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Virginia Opossum

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The Virginia opossum’s diet changes based on season, habit, and range as they consume more vertebrates in colder seasons and more invertebrates, plants, fruits, and seeds in warmer months.

Virginia opossums opportunistic feeders and eat a variety of foods based on the season, their habitat, and their range.

During the colder seasons, small vertebrates tend to make up a larger portion of their diet, whereas in the warmer seasons, they consume more invertebrates, plant material, fruits and seeds.

Sources: (Christiansen, 2006; Hopkins & Forbes, 1980; McManus, 1974; Siciliano, 2013)
Image: Vladimir

Virginia Opossum

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Due to their small size, nocturnal habits, and high reproductive output, Virginia opossums thrive in woodlands, thickets, and even urban areas.

Virginia opossums may live in arid, dry environments or woodlands and thickets but they are often found within human-altered areas.

This species has been extremely successful due to their ability to thrive in urban areas; this is assisted by their small body size, nocturnal habits, and high reproductive output.

Sources: (Hoffmeister, 2002; McManus, 1974; Pérez-Hernandez, Lew, & Solari, 2016; Siciliano, 2013; Wright, Burt, & Jackson, 2012)
Image: Andy Reago & Chrissy McClarren

Virginia Opossum

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The Virginia opossum’s coloration is typically gray but may be tinted red, brown, or black, and varies based on location, being light gray in the north and dark gray in the south.

The Virginia opossum’s pelage is typically grayish, but it may range in color from a reddish, brownish, or even blackish hue. Within their fur, this species has long, white-tipped guard hairs. The fur of the face tends to be lighter than the rest of the body and is typically pale grayish-white.

The Virginia opossum’s coloration may vary based on the range of the population and tends to be light gray in the north and a dark gray in the southern part of its range.

Northern populations tend to have lighter guard hairs, thicker under fur, and a more grizzled appearance. The denser underfur serves a thermoregulatory function and tends to be white, but may have dark coloring on the tips.

Southern populations generally appear darker and have thinner under fur. The guard hairs tend to be darker, giving the animal a darker overall appearance.

Albinism has also been reported in this species.

Sources: (Burnie, Wilson, & Clutton-Brock, 2001; Christiansen, 2006; Gipson & Palmer, 2001; Hoffmeister, 2002; Hossler, McAninch, & Harder, 1994; McManus, 1974; McRuer & Jones, 2009; Siciliano, 2013; Wilemon, 2008; Wright, Burt, & Jackson, 2012)
Image: Christa R.

Virginia Opossum

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Virginia opossums may be predated upon by owls, dogs, coyotes, foxes, raccoons, bobcats, snakes, and humans, but are immune to the venom of a variety of snakes from the family, Viperidae.

Virginia opossums may be predated upon by a variety of species including owls, domestic dogs, coyotes, red foxes, raccoons, bobcats and large snakes, among others. They may also be hunted or trapped by humans.

Virginia opossums are immune to the venom of a variety of snakes from the family, Viperidae, including eastern and western diamondback rattlesnakes, copperheads, cottonmouth moccasins and Korean mamusi.

The opossum may have a better chance of survival within more urban environments due partially to the lower predation risk.

Sources: (Harmon, et al., 2005; Hossler, McAninch, & Harder, 1994; Ladine & Kissell, 1994; Siciliano, 2013; Werner & Vick, 1976)
Image: Andy Reago & Chrissy McClarren

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Virginia opossums are found in a wide range of habitats including woodlands, thickets, forests, shrublands, and artificial terrestrial areas, but prefer areas near water, such as a stream or swamp.

Virginia opossums may be found in a fairly wide range of habitats; however, they typically prefer areas near a water source, such as a stream or swamp. They may live in dry and arid environments, woodlands, thickets, forests, shrublands, and even human-altered artificial terrestrial areas.

Virginia opossums can be found from near sea level to 3,000 meters in elevation.

Sources: (Hoffmeister, 2002; McManus, 1974; Pérez-Hernandez, Lew, & Solari, 2016; Siciliano, 2013; Wright, Burt, & Jackson, 2012)
Image: Greg Schechter

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Virginia opossums were once considered nomadic, but are now known to keep oval-shaped home ranges, with males keeping larger ranges than females.

