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What are sun bears?

Researcher Siew Te Wong kneels next to a sun bear.
Siew Te Wong
Researcher Siew Te Wong kneels next to a sun bear.

We’re thinking about bears! Actually one specific type of bear: sun bears! Have you heard about this type of bear? They’re the smallest of the world’s bears, about half the size of a black bear. They live throughout Southeast Asia and have a yellow or white crescent-shaped marking on their chests. We learn about sun bears with Siew Te Wong, a scientist and researcher who runs the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre in Malaysia. Also in this episode: Do bears live in caves? Why do they climb trees? Why do bears hibernate in winter? Naturalist Mary Holland answers questions about hibernation. And we are treated to A Bear Song by Key Wilde and Mr. Clarke!

Download our learning guides: PDF | Google Slide | Transcript

  • There are 8 types of bears in the world and sun bears are the smallest. (The other bears are moon bears, polar bears, panda bears, sloth bears, spectacled bears, black bears and brown bears.)
  • Sun bears hit the news when someone filmed one at a zoo in China standing on its hind legs. Because sun bears can stand up straight and are about human height, some people thought it was actually a human in a bear costume. (Spoiler: it wasn’t.)
  • All this sun bear notoriety may help give this little-known bear some much-needed attention. Sun bears are threatened by human activity: deforestation and hunting, as well as the illegal pet trade. So knowing a little bit more about them may help get them some extra protection.
  • Sun bears live across Southeast Asia. They have a crescent-shaped yellow or white mark across their chest. They weigh 75 to 100 pounds and have sleek black fur that helps protect them from rain.
  • Because they live in warm rainforest environments, sun bears don’t hibernate. Neither do sloth bears, giant pandas or spectacled bears. Polar bears will find a den to spend short amounts of time in. Their body temperature and activity levels lower, but they don’t truly hibernate. Black bears, brown bears and moon bears do hibernate. 
  • Bears that hibernate spend the summer months eating as much as possible, sometimes nearly doubling their weight. Then they find a cave, tree hollow, or even just protected ground to spend the winter. While they’re hibernating they don’t eat, they don’t drink, they don’t pee and they don’t poop.
  • Black bears living in areas where winter is cold and dark hibernate for four or five months. In Alaska and northern Canada, they'll sometimes hibernate for six months or even more. But in some southern locations where it's warmer and there's food throughout the winter, like Mexico, black bears will barely hibernate at all.
Jane Lindholm is the host, executive producer and creator of But Why: A Podcast For Curious Kids. In addition to her work on our international kids show, she produces special projects for Vermont Public. Until March 2021, she was host and editor of the award-winning Vermont Public program Vermont Edition.
Melody is the Contributing Editor for But Why: A Podcast For Curious Kids and the co-author of two But Why books with Jane Lindholm.

But Why is a project of Vermont Public.

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