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NATURAL DIET - Editorial Comment

Editorial Comment

(Editorial Overview Text Replicated on Overall Species page - Melursus ursinus - Sloth bear

NATURAL DIET: The main foods are colony-living ground-dwelling ants and termites, and common sugar-rich fruits; flowers and honey are also eaten. 

QUANTITY EATEN: Different studies have indicated termites to be most important in the diet (Chitwan, Nepal) or fruit and ants to be most important (Panna, India).

STUDY METHODS: The relative quantities of different foods eaten may be determined by analysis of scats (composition of scat remains). Preferably, data from this is converted to indicate consumed biomass of food items eaten. Other methods include observation of bears eating, and reports of crops eaten by bears.

(References are available in detailed literature reports below)

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Natural Diet

Source Information

SUMMARY:
  • The main foods are colony-living ground-dwelling ants and termites, and common sugar-rich fruits; flowers and honey are also eaten. 

General:

  • Termites in particular; also other insects, grubs, honey, eggs, carrion, flowers, grass and fruit. (B147)
  • Vegetable matter such as fruits and berries, also ants, termites, bees and honey, carrion and rarely vertebrates. (B144)
  • Mainly fruits, honey and insects, particularly termites; carrion is also eaten. (B288.w11)
  • Honey/honeycombs are greatly favoured. (B285.w4)
  • Insects including termites and ants for the major part of the diet. (B285.w4)
  • Berries are eaten during the fruiting season. (B285.w4)
  • Bears are omnivorous. The diet of bears varies with the seas as different plants flower and fruit. (B392.8.w8)
  • The sloth bear eats insects, honey and soft fruits. Scat analysis in India indicated termites to be a staple food for much of the year, with fruit important April to June. (B399.5.w5)
  • Sloth bears are quite carnivorous; livestock are a continuous source of meat for those living near human settlements. (B392.8.w8)
  • Mainly ground-living ants and termites and sugar-rich common fruits; also honey. (B435.w1)
    • In Panna, India, 51% of the consumed biomass was fruits, 36% was ants and 10% was termites; in the dry season, which is the main fruiting season, fruits made up 70% of the consumed biomass and ants about 16%, but during the monsoon fruits were 36% and ants 52% of the consumed biomass. (B435.w1)
  • In Chitawan, overall 83% of scats were insect remains, including 95% of scats being composed of insect remains in the non-fruiting season, and even in the fruiting season 58% of scats were made of insect remains; the main insect prey was termites (65% of the diet in the non-fruiting season, 45% in the fruiting season), with fruits making up 38% of the diet in the fruiting season. (B435.w1 - see Joshi et al, 1997)
    • The methods used to indicate diet in this study will overestimate the contribution of insects and underestimate the contribution of fruit to the diet. (B435.w1)
  • In the Royal Chitawan National Park, Nepal, foods eaten included termites such as Odontotermes obesus, red ants (e.g. Solenopsis sp.), black ants (including Camponotus sp.), beetles, dung beetles, crickets (Gryllotalpa africana), honey, flowers, grass (Cynodon dactylon) and a variety of fruits, including Zizyphus jujuba, Grewia asiatica, hill and lowland Ficus spp., Eugenia sp., and others. Cultivated plants which were sometimes eaten included potato, yam, maize, guava, mango and pawpaw. Overall, insects appeared to make up 52% of the diet and fruits 47%. Insects were available all year, but different fruits were available, and eaten, seasonally. (J46.182.w2)
  • Termites were a staple part of the diet all year round; fruits were important in April to June, in Kanha National Park, India. Scat analysis found 38% of droppings to contain only termites and ants. Different fruits were found in other droppings at different times of year: Ficus spp. (figs) March to May, Cordia myxa mainly in May and June, Zizyphus jujuba December to January, wild mango May to June, Syzygium cumini June and July, Cassia fistula (dried seeds) April, July and December. There was no evidence for sloth bears scavenging meat from carcasses, although this behaviour had been noted by other researchers. (B436.10.w10)
