The Eight Surviving Bear Species
Eight types of bears exist in the world today. Many books still list only seven, as the giant panda was, until recently, considered part of the raccoon family. DNA studies have confirmed, however, that the giant panda is more closely related to the bear.
Bears are mammals of the family Ursidae and the eight surviving species are found in the continents of North America, South America, Europe, and Asia.
Ancestors of today’s bears have been evolving for roughly 50-million years. Fossils of the earliest true bear, Ursavus elemensis, have been found from the Miocene Epoch and show characteristics of both dogs and bears. Interestingly, dogs and bears, which diverged 40- to 50-million years ago, are 92 percent similar in DNA sequencing tests.
Cave bears (Ursus spelaeus), which went extinct more than 10,000 years ago, are the ancestors of modern grizzly (brown) bears and polar bears. Cave paintings show that ancient humans encountered and, in some cases, worshipped cave bears.
The closest living relatives to bears are pinnipeds, a group of semi-aquatic marine mammals that include the walrus, seals, and sea lions.
Each species of today’s bears possess their own unique qualities, traits, and varying personalities.
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