Bears are huge and furry animals that belong to the Ursidae family, which has eight species of bears. They are found on the continents of North America, South America, Europe, and Asia. But what are bears related to? You might be surprised to learn that bears have some unexpected relatives that look nothing like them.
Bears are Related to Pinnipeds
Pinnipeds are aquatic mammals that have flippers instead of feet. They include seals, sea lions, and walruses. According to a study on mammal evolution, pinnipeds and bears had a common ancestor some 50 million years ago.
Pinnipeds are divided into three families: Odobenidae (walruses), Otariidae (fur seals and sea lions), and Phocidae (true or earless seals). The earless seals are the most closely related to bears out of all pinnipeds.
Some of the earless seal species that are related to bears are the bearded seal, crabeater seal, elephant seal, gray seal, harbor seal, harp seal, hooded seal, leopard seal, monk seal, ribbon seal, ringed seal, Ross seal, and the Weddell seal.
Bears are Related to Musteloids
Musteloids are carnivorous mammals that have long bodies and short legs. They include skunks, weasels, badgers, otters, martens, minks, ferrets, wolverines, and raccoons. Musteloids and bears diverged from a common ancestor about 43 million years ago.
Musteloids are split into three families: Mephitidae (skunks and stink badgers), Mustelidae (weasels and relatives), and Procyonidae (raccoons and relatives). The raccoons are the most closely related to bears out of all musteloids.
Some of the raccoon species that are related to bears are the common raccoon, crab-eating raccoon, coati, kinkajou, olingo, olinguito, ringtail, and cacomistle.
Bears are Related to Canids
Canids are carnivorous mammals that have long snouts and bushy tails. They include dogs, wolves, foxes, coyotes, jackals, and hyenas. Canids and bears split from a common ancestor about 55 million years ago.
Canids belong to one family: Canidae. The foxes are the most closely related to bears out of all canids.
Some of the fox species that are related to bears are the red fox, arctic fox, fennec fox, gray fox, swift fox, kit fox, corsac fox, Tibetan sand fox, Rüppell’s fox, bat-eared fox, Blanford’s fox, cape fox, and island fox.
Bears have some surprising relatives that belong to different families but share the same suborder: Caniformia. These animals are pinnipeds (seals), musteloids (skunks), and canids (foxes). Despite their different appearances and lifestyles, they all have a common ancestor with bears that lived millions of years ago.