of this fat - known in commerce as bear's grease - that such vital action as is necessary to the continuance of life is sustained.
The bear family is widely distributed, being found in every quarter of the globe except Australia, and in all climates, from the highest northern latitudes yet reached by man to the warm regions of India and Malaya. In the north-west corner of Africa the single representative of the family found on that continent occurs. Of the remaining species described in Gray's recent monograph of this family, three are European, six American, and eight Asiatic ; while one species - the Polar Bear - is common to the Arctic regions of both hemispheres. In addition to these, the best known species are peculiarly rich in varieties. Bears have been recently divided into three groups, - sea bears, land bears, and honey bears.
Sea bears, of which the Polar or White Bear (Thalassarctos maritimus) is the only species known, are distinguished from the other groups by having the soles of the feet covered with close-set hairs, - a beautiful instance of special adaptation to the wants of the creature, the bear being thereby enabled to walk more securely on the slippery ice. In the whiteness of its fur also, it shows such an assimilation in colour to that of surrounding nature as must be of considerable service in concealing it from its prey. The food of the White Bear consists chiefly of seals and fish, in pursuit of which it shows great power of swimming and diving, and a considerable degree of sagacity. It also feeds on the carcases of whales, and on birds and their eggs, and is said to eat berries when these can be had. That it can sustain life on a purely vegetable diet is proved by instances on record of its being fed for years on bread only, in confinement. These bears are strong swimmers, Captain Sabine having found one " swimming powerfully forty miles from the nearest shore, and with no ice in sight to afford it rest." They are often carried on floating ice to great distances, and to more southern latitudes than their own, no fewer than twelve Polar bears having been known to reach Iceland in this way during one winter. The female always hibernates, but the male may be seen abroad at all seasons. In bulk the White Bear exceeds all other members of the family, measuring nearly 9 feet in length, and often weighing 1600 lb.
The American Black Bear (Ursus americanus) occurs throughout the wooded parts of the North American continent, whence it is being gradually driven to make room fur man. It is similar in size to the Brown Bear, but its fur is of a soft even texture, and of a shining black colour, to which it owes its commercial value. At the beginning of the present century Black Bears were killed in enormous numbers for their furs, which at that time were highly valued. In 1803 the skins imported into England numbered 25,000, but the imports have since decreased to one-half of that number They are chiefly used for military accoutrements. This is a timid animal, feeding almost solely on fruits, and lying dormant during winter, at which period it is most frequently killed. It is an object of superstitious reverence to the Indians, who never kill it without apologizing and deploring the necessity which impels them to do so.
The Grizzly Bear (Ursus ferox) approaches the Polar Bear in size, while it exceeds that, and all other American mammals, in ferocity of disposition and in muscular strength. It is said to attack the bison, and has been known to carry off a carcase weighing 1000 lb for a considerable distance to its den, there to devour it at leisure. It also eats fruit and other vegetables. Its fur is usually of a yellowish brown colour, coarse and grizzled, and of little value commercially, while its flesh, unlike that of other bears, is uneatable even by the Indians. It is found in greatest abundance on the eastern slopes of the Rocky Mountains. The Syrian Bear (Ursus syriacus) occurs on Mount Lebanon and throughout Syria, and is probably the species mentioned in Scripture as having destroyed the " forty-and-two children" who mocked Elisha. It is of a dirty yellowish colour, and feeds mainly on vegetables. The Bruang or Malayan Bear (Helaretos malayanus) is of a jet black colour, with a white semilunar mark on the chest, and attains a length of 4i feet. Its food consists almost solely of vegetables and honey, but the latter is its favourite food, - the extreme length and pliability of the tongue enabling it to scoop out the honey-combs from the hollows of trees. It is found in the Malay Peninsula and Islands, and is readily tamed.
(3.) Honey bears are distinguished from the other groups by the absence of two upper incisors, and the very extensile character of the lips. Of these there is but one species, the Sloth or Honey Bear (3felursus labiatus). This animal, from its striking outward resemblance to a sloth, was, when first brought to this country, described as a species of Brady-pus. It is about the size of the Brown Bear, is covered with long, black hair, and is of extremely uncouth aspect. It inhabits the mountainous regions of India, is readily tamed, and is the bear usually exhibited by the Hindoo jugglers. It feeds on fruits, honey, and white ants.
Fossil remains of extinct bears first occur in strata of the Pliocene age. Those of the Great Cave Bear( Ursus spelwus), found abundantly in certain caverns of Central Europe and Asia, show that it must have exceeded in size the Polar Bear of the present day. Its remains are also found in similar situations in Britain associated with those of an allied species (Ursus priscus).