It is very difficult to estimate Virginian opossum home range due to their excessive movement. Virginia opossums were once considered a nomadic species, but more recent research has shown that an individual maintains a fairly constant home range throughout their lifespan.

The home range kept by Virginia opossums varies greatly. This may depend on their range, their habitat, the availability of resources, and their gender. The home ranges are more often oval-shaped, rather than circular, and often overlap with a water source.

In general, their home range size is thought to be about 12.5 to 38.8 hectares. Females generally have a smaller home range than males. Males are believed to keep larger home ranges because their reproductive success is based solely on their ability to find mates, whereas female success is based on the accessibility of food items.

One study provided a home range of approximately 11.5 acres, but that is only an estimation. A study conducted in Georgia found that home range size may be between 7.2 to 94.4 hectares and a study in Texas found home range sizes from 0.12 to 23.47 hectares. Likewise, home range sizes in urban environments averaged 18.8 hectares for females and 37.3 hectares for males. ion.

Sources: (Allen, Marchinton, & MacLentz, 1985; Gehrt, Clark, & Fritzell, 1997; Gipson & Kamler, 2001; Harmon, et al., 2005; McManus, 1974; Wilemon, 2008; Wright, Burt, & Jackson, 2012)
Image: Kara Jones

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The Virginia opossum has feet covered in ridges, specialized for climbing, and possesses an opposable hallux on the hind feet that does not bear a claw like the other digits.

Each of the Virginia opossum’s feet is covered by ridges used for friction in climbing.

The opossum possesses an opposable hallux on the hind feet, specialized for climbing. This hallux does not bear a claw, unlike the other digits.

Sources: (Burnie, Wilson, & Clutton-Brock, 2001; Christiansen, 2006; Gipson & Palmer, 2001; Hoffmeister, 2002; Hossler, McAninch, & Harder, 1994; McManus, 1974; McRuer & Jones, 2009; Siciliano, 2013; Wilemon, 2008; Wright, Burt, & Jackson, 2012)
Image: Andy Reago & Chrissy McClarren

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The Virginia opossum is a homeotherm that has a much lower amount of expanded energy due to thermoregulation than any other placental mammal.

The Virginia opossum has a much lower amount of expanded energy due to thermoregulation than any other placental mammal.

The opossum is a homeotherm that can maintain its body temperature at ambient temperatures that are lower than zero degrees Celsius. Many thermoregulatory measures are taken by the opossum in low temperatures. The species has been known to use shivering, vasoconstriction, piloerection, and even avoidance of the low temperatures.

Signs of temperature regulation were first noted in young at the age of 55 to 60 days old, at which the young are still living in the pouch of the female. At 95 days of age young Virginia opossums were found to be able to hold a deep body temperature constant at ambient temperatures as low as five degrees Celsius for a time period of two hours.

Sources: (McManus, 1969, 1974; Weber & O’Connor, 2000; Wilemon, 2008)
Image: Christa R.

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The Virginia opossum’s hairless, scale-like, prehensile tail is relatively large, usually around 90% of its total body length.

The Virginia opossum has a long, hairless, and scale-like prehensile tail that is a common victim of frost bite. Although there is fur at the base of the tail, it is largely hairless throughout.

Virginia opossum’s tails are very long and tend to be about 90-93% as long as their head to body length.

Sources: (Burnie, Wilson, & Clutton-Brock, 2001; Christiansen, 2006; Gipson & Palmer, 2001; Hoffmeister, 2002; Hossler, McAninch, & Harder, 1994; McManus, 1974; McRuer & Jones, 2009; Siciliano, 2013; Wilemon, 2008; Wright, Burt, & Jackson, 2012)
Image: Travis

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Virginia opossums are hardy, stout, robust individuals with short legs, hairless ears, and thick bodies and males tend to be larger and heavier than females.

Virginia opossums are relatively hardy, stout, robust individuals with short legs and thick bodies. They have large, delicate ears, which are predominately furless, making frost bite to that region extremely common.

Although there is some disagreement regarding sexual dimorphism in the Virginia opossum, adult males tend to be slightly larger than adult females.

