Moon Bear vs Sun Bear: What Are the Differences?

Written by Kyle Glatz
Updated: July 10, 2022
© TB studio/Shutterstock.com
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Bears are large and dangerous predators that most people expect to encounter in the mountains or the plains of North America. However, what if we told you that two lookalikes with similar names were prowling the tropical forests of Southeast Asia? The moon bear and the sun bear are two black bears that look alike and live in many of the same spots. Today, we’re going to perform a moon bear vs sun bear comparison to show you the differences between these animals.

We’ll break down the greatest differences between the two mammals and we’ll even tell you which one would win in a fight against the other!

Comparing a Moon Bear and a Sun Bear

The moon bear is larger than the sun bear.

©A-Z-Animals.com

Moon BearSun Bear
SizeWeight: 198 lbs-440 lbs
Height: 4 ft – 6.25 ft
Weight: 66 lbs-132 lbs
Height: 4 ft – 5 ft
SpeciesUrsus thibetanus
– Also called the Asiatic black bear or the Himalayan black bear
Helarctos malayanus
– Also called the Malayan sun bear
Morphology– Black fur
– Distinctive white V-shaped or crescent-shaped marking on its chest
– Large, bell-shaped ears
– Light brown muzzle    
– Short, glossy black fur
– Orange, white, or cream-colored marking on its chest in a U-shape, crescent, or semi-circle
– Inward-turned front feet with long paws and claws for climbing
– Flatter chest than most bears
– Short snout
– Light-colored muzzle
– Shorter ears than most others
Behavior– Solitary animals
– Hibernate from November to March in colder climates
– Often spend time in trees
– Will forage for food on the ground
– Known for being aggressive towards humans
– Omnivorous
– Spends more time in trees than any other bear
– Does not hibernate
– Often eat honey, so they’re called honey bears
– Omnivorous
– Sometimes hunted by larger predators
Location– Throughout large swaths of Asia and parts of the Middle East
– China, Japan, Russia, Afghanistan, India, Nepal, and more
– Southeast Asia
– Cambodia, India, Laos, Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia, Vietnam, Bangladesh

The 5 Key Differences Between a Moon Bear vs Sun Bear

Sun bears have small ears and can resemble a dog from afar.

©Tambako The Jaguar / Flickr

The greatest differences between a moon bear and a sun bear are their morphology and behavior. Moon bears are solitary creatures that are aggressive towards humans and hibernate in colder climates, possess longer black fur than a sun bear as well as a V-shaped marking on their chest, and have large bell-shaped ears along with a light brown muzzle. Sun bears do not hibernate and rarely have fatal encounters with humans, possess short black fur, small ears, a short snout, and a U-shaped or semi-circle patch of white or orange fur on their chests.

These are the most noticeable differences between these two bears that otherwise look alike, but we need to look at all five unique qualities of these animals in greater depth.

Moon Bear vs Sun Bear: Size

Moon bears are larger than sun bears. In fact, the sun bear is the smallest species of all bears, weighing 132 lbs at its maximum and having a height of between 4 and 5 ft when standing.

The moon bear weighs between 198 lbs and 440 lbs while standing up to 6.25 ft tall, making it a much larger bear than the sun bear.

Moon Bear vs Sun Bear: Species

Although the two bears share some similarities, they do not belong to the same species. The moon bear comes from the Ursus thibetanus species. This bear is also known as the Asiatic black bear or the Himalayan black bear.

The sun bear comes from the Helarctos malayanus family, and it is sometimes called the Malayan sun bear. As you can see, these bears are from different genera, too.

Moon Bear vs Sun Bear: Morphology

The moon bear has dense black fur.

©TB studio/Shutterstock.com

The moon bear is known for its dense black fur and the white marking on its chest that is approximately V-shaped. It is also known for its relatively large size, big head, light brown muzzle, and its big, bell-shaped ears that stand out from the bear’s silhouette.

The sun bear also has a marking on its chest along with black fur, often prompting confusion between the bears. However, this bear’s marking is often more circular, forming a large U shape, crescent, or semi-circle.

This bear is also different because it has a short snout, very small ears compared to other bear species, and feet that are turned inward to aid with climbing. This bear also has long paws and long claws along with a flatter chest than most bears.

These morphological differences are the easiest way to differentiate the bears aside from their size.

Moon Bear vs Sun Bear: Behavior

The moon bear is known for its deadly encounters with humans that encroach on its land. These bears forage for food on land and in trees to fulfill their omnivorous diet. They have a large range, so they often hibernate between November and March. When disturbed, they may be curious, frightened, or quite aggressive. Moon bears attacks are not common, but many cases have been recorded.

The sun bear is known for its arboreal nature. Its body has unique adaptations to help it climb trees such as large claws on big paws and feet that turn inward. This bear lives in tropical areas, so it does not need to hibernate. Also, this bear is the smallest bear in the world, so it can fall prey to tigers and even snakes. Deadly encounters between these bears and humans are much rarer than moon bear attacks. Also, this bear is famous for seeking out honey, leading some to call it a “honey bear.”

Moon Bear vs Sun Bear: Location

Moon bears and sun bears have many parts of their distribution range that overlaps. However, not all of this range is the same. Moon bears are found throughout large swaths of Asia and parts of the Middle East. They may be found in China, Japan, Afghanistan, India, Nepal, and more.

However, the sun bear is found primarily in Southeast Asia, including countries like Cambodia, Vietnam, Malaysia, Laos, Thailand, and Bangladesh.  

Moon bears are far more widespread than sun bears, but both species are facing dwindling numbers due to poaching and habitat destruction.

Moon Bear vs Sun Bear: Who Would Win in a Fight?

A fight between these mammals would be deadly for the sun bear.

©Christian Pircher / Flickr

A moon bear would win a fight against a sun bear. Moon bears have the advantage in terms of size and aggression, and that would be all they need to win this battle. The largest moon bears weigh about three times that of sun bears, and they know how to tussle.

The sun bear may have longer claws, but it doesn’t have the power needed to confront a larger bear. A series of powerful bites to the limbs would disable the sun bear just as they attack humans. From there, the mauling would continue, and the sun bear would have lost any chance it had to survive.

The chances are good that the moon bear would win this battle.  Still, both bears would probably rather climb trees and eat food than confront one another.  


The Featured Image

Asiatic black bear
Asiatic black bear (moon bear)
© TB studio/Shutterstock.com

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About the Author

I'm a freelance writer with 8 years of experience. I've written in a variety of niches such as video games, animals, and managed service providers. I graduated from Rowan University in 2014 with degrees in English and Education. When I'm not working, I enjoy playing video games, reading, and writing for fun.

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