Do Bears Have Tails?


When I was putting together some photos for a new YouTube video the other day, I noticed something strange on the back of a polar bear. It was something that I hadn’t seen before, and I was unsure how I had missed it for so long.  

All species of bear have a vestigial tail, however, they are short. Bears do not use their tails for any activities.

I noticed the polar bear had a tail, something that I hadn’t ever noticed. This got me wondering if all bears had tails and if this was something that I had been looking at without even realizing all these years.

Brown Bear

Why Do Bears Have Short Tails?

Bears do not have long tails, but short, stumpy tails. Bears have a short tail, which is vestigial. Evolution has changed the tail throughout time, as there was no advantage to the bear having a long tail.  There has been no evidence of a long tail from fossils, but is thought that they once had long tails.

Not all mammals have tails, with humans being the perfect example of this, although in the embryonic stage, even our tail is visible.  

This young cinnamon black bear cub takes one last look back at me as it follows its mother and a sibling along a walking path in Sequoia National Park in California.

There are many reasons for animals to have long tails. Some animals with long tails use them for balance, such as kangaroos. Others use them to counterbalance when running and turning at high speeds.  

Bears do not need long tails for these reasons. Although they can run at high speeds, this is usually for short distances only. Bears do not need tails to help with their balance, as they are heavy and stocky, with a low center of gravity.  

Polar Bear
Polar Bear

Other animals use their long tails to propel them when swimming. Bears do swim. However, this is not their primary means of movement. 

Other animals use them to brush away biting insects and flies away from their bodies. Bears do not seem to be bothered by flies and insects.

Monkeys have prehensile tails that allow them to grab and grasp onto tree branches. Bears can climb trees and use their claws to help them. They do not require long tails to help them grab onto branches.

Black Bear resting in a tree with rear paw up and tongue sticking out, Alaska.

Bears do not have long tails as they do not need them for any of the reasons that an animal with a long tail does.

For more information on why mammals have tails, I have written this article.

Do Black Bears Have Tails?

Black bears are the smallest of the three species living in North America. They are usually black, but can also have light or dark brown, white, cinnamon, and blonde coats.  

Black bear standing on rocks at low tide Tofino British Columbia Canada

On darker bears, such as jet black bears, the tails are tough to see, however, all black bears do have a tail.

The vestigial tail can be seen on bear cubs from birth. The small tail on an adult can measure between 7.7-17.7 cm (3-7 in) long.

Black Bear (in brown)

Black bears have sharp claws and are very good at climbing trees. However, their short tails do not help them in any way once they are up the tree.

Do Brown Bears Have Tails?

Brown bears are the second largest species of bear in North America. Brown bears are also known as grizzly bears. They can be dark brown, yellowish-brown, or a creamy white. Brown bears have a whitish-cream color to the tops of the fur on their back, giving them both a grizzled color and their name.  

Brown bears do have a tail, and as the black bear, this is very short in comparison to the length of their body. The tail of an adult brown bear measures between 6 to 22 cm (2.4-8.7 in) in length.  

Brown bears are born with a tail, with the tail on cubs being more pronounced due to their small size. One the bears become fully grown, the tail is much harder to distinguish.

Brown bears are unlike black bears as they typically do not climb trees. In rare cases, female brown bears have been seen in trees, but the heavier males do not climb.

Brown bears have blunt claws that do not allow them to climb trees. Even if they could, the tails would not be of any help to them, as they are with monkeys and squirrels.

Brown bears possess anal sacs, and a study in the Journal of Zoology confirmed that secretions relayed information about the sex of the bear and other information critical to the bear’s social system.

Rear View of Grizzly Bear in Summer Field

It is thought that brown bears would use their tails to wipe the secretions onto surfaces much the same way that giant pandas do.

Do Polar Bears Have Tails?

Polar Bear
Polar Bear

Polar bears are the largest of the bear species in North America. Polar bears are classed as marine mammals as they rely on the ocean for their food.

They live in Arctic regions, where they survive on a diet of seals, fish, and other small animals. Polar bears are huge, with adult males weighing up to 700 kg. Polar bears can grow up to 3 meters in length.

Polar bear in natural environment

Polar bears do have tails, and like both the black bear and the brown bear, the tail is short. Polar bears are excellent swimmers. Polar bears can swim at speeds up to 10 km/h (6 mph).

Polar bears spend a long time in the ocean hunting for food and can spend several days in the water. The farthest that a polar bear has been studied as swimming was an impressive 354 km (220 miles).  

Even though the polar bear is classed as a marine mammal, and spend a lot of their lives in the water, they do not use their tails for swimming as some mammals do.

Little white Bear after swimming and his mother

The blue whale has the strongest tail of any mammal, using it to propel themselves along. Polar bears do not use their tail in this way. Polar bears use there large paws and muscular legs to swim.

Do Pandas Have Tails?

Although not native to North America, giant pandas can be seen in some zoos on the continent. Pandas are black and white bears native to south-central China. They are classed as carnivores; however, 99% of their diet is made up of bamboo shoots and leaves.

two giant pandas playing, Chengdu, Sichuan Province, China

The giant panda has the second-longest tail in the bear family, after the sloth bear. The tail of the giant panda measures between 10-15 cm (4-6 in) long. A giant pandas tail is white.

Giant pandas are born with a tail, a quarter of the size of their body. By the time a giant panda has grown to an adult, the tail is just one-tenth of the size of the body.  

Four young giant pandas waiting for food, Chengdu, Sichuan Province, China

Pandas do use their tails, although this is not to convey feelings, as in animals such as dogs. According to Cheng du Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding, they have numerous glands in their tail, and one of these glands can excrete an acidic odor. This gland is called the circumanal gland.  

Giant pandas use the odor to mark their territory, smearing the scent onto surfaces, walls, and the ground with their tail where they usually travel. Other pandas, once they smell the odor, will avoid these areas.

Pandas use their tails to wipe the odor onto different surfaces.

Giant panda standing against a tree trunk, Chengdu, Sichuan Province, China

The odor can also be used by female giant pandas to show a male that they are in estrus and ready to mate.

Bears do have tails, but they are short. With constant evolution, who knows if they will always have them.

Ever wondered if you can outrun a bear? Find out in an article I have written here.

Bryan Harding

Bryan has spent his whole life around animals. While loving all animals, Bryan is especially fond of mammals and has studied and worked with them around the world. Not only does Bryan share his knowledge and experience with our readers, but he also serves as owner, editor, and publisher of North American Mammals.

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