Spectacled Bear Moms

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Photo credit: Mehgan Murphy, National Zoo

Spectacled bears – also called Andean – are South America’s only bear species. Solitary and shy, these bears generally only meet for breeding. And while males play no part in rearing cubs, Spectacled bear females make excellent mothers.

A pregnant Spectacled bear will look for an isolated place, such as a cave, when she is ready to give birth. She will usually only have one or two cubs. They are vulnerable at birth – toothless, blind and nearly bald – depending entirely on their mother for survival. By about four to six weeks of age, the cubs’ eyes will open and they will take their first steps.  

The cubs’ mother may communicate with them through low-range sounds called “stuttering,” and groom and lick their fur and skin. As their teeth develop, a Spectacled bear mother may offer food from her mouth. Bear cubs have also been observed riding on their mom’s back.

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Photo credit: Mehgan Murphy, National Zoo

A Spectacled bear will care for her young for up to two years. Cubs have a lot to learn from their mom, like how to climb trees, make a nest and identifying good foods (such as mulberries, small birds and orchid bulbs) from the bad.

They are a nocturnal species that forage on the ground. In the wild, Spectacled bears can climb as high as 14,000 feet into the cloud forests of the Andes mountains, so learning how to build stick platforms and sleep in high elevations are crucial to the vulnerable bears’ survival.

In January, 2010, two Spectacled bear cubs (one male, one female) were born to a four-year-old female, Billie Jean, at the National Zoo. A first time mother, Billie Jean is proving to be an attentive and loving mom. Her cubs are playful and curious, often wrestling and chasing one another.

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Photo credit: Karen Abbott, National Zoo

Check out photos of the National Zoo cubs’ first exam, watch clips of the little Spectacled bear family on the zoo’s web cam, and learn all about this remarkable bear variety here.

Did you know that other bear species make awesome moms?

Watch this video of a Grizzly mama teaching her young ones how to fish:

And below, this protective Polar Bear helps her cubs explore their habitat and break through the ice to hunt for seals:

View Animal Mothers and Babies Photos >>