  • A study in disturbed, unprotected areas of Madhya Pradesh, India, found that termites were a common food item. Other important foods included ants, two fruiting shrubs - makoiya (Ziziphus oenoplia and jangli ber (Ziziphus nummularia) - and eight fruits of trees - gular (Ficus racemosa), pakri (Ficus virens, bargad (Ficus benghalensis), peepal (Ficus religiosa), ber (Ziziphus mauritiana), bel (Aegle marmelos), jamun (Syzygium cumini) and mahua (Madhuca indica). A total of 30 foods were detected in scats. (J345.15.w2)
  • A study in Madhya Pradesh, India, noted that sloth bears foraged on "fruits, flowers, grass fibers, honey and insects." Foods varied seasonally: in April, mahua flowers; in May-June, numerous fruits, e.g. fruits of char, bel, tendu, gondi (Cordia myxa), gular (Ficus glamorata) and mahua; in June and July, honey and jamun fruits; in wet periods, tubers and roots of tejraj, satavar, bhojraj, muslimundi and gainthi. Additionally, during August to November they fed on crops (e.g. maize, sugarcane, potatoes, sweet potatoes, rice, madua), and in October-November, also ber, while in March they ate wheat and chickpea and in May they took fruit and vegetables. (J59.28.w1)
  • In Panna National Park, India, sloth bars were noted to feed on termites, ants, flowers and fruits. (N22.30.w1)
  • In the Aravalli hills of Rajasthan, India, a study identified 40 different plants, including 22 natural species and 18 cultivated plants, eaten by the bears. Parts of the plants which were eaten included both young and mature leaves, flower buds and flowers, ripe and unripe fruits, seeds, bark, aerial roots and young stem shoots. Animal material eaten included honey bees (Apis dorsata), ants and termites, also occasionally animal carcasses. The main part of the diet was vegetable. Few arthropods were eaten because the area was not suitable for species such as termites. (N25.29.w1)
  • In Mudumalai Wildlife Sanctuary, Tamil Nadu, southern India, a study based on scat analysis detected at least 20 plant species eaten, plus arthropods, honey and (one occasion) bird. Fruit was a major part of the diet; fruit remains made up 87.9% of the dry weight of scats; the major fruits eaten were those of pulpy Cassia fistula, Syzygium cumini, Ziziphus mauritiana and Cordia domestica. Remain of ants and termites were found in nearly 70% and 44% of scats respectively and together made up more than 10% of scat dry weight, indicating these were important in the diet, probably as a major protein source; beetles and their grubs were less important (1.4% of scats, 0.04% of dry weight). Wax and bee remains indicated honey consumption (7.9% of scats, 1.5% of dry weight); it was thought probable that honey consumption by the bears was decreased due to use of this resource by people. Consumption of different foods varied seasonally, reflecting availability, but there was also variation of use in relation to availability. (J178.94.w1)
  • Observations on sloth bears in the Bandhavgharh National Park, and scat analysis, showed that they fed on 13 different fruits, three perennial roots, one tuber, honey, ants, termites and carrion. (J356.117.w1)
  • Omnivorous, but with a large component of insects. Fruits are abundant only for a few months, and availability is variable between years. Other foods such as termites and ants are more available year round. (J178.100.w1)

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Quantity Eaten

Source Information

SUMMARY: --
  • --

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Dietary Study Methods

Source Information

SUMMARY: The relative quantities of different foods eaten may be determined by analysis of scats (composition of scat remains). Preferably, data from this is converted to indicate consumed biomass of food items eaten. Other methods include observation of bears eating, and reports of crops eaten by bears.
  • Diet can be determined from the composition of scats. (B435.w1)
  • Data from scat composition should be converted to give consumed biomass of food items eaten. (B435.w1)
  • In the Royal Chitawan National Park, Nepal, diet was determined by observation, scat analysis, and by reports of crops eaten. (J46.182.w2)
  • Observation of bears while foraging and analysis of scats. (J40.59.w1)
  • Analysis of droppings in Kanha National Park, India. (B436.10.w10)
  • Scats have been analysed to determine diet. (B399.5.w5)
  • A study in disturbed, unprotected areas of Madhya Pradesh, India, used analysis of scats to determine diet. (J345.15.w2)

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Authors & Referees

Authors

Dr Debra Bourne MA VetMB PhD MRCVS (V.w5)

Referee

Ellen Dierenfeld (V.w16), David L. Garshelis (V.w98)

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