Sloth Bear vs Sun Bear: Key Differences Explained

Sloth bear
© Nagel Photography/

Written by Kyle Glatz

Updated: July 10, 2022

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Asia is home to many species of bears, and a few look quite similar. These lookalikes possess dark fur and a large light pattern on their chests. Although it’s easy to assume that two mammals with those traits are the same, that’s certainly not the case with the sloth bear and the sun bear. That’s why we’re going to break down the five key differences between a sloth bear and a sun bear.

By the time we are finished, you’ll know all about what makes these bears unique and how to tell them apart at a glance!

Comparing a Sloth Bear and a Sun Bear

The sloth bear is larger than the sun bear.
Sloth BearSun Bear
SizeWeight: 120 lbs-300 lbs
Height: 2 ft-3 ft at the shoulder
Length: 3.5 ft- 6.2 ft
Weight: 66 lbs-132 lbs
Height: 4 ft – 5 ft when standing
Morphology– Long mane around its face
– Long and smooth fur
– Has an extensive snout and large lips to help it eat insects
– Ganglier than other bears in its area
– Longer tail than most other bears
– Has a white chest mark in a V-shape, but it’s less noticeable than other species
– Very large claws that measure up to 4 inches in length
– 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– Feed on termites, ants, and other insects
– Great climbers, but they do not spend as much time in trees as sun bears
– Do not hibernate
– One of the most aggressive bears in the world
– Eat a lot of fruit, but they are also very fond of honey
– Spends more time in trees than any other bear
– Does not hibernate
– Often eats honey, so they’re called honey bears
– Omnivorous
– Sometimes hunted by larger predators
SpeciesMelursus ursinus
Sometimes called the labiated bear
Helarctos malayanus
– Also called the Malayan sun bear
Location– Indian subcontinent– Southeast Asia
– Cambodia, India, Laos, Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia, Vietnam, Bangladesh, and even China

The 5 Key Differences Between a Sloth Bear vs Sun Bear

Sun bears have shorter snouts, shorter fur, and smaller ears compared to the sloth bear.

©Tambako The Jaguar / Flickr – Original

The biggest differences between a sloth bear and a sun bear lie in their morphology and behavior. The sloth bear is an aggressive bear that primarily feeds on insects and is known for its elongated snout, large lips, long mane, shaggy fur, and a white V-shaped marking on its chest. The sun bear is a small arboreal bear that has a bright orange or cream-colored marking on its chest in a U-shape, big paws, a short snout, and very small ears.

These are some of the greatest differences between a sloth bear and a sun bear, and these elements can help a person differentiate between these animals with ease.

Sloth Bear vs Sun Bear: Size

The sloth bear is larger than the sun bear. The average sloth bear weighs between 120 and 300lbs and stands between 3.5 and 6.2 ft when it is on its hind legs. However, the sun bear is known for being the smallest of all bears, weighing between 66 and 132 lbs and standing between 4 and 5 ft tall at its utmost.

Looking at these bears, a person could tell the difference based on size right away.

Sloth Bear vs Sun Bear: Morphology

Although sloth bears and sun bears have some similarities in their bodies, like fur color and light marking on the chest, they are quite different.

Sloth bears are known for their long, shaggy, and smooth black fur. They have a white chest mark in a V-shape, but it’s smaller than the marking on a sun bear and lacks bright orange colors. Moreover, these bears have a longer snout, complete with large lips that help the sloth bear eat insects. The bear also has a long tail, measuring up to 7 inches, along with 4-inch claws to help it climb.

These factors, along with the lankier appearance of the sloth bear, make it completely different than the sun bear. After all, sun bears have short, glossy black fur along with white, orange, or cream-colored, crescent-shaped markings on their chests. They are known for their flat chests and short ears, too. These bears have massive paws with long claws. Some people even confuse the sun bear for a very large dog.

As you can see, the bodies of a sloth bear and a sun bear are very different from one another and simple to differentiate if you know where to look.

Sloth Bear vs Sun Bear: Behavior

Sun bears are arboreal, meaning they spend more time in trees than any other bear. That doesn’t mean a sloth bear can’t climb, though. On the contrary, they can climb trees to escape predators as well as to knock down bees’ nests, something the sun bear enjoys doing as well.

Sun bears are not very large bears, so they do not have a propensity for killing humans as often as sloth bears or Asiatic black bears. In fact, they are sometimes hunted by larger predators, like tigers or even snakes. Sun bears are omnivorous, often seeking insects as well as various fruits.

Neither sun bears nor sloth bears hibernate due to living in a warm environment.

Although they may not look as fierce as a grizzly bear, the sloth bear has a reputation for being one of the most aggressive species towards humans. Many fatal sloth bear attacks have been recorded over decades. Several reasons for these attacks exist, including people approaching the bears thinking they are friendly and the destruction of their natural environments.

Sloth Bear vs Sun Bear: Species

The sloth bear is a different species than the sun bear. Specifically, sloth bears belong to Melursus ursinus, and they are sometimes called the labiated bear for their large lips. However, the sun bear comes from the Helarctos malayanus species, and it is also called the Malayan sun bear.

Sloth Bear vs Sun Bear: Location

The sun bear has a larger distribution compared to the sloth bear. This creature lives in many parts of Asia, but it is mostly found in Southeast Asia. This bear can be found in countries like Cambodia, India, Vietnam, Bangladesh, and Malaysia. However, it has been recently discovered in small numbers in China.

The sloth bear is only found in the Indian subcontinent, so it lives in India, Bangladesh, Nepal, and other areas. The sun bear and sloth bear do overlap in their territories, but they are different enough that they are not always competing for the same resources. Thus, fights between them are rare.

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

Most sloth bears look a little weird, but they’re fierce when it matters.


A sloth bear would win in a fight against a sun bear. The sloth bear has developed long canine teeth and powerful claws, and it would use those against the animal to kill it. The sloth bear is much larger, heavier, and more powerful than the sun bear.

A fight might break out over a tasty bit of honeycomb that one of the bears knocked from a tree. From there, the battle would begin with a charge from these surprisingly quick animals. When on its hind legs, the sloth bear towers over the smaller bear before crashing into it with its large and powerful paws and long claws.

A few powerful swipes would send the sun bear running for its life, but the sloth bear might not give it a chance to flee. Sloth bears may look dopey, but they’re fierce. They have elongated canine teeth that help them fend off predators, and they would use those teeth to finish off the sun bear.

Still, since sun bears and sloth bears don’t encroach on each other’s territory or activities too often, the chances are they would leave each other alone in the wild.

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About the Author

Kyle Glatz is a writer at A-Z-Animals where his primary focus is on geography and mammals. Kyle has been writing for researching and writing about animals and numerous other topics for 10 years, and he holds a Bachelor's Degree in English and Education from Rowan University. A resident of New Jersey, Kyle enjoys reading, writing, and playing video games.

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