Weight ranges from 1.9-2.8 kilograms, with females usually reaching a weight of 1.9-2.1 kilograms and males between 2.1-2.8 kilograms. These may be under-estimates, as some sources claim Virginia opossums’ body weight ranges from 3 to 6 kilograms. Weight measurement can range based on the animals chosen habitat as populations in urban areas tend to have a body mass that is approximately 34% larger than rural conspecifics.

Body and tail length estimates also vary. Males have an average body length of 40.8 centimeters with a tail length of 29.4 centimeters, whereas female body lengths average 40.6 centimeters with a tail length of 28.1 centimeters. However, other published estimates suggest body length may range from 33 to 55 centimeters, with a tail length of 25 to 54 centimeters.

Sources: (Burnie, Wilson, & Clutton-Brock, 2001; Christiansen, 2006; Gipson & Palmer, 2001; Hoffmeister, 2002; Hossler, McAninch, & Harder, 1994; McManus, 1974; McRuer & Jones, 2009; Siciliano, 2013; Wilemon, 2008; Wright, Burt, & Jackson, 2012)
Image: Andy Reago & Chrissy McClarren

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Due to inadequate thermoregulatory abilities and poorly insulated fur, Virginia opossums are ill-equipped for cold temperatures and are, thus, not found in the northern regions of the United States and Canada.

Virginia opossums are not ubiquitous throughout the United States. The species is typically found east of the Rocky Mountains and along the west coast as they are restricted by low winter temperatures and snow depth. This climatic limiation of temperature is the Virginia opossum’s only limitation.

Given their tropical beginnings, it is not surprising that Virginia opossums are ill-equipped for extreme cold, with inadequate thermoregulatory abilities and poorly insulated fur. Instead, the survival of Virginia opossums is likely facilitated by their behavioral modification during extreme temperatures and the shelter offered by human structures. However, reports of frostbite or mortality due to starvation are common for northern populations at the edge of this species’ boundaries.

Sources: (Kanda, Fuller, & Friedland, 2005; Harmon, et al., 2005; Hossler, McAninch, & Harder, 1994; Kanda, Fuller, & Friedland, 2005; Pérez-Hernandez, Lew, & Solari, 2016; Siciliano, 2013; Weber & O’Connor, 2000; Wilemon, 2008)
Image: Adam Buzzo

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Due to its recent northern and western expansion and its wide range in Central and North America, the Virginia opossum has been noted as one of the most successful mammal species in history.

Due to the recent expansion of the species’ northern and western range, the Virginia opossum has been noted as one of the most successful mammal species in history. They have a wide range throughout Central and North America, which continues to expand, and can currently can be found from Costa Rica to southern Ontario, Canada.

The movement of this Neotropical species northward has been the subject of research. In the 1970’s, a scientific model hypothesized that this species would not venture beyond Vermont and New Hampshire.

Prior to European settlement, the opossum’s range was limited in the north to Kentucky, Indiana, and Ohio. Today, they are mostly found in the south and northeastern regions of the United States and are widely distributed throughout all of Mississippi.

Sources: (Harmon, et al., 2005; Hossler, McAninch, & Harder, 1994; Kanda, Fuller, & Friedland, 2005; Pérez-Hernandez, Lew, & Solari, 2016; Siciliano, 2013; Weber & O’Connor, 2000; Wilemon, 2008)
Image: Steven Kersting

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Virginia opossums are extremely opportunistic feeders and will consume vertebrates, invertebrates, plants, fruits, grains, carrion, and even garbage.

Virginia opossums are extremely opportunistic feeders. Their diets include vertebrates, invertebrates, plant material, fruits, grains and carrion.

Stomach content analyses have been conducted on Virginia opossums throughout the United States, generally their diet is composed of 14 to 27% mammal tissues, 10 to 18% fruits, seeds and bulbs, 6 to 11% grasses and leaves, 3 to 13.5% insects, 5.5 to 9% earthworms and 3 to 5% birds. Other food items were found more specific to an animal’s location and included up to 22.5% reptiles and amphibians, 10% gastropods, 9% pet food, 9% garbage and up to 5% carrion.

Sources: (Christiansen, 2006; Hopkins & Forbes, 1980; McManus, 1974; National Geographic Society; Siciliano, 2013)
Image: Florida Fish and Wildlife

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Virginia Opossum (Didelphis virginiana)

With another first for FaunaFocus, September 2018 will feature the Virginia opossum, our first marsupial featured species! This rodent-like animal is the only marsupial that can be found north of Mexico and is often found in urban environments. It is listed as “Least Concern” on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.

