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Do Bears Have Tails?

black bear

All species of bears have short, vestigial tails. Bears’ tails are small flaps of skin usually between two and eight inches long and are covered with fur like the rest of their body.

Although today’s bears have more of a flap of skin than an actual tail, millions of years ago, it’s thought that they did. For the scientific world, the length of the bears’ tails reduced with time since it was less necessary.

An animal’s tail serves different purposes- from being a defensive and balancing mechanism to a communication tool. However, for the bear, it has no life-saving purpose. 

So, why do all bears still have a flappy piece of skin? It may not be like that of a dog or a cat, but it’s there. This article explores the types of tails of different species of bears and why they’re still there. 

Do Brown Bears Have Tails?

grizzly bear

Brown bears have a tail and it’s very short compared to their body’s length. Generally speaking, an adult brown bear has a tail with a length between 2.4 and 8.7 inches. 

Brown bear cubs are born with a tail and while they’re young, their tail is more pronounced due to their smaller size. But once the bear is fully grown, the tail becomes less visible. 

According to one study published in the Journal of Zoology, brown bears have anal sacs and they use their tail to wipe their secretions onto surfaces, similar to the behavior seen in pandas to spread their scent.

It’s believed that bears use scent marking to keep track of each other. This behavior in bears is done for various communication purposes-from showing their dominant status to locating female partners for mating during the breeding season to marking the location of their home tree.

Do Black Bears Have Tails?

black bear

All black bears have vestigial tails, which may be hard to spot when the bear is black. This bear is born with a tail that can grow between 3 and 5 inches. 

Similar to the situation with brown bears, black bears are also believed to use their flappy and short tail for scent marking. 

Read More: Black Bears vs Grizzly Bears

The tail also protects the bear’s sensitive part of the body, which isn’t otherwise covered with fur, from the cold and parasite attacks. 

But, other than that, tails don’t seem to be essential in bears. Carnivores still need their tails for precision, speed, and balance. 

For example, raccoons, cheetahs, etc. In dogs, the tail is crucial for balance-it helps them put their weight on the opposite side of its tilt, as well as for climbing different surfaces.

On the other hand, similar to pigs, bears evolved not to need or use their tail regularly. They developed in a different path through their size and strength so the tails ended up reducing in size and their other parts increasing, for example, their huge paws.

This video shows how a black bear behaves when it’s scent-marking:

Do Polar Bears Have Tails? 

Similar to other bear species, Polar Bears have short vestigial tails between three and five inches long. It’s easy to miss because the area is usually covered in long, thick fur.

The polar bear is praised for its swimming skills and it’s actually classified as a marine mammal that spends a large part of its life in the water. However, despite this, they don’t use their tail for swimming as some other mammals do.

For example, the blue whale whose tail is considered to be the strongest among mammals and used during swimming for propulsion. Unlike these mammals, a polar bear uses its huge paws and muscular legs to swim. 

The tail may often go unnoticed due to the thick fur and long hair. In all bear species, the tail has a blood vessel that is protected by fat and fur to keep the polar bear warm and safe from the elements.

Do Pandas Have Tails?

baby panda

Pandas’ tail is the second-longest in the bear family, right after that of the sloth bear. It can grow between 4 and 6 inches in length and its color is usually white, but it can also be white and black. 

All pandas are born with a tail that is a quarter size of their body. However, when the panda becomes an adult, its tail is only one-tenth of its size.

Though they don’t use their tail to express emotions like some animals do (dogs), according to the Cheng du Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding, they do use it to smear their scent onto various surfaces. 

Moreover, their tail has plenty of glands; one of them is known as the circumanal gland and excretes an acidic odor.

This odor is used by pandas to mark their territories for different purposes, from mating to hierarchy.

The video below shows how giant pandas scent-mark their territory:


Average Bear Tail Length by Species

Bear SpeciesAverage Tail Length
Sloth Bear 5.9-7 inches
Giant Panda 4-6 inches
Black Bear 3-5 inches
Polar Bear 3-5 inches
Brown Bear 2.4 to 8.7 inches
Spectacled Bear 2.8 inches
Sun Bear 2 inches

Conclusion

All bears have tails, but unlike that of other species, theirs is quite short and not very vital. Since they’ve evolved in a different path and needed their tails less and less throughout the ages, it became shorter and shorter.

This being said, bears don’t benefit much from having a tail and they can probably easily survive without one. 

The purpose of this part of the body in bears is to cover their anus which can be a sensitive area prone to parasites and the cold as well as to sometimes wipe their secretions on different surfaces when they’re scent-marking. 

Of all the bear species, the sloth bear has the longest tail with a range between 5.9 and 7 inches whereas the shortest one is only 2 inches and is that of the sun bear.

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