Bears are carnivorous animals belonging to the family Ursidae. Bears have only eight extant species spread mostly in the Northern Hemisphere and a bit in the Southern Hemisphere. Modern bears have some similar characteristics including large bodies with strong stocky legs, small round ears, and short tails. Other characteristics include rugged hair, long snouts, and five claws that cannot be retracted. Interestingly, only one of the extant species, namely the polar bear, is highly carnivorous. Six of the species are omnivorous while the giant panda’s diet is largely composed of bamboo. Unfortunately, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) classifies six of the eight species as either vulnerable or endangered. Despite their bulky builds, bears are surprisingly agile animals with the ability to reach high speeds while running on any kind of terrain. In addition, the animals are adept at swimming and climbing.
At top speeds, bears easily outrun a human being sprinting at top speeds. Of the extant species of bears, the fastest bears are black bears while grizzly bears are second in terms of speed. Evidence shows that a grizzly bear can have top speeds of up to 35 miles per hour quite comfortably. This speed means that it is possible for a bear to outrun a car that is moving on a rural road. The fastest human being alive, Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt, can get to top speeds of a little over 27 miles per hour.
There is a common misconception that bears are full of fat and, therefore, incapable of running at high speeds. In addition to the huge bulk, which includes a considerable amount of fat, bears have considerable muscle that can easily handle their body mass. Bears have a lot of resemblance to dogs (bears are caniforms), which is also a contributing factor to their top speeds.
Of the extant species of bears, polar bears are the largest with adult males having an average weight of between 772 and 1,543 pounds and a length of between seven and ten feet. The sun bear is the smallest species with a weight ranging between 55 and 143 pounds and a length of between 39 and 55 inches. Before their extinction, American short-faced bears were the biggest with a weight average of about 3,500 pounds and a height of 11 feet.
While standing up, bears appear to be lumbering since their weight is mostly distributed at the back of their bodies. These hind limbs are strong enough to support the whole bulk of the animal when it stands. These hind legs are also responsible for the bursts of high speed. The claws in the hind and front limbs also help the animal in maintaining its grip on the earth. Another thing that helps them attain high speeds is the fact that they have four legs, which means that they have extra power for the generation of speed. For this reason, almost all animals with four legs and a reasonable boy size can outrun a human being easily, regardless of the terrain.