 

GET INVOLVED

Create art inspired by the Virginia opossum and share it in the FaunaFocus Discord Server or on social media with #faunafocus. Learn about more ways to get involved with FaunaFocus!

 

EVENTS
Event Date Time (CDT)
SketchAlong September 14th 9:00 pm
Throwback Thursday September 21 All Day!
CreateAlong September 28 9:00 pm
Free-For-All Deadline September 28 12:00 pm
Free-For-All Livestream September 29 9:00 pm

Image: Steven Kersting

Judges
Noelle M. Brooks MissCBear MisterKarofsky
Date August2018 Theme Spectacled Bear
Entries 6 Winner Kylart

With the first month of FaunaFocus featuring an ursine coming to a close, the Free-For-All has ended. 6 artists took on the challenge of depicted the spectacled bear, each illustrating a variety of light-colored markings and fluffy, luscious fur. Using watercolor, pencil, charcoal, and even digital media, there was a variety of art to behold.

Congratulations to August 2018’s FaunaFocus Free-For-All Winner, Kylart, who decided to depict the spectacled bear literally, wearing spectacles! With a glasses-wearing mother overlooking her scholarly cub, a charming composition was created. Bathed in tones of sepia, this pair radiates with charm and detail. This ink and watercolor piece looks like it came straight out of a whimsical storybook!

Kylart will choose the FaunaFocus for October 2018, which will be announced at the end of September’s Free-For-All critique livestream. Last month’s winner, Danji Isthmus has chosen September’s FaunaFocus, our very first marsupial, the Virginia opossum!

 


FaunaFocus Calendar | Free-For-All | Free-For-All Archives

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Spectacled bear cubs are born blind and are completely dependent on their mother for their first month but will remain with her for up to a year.

Spectacled bear cubs are typically born several months before the fruit season begins between September and February. This allows the cubs sufficient time to be weaned before the fruit ripens for them to eat.

The cubs are born blind and their eyes do not open until 30 days, during which time they are completely dependent on their mother. At birth, they weight about 300 grams each and are black in color, already showing the “spectacle” markings on the face.

At least five distinct vocal communication sounds used between mothers and cubs have been described.

Spectacled bear cubs grow fairly quickly and already weigh 10 kilograms at 180 days. They stay with their mother for up to a year after birth. Both male and female bears reach sexual maturity between the ages of 4 and 7 years.

Sources: (Fenner, 2012; Fernando del Moral; Hunter, 2011; IBA, 1999; Macdonald, 2001; Naranjo & Hernández; Nowak, 1999; Servheen, Herrero, & Peyton, 1999)
Image: Tambako the Jaguar

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Spectacled bears can be persecuted and shot by local farmers who blame them for killing cattle and destroying maize crops.

Spectacled bears can be persecuted by local farmers who blame them for killing cattle and for destroying maize crops. Often, multiple bears are killed without firm evidence of which was the offending culprit.

In areas where farming and cattle-raising have intruded into former Andean bear habitat, reducing the bears’ natural sources of food, the spectacled bears have been known to raid farmers’ crops, especially those of maize and cultivated corn. These incidents often often result in the bears being shot.

Spectacled bears have rarely been observed killing livestock and cattle that graze near forest lands. Not natural-born killers, the bears have been observed to simply jump on top of unwary cows and begin chomping on their shoulders. If the cow cannot escape and dies, its carcass may be dragged back into the forest and consumed over several days. Such attacks, though, are rare.

Sources: (Fenner, 2012; Fernando del Moral; Hunter, 2011; LaFee, 2009; Macdonald, 2001; Nowak, 1999; Servheen, Herrero, & Peyton, 1999; Velez-Liendo & García-Rangel, 2017)
Image: Tambako the Jaguar

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Adult spectacled bears have no predators, but cubs may be preyed on by mountain lions, jaguars, and occasionally by adult male spectacled bears.

There are no reported predators on adult spectacled bears, but cubs may be preyed on by pumas (Puma concolor), jaguars (Panthera onca), and occasionally by adult male spectacled bears.

