The Bear Family: Family Ursidae
Bears are large, heavy-bodied carnivores with thick, powerful limbs. They walk on the soles of their feet as we do, not on their toes as most other carnivores do. A bear’s feet are flat and broad and have five heavy, curved claws. When a bear walks, its front feet toe-in. This rotational mobility enables bears to climb and dig better.
All bears have large heads with small eyes and rounded ears. Their coats are usually long, with very few markings, although many species have a white or cream-colored chest patch, and the giant panda has very distinctive markings. The tail is very short, rarely over 12 centimeters (4-3/4”) long.
Except for the polar bear, bears are predominantly plant eaters, although a number of species will hunt periodically, and all of them will eat meat if the opportunity arises.
There are eight species of bears in the world:
Polar bear, Ursus maritimus
Brown bear, Ursus arctos
Asiatic black bear, Ursus thibetanus
American black bear, Ursus americanus
Sloth bear, Ursus ursinus
Sun bear, Ursus malayanus
Spectacled bear, Tremarctos ornatus
Giant panda, Ailuropoda melanoleuca
Bears have elongated molars with grinding surfaces. The gait is plantigrade, and the claws are non-retractile. Bears are distributed throughout much of the northern hemisphere apart from Africa and South America.
The Raccoon Family: Family Procyonidae
The raccoon family includes the ringtail, kinkajou, coati and raccoon. There are 19 species of procyonids, and all are small, long-bodied carnivores with long tails. Many have distinctive facial markings, such as masks or spots, and most are nocturnal. Except for the red panda, which lives in the foothills of the Himalayas, all live in the temperate and tropical forests of the Americas.
Animals in this family are relatively short-legged, arboreal mammals with a plantigrade or semi-plantigrade gait. The claws are retractile or non-retractile. The canine teeth are long and rectangular and the carnassials are weakly developed as the diet is omnivorous. There are seven genera and about 19 species found in North and South America and parts of Asia.
The Mustelid Family: Family Mustelidae
The mustelids are a diverse group of carnivores, including weasels, otters, and the badger. Long an important part of fur-bearing trade, many species have small populations. These animals play a critical role in natural ecosystems as important predators of small rodents. Most species are built low to the ground, with short legs, and long, slender bodies that are well-adapted to foraging in the burrows of their prey. However, badgers are stocky and powerful and are better suited to digging their prey out of the ground, rather than entering burrows. Many mustelid species are nocturnal, dig their own burrows, and are very active hunters with a well-developed sense of smell.
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