Sources: (Fenner, 2012; Fernando del Moral; Nowak, 1999; Paisley, 2001; Servheen, Herrero, & Peyton, 1999)
Image: Smithsonian’s National Zoo

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The average lifespan of a wild spectacled bear is 20 years, but captive bears can live up to 25 years, the longest living 36 years, 8 months.

Not much is known about the average lifespan of a wild spectacled bear, but it is believed to be around 20 years.

The average lifespan of Andean bears in captivity is around 25 years. The longest recorded lifespan was at the National Zoo in Washington D.C., where the bear lived to be 36 years, 8 months of age.

Sources: (Fenner, 2012; Fernando del Moral; Macdonald, 2001; Naranjo & Hernández; Nowak, 1999; Velez-Liendo & García-Rangel, 2017)
Image: Tambako the Jaguar

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Spectacled bears rival the polar bear for the most sexually dimorphic modern bear as males are up to 50% larger than females and can twice their weight.

The spectacled bear rivals the polar bear for the most sexually dimorphic modern bear. Male spectacled bears are up to 50% larger than females and are sometimes twice their weight.

Males typically weigh 100-200 kilograms, (220-441 pounds,) while females range from 35-82 kilograms (77-181 pounds.) On average, males weigh about 115 kilograms, (254 pounds,) and females 65 kilograms, (143 pounds.) Mature males do not measure less than 150 centimeters, or 59 inches, in length.

Sources: (Brown, 2009; Bruijnzeel, Scatena, & Hamilton, 2011; Fenner, 2012; Fernando del Moral; LaFee, 2009; Macdonald, 2001; Naranjo & Hernández; Nowak, 1999; Servheen, Herrero, & Peyton, 1999; Wikimedia Foundation, 2018)
Image: Tambako the Jaguar

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There is no known paternal involvement in the rearing of spectacled bear cubs; in fact, males may eat any cubs they come across.

There is no known paternal involvement in the rearing of spectacled bear cubs and adult males may eat any cubs they come into contact with.

Sources: (Fenner, 2012; Fernando del Moral; Nowak, 1999; Paisley, 2001; Servheen, Herrero, & Peyton, 1999)
Image: Cloudtail the Snow Leopard

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Because spectacled bears are shy, peaceful, and elusive and avoid contact with humans by climbing the tallest of trees, no one knows exactly how many remain in the wild.

Spectacled bears are shy, peaceful, and elusive, and avoid contact with humans. They work hard to avoid human detection and confrontation.

There are no verified accounts of fatal bear-human confrontations, at least none in which the person did not survive, as Andean bear attacks are virtually unheard of.

The continued survival of spectacled bears alongside humans has depended mostly on their ability to climb even the tallest trees of the Andes.

Unlike other bear species, such as the brown bear, Andean bears are not particularly big and are extremely capable climbers, preferring to run from danger and hide in treetops than defend themselves aggressively. When approached by people, they invariably retreat, often by climbing trees. For the bear, safety means getting as far away as quickly as possible-usually by climbing into the thick, tangled canopy.

Spectacled bears have even been observed building platforms of bent and broken branches in trees in order to watch cornfields or herds of cattle in order to wait until there is no sign of humans. The bears are quickly able to build the platforms in an attempt to hide from the sight of the humans below. If the humans do not retreat, the bear may break off and throw branches at the intruders. Andean bears will even try to escape by jumping from tree to tree.

Because spectacled bears are shy and stealthy and live in remote habitats, no one knows exactly how many remain in the wild. Estimates range from a high of 20,000 to as few as 2,400. Recent estimated population sizes for most speculated bear areas are small, with a total estimate for the Northern Andes, (excluding most of Peru, Bolivia, and northern Argentina,) comprised anywhere between 6,000 and 10,000 individuals.

Sources: (LaFee, 2009; Naranjo & Hernández; Wikimedia Foundation, 2018)
Image: Tambako the Jaguar

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The spectacled bear is believed to be mostly diurnal and does not hibernate, but there is disagreement over its activity pattern.

There is some disagreement over the activity pattern of the spectacled bear. Some argue that they are strictly diurnal and crepuscular, whereas others have stated that they are nocturnal as well.

In Andean cloud forests, spectacled bears may be active both during the day and night, but in Peruvian desert, they are reported to bed down under vegetative cover during the day.

There is no evidence to suggest that this species spends any portion of the year hibernating.

Sources: (Castellanos, 2011; Fenner, 2012; Fernando del Moral; Naranjo & Hernández; Nowak, 1999; Servheen, Herrero, & Peyton, 1999; Wikimedia Foundation, 2018)
Image: Tambako the Jaguar

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A spectacled bear’s litter can range from 1-4 cubs and is positively correlated with the female’s weight and the abundance and variety of food sources.

The size of a spectacled bear’s litter is positively correlated with the weight of the female and the abundance and variety of food sources.

In the wild, one to four cubs are born to a single female. In captivity, a female gives birth to two cubs on average.

Sources: (Fenner, 2012; Fernando del Moral; Hunter, 2011; IBA, 1999; Nowak, 1999; Servheen, Herrero, & Peyton, 1999)
Image: Tambako the Jaguar

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Relative to body size, spectacled bears have the largest zygomaticomandibularis muscle of any bear species, an adaptation for their primarily herbivorous diet.

Relative to their body size, spectacled bears have the largest zygomaticomandibularis muscle of any bear species.

This musculature feature, along with the blunt lophs of the cheek teeth, are adaptations for their primarily herbivorous diet.

Sources: (Fenner, 2012; Kattan, et al., 2004; Nowak, 1999; Servheen, Herrero, & Peyton, 1999)
Image: Tambako the Jaguar

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Habitat loss plays a role in the decline of spectacled bears as 30% of their habitat has been lost since 1990 and 3-6% more is lost each year.

As with many species, loss of habitat plays a major role in the population decline of spectacled bears. Habitat destruction and fragmentation have been rife in the area that this bear inhabits and are likely to have been major causes of its decline in numbers. Since spectacled bears rely on different habitats to produce their food supply during different seasons, it is essential to preserve large areas to ensure that the bears have a sufficient supply of food throughout the year.

30% of the Andean bear’s habitat has been lost since the 1990s and 3-6% more habitat is lost each year. In Ecuador, alone, there has been an estimated 40% loss of suitable habitat in the bears’ natural range. This creates small isolated island populations of bears. About 30% of the spectacled bear’s habitat has been deemed unsuitable to sustain viable Andean bear populations.

Mining, road development, and oil exploration are also increasing threats to the spectacled bear’s habitat.

Sources: (Fenner, 2012; Fernando del Moral; Goldstein, et al., 2006; LaFee, 2009; Naranjo & Hernández; Peralvo, Cuesta, & van Manen, 2005; Servheen, Herrero, & Peyton, 1999; Velez-Liendo & García-Rangel, 2017)
Image: Tambako the Jaguar

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Depending on the season, spectacled bears travel between habitats such as dense cloud forests, paramos, scrub deserts, and high-altitude grasslands, but prefer humid montane forests because of the abundance of food.

Spectacled bears have a reputation of being adaptable and inhabit a wide variety of habitats throughout their range. It is believed that the bears travel between habitat types depending on the season, but the timing of these migrations and what drives them is unknown.

They are most commonly found in dense cloud, or Andean forests, where there is an abundance of food and shelter. They are also found in high Andean moorland, (páramo’s), dry forests, scrub deserts, and high-altitude grasslands.

The best habitats for spectacled bears are humid to very humid montane forests. Generally, the wetter the forests, the more food species there are that can support bears.

Sources: (Fenner, 2012; Fernando del Moral; Kattan, et al., 2004; Macdonald, 2001; Naranjo & Hernández; Nowak, 1999; peyton, 1987; Servheen, Herrero, & Peyton, 1999)
Image: Tambako the Jaguar

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Spectacled bears are polygynous and breed at various times throughout the year, potentially capable of delayed implantation with a variation in gestation time from 160-255 days.

Much of the mating behavior of the spectacled bear remains unstudied, but they are believed to be polygnous.

Males and females mainly come together to mate between the months of April and June. The pair remains together for 1 to 2 weeks, copulating several times during this period.

Mating pairs of spectacled bears can been seen together between the months of March and October, during the time of year when fruit is beginning to ripen. This indicates that, like bears in captivity, spectacled bears are probably adapted to breeding at various times throughout the year.

Andean bears are monestrous, breeding only once per year, and are probably capable of delayed implantation. This would explain the variation in gestation times in captive bears, 160 to 255 days, and the “out of season” births observed in wild bears.

Sources: (Fenner, 2012; Fernando del Moral; IBA, 1999; Macdonald, 2001; Naranjo & Hernández; Nowak, 1999; Servheen, Herrero, & Peyton, 1999)
Image: Tambako the Jaguar

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Spectacled bears possess great religious and cultural value to the native people whom share their range.

Spectacled bears possess great religious and cultural value to the native people whom share their range and are the source of a lot of myths.

Until humans began to forcibly introduce themselves, wild Andean bears were mysterious and a bit mythological. Some indigenous cultures in South America revered them as spiritual mediators. In some areas, they are considered a divine creature linking Heaven to Earth.

Sources: (Fenner, 2012; LaFee, 2009; R´ıos-Uzeda, Gómez, Wallace, 2006; Servheen, Herrero, & Peyton, 1999; Velez-Liendo & García-Rangel, 2017)
Image: Tambako the Jaguar

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Because of their excellent climbing skills, spectacled bears spend a fair amount of time in trees and create “nests” in the understory for foraging and sleeping.

Spectacled bears are excellent climbers and spend a fair amount of time in trees.

One of the more unique features of Andean bears is their construction and use of platforms or “nests” which the bears create in the understory of the trees. These platforms allow the bear to obtain easier access to food high in the canopy, provide concealment, and are also used for sleeping.

Sources: (Castellanos, 2011; Fenner, 2012; Fernando del Moral; Hunter, 2011; LaFee, 2009; Nowak, 1999; Servheen, Herrero, & Peyton, 1999)
Image: Tambako the Jaguar

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Spectacled bears are hunted illegally for medicinal or ritual purposes as their meat, skin, fat, claws, and gallbladder are prized locally and internationally.

Spectacled bears are sometimes hunted illegally for medicinal or ritual purposes.

In some parts of the Andean bear’s range, the meat, skin, fat, and claws are highly prized and in demand locally. In some regions in South America, the bear’s meat is believed to impart strength, it’s fat is used to cure certain illnesses, and its claws are supposed to bring good luck.

The Andean bear’s gallbladder is often sold to the east Asian or international market where it is used for traditional oriental medicinal purposes although there is no proven benefit of these materials for humans and the effect of this illegal hunting on populations can be devastating. Recent estimates put the price at $150.00 USD for one gallbladder, which is five times the average monthly wage in Ecuador.

Sources: (Fenner, 2012; LaFee, 2009; Naranjo & Hernández; Nowak, 1999; R´ıos-Uzeda, Gómez, Wallace, 2006; Servheen, Herrero, & Peyton, 1999; Velez-Liendo & García-Rangel, 2017)
Image: Tambako the Jaguar

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No two spectacled bears have the same light markings on the face, allowing individuals to be easily identified from each other.

Spectacled bears have white, cream, beige, pale yellow, ginger, or tan markings on the face that create rings around the eyes and often extend down the chest, forming a bib-like patch of light fur.

These lighter markings are highly variable, unique to each individual, and may be absent altogether. Just as humans have different fingerprints, no two bears have the same patterns, allowing individuals to be easily identified from each other.

Sources: (Fenner, 2012; Fernando del Moral; Kattan, et al., 2004; Macdonald, 2001; Naranjo & Hernández; Nowak, 1999; Servheen, Herrero, & Peyton, 1999; Wikimedia Foundation, 2018)
Image: Tambako the Jaguar

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Spectacled bears are stocky, medium-sized bears with small, round ears; a thick, short neck; a stout muzzle; and medium-long black fur, but reddish-brown individuals have been observed.

Spectacled bears are medium-sized bears that are typically uniformly black in color, but brown and reddish-brown individuals have been observed.

The Andean bear’s dense coat is of medium to long length and they have a short tail, about 7 centimeters long, (2.8 inches,) that is often completely hidden by the fur. They have a robust, stocky build; rounded head; small, round ears; a short, thick, muscular neck; short but strong legs; and a stout muzzle that is relatively short compared to other bear species.

Sources: (Fenner, 2012; Fernando del Moral; Kattan, et al., 2004; Naranjo & Hernández; Nowak, 1999; Servheen, Herrero, & Peyton, 1999; Wikimedia Foundation, 2018)
Image: Hans