Bears are huge and scary omnivorous beasts. There are 8 types currently existing: the Asiatic Black Bear, the North American Black Bear, Brown Bear, Panda Bear, Polar Bear, Sloth Bear, Spectacled Bear, and Sun Bear.
All of them look alike – their bodies are big and their legs are built heavy, their snouts are long, their ears are small, their fur is thick, their paws have huge claws, and their tails are short.
But are there some interesting animals that are related to bears? You would be surprised that most of them look nothing like bears but are still related to them.
Bears are related to pinnipeds, musteloids, and canids. These include animals like seals, skunks, raccoons, weasels, domestic dogs, wolves, and foxes among others. Despite many of them being significantly smaller than bears, they are all animals that can be called bears’ relatives.
Read on to learn more about the 12 animals bears are closely related to and see their photos.
Table of Contents
At A Glance – Bear Evolutionary Tree
Note: A place where lines intersect is a place where animal relatives split from one another and started evolving toward the species we know today.
Believe it or not, seals are the bears’ closest relatives. Despite looking nothing alike, they share the closest evolutionary connections.
According to a huge study on mammal evolution, these two animals had a common ancestor some 50 million years ago.
One thing to keep in mind here: to be able to say 2 animals species are closely related, they would need to be at least parts of the same family.
For example, camels and llamas are members of the same family, and we can say that they are closely related.
Seals and bears are related as well, just not as closely. Both belong to the same animal kingdom, class, order, and clade, just not the same family.
Bears belong to the Ursidae family, while seals are split into 3 different ones (Odobenidae, Otariidae, and Phocidae).
There are over 30 species of seals that are part of those 3 families, and in a way, all are related to bears. These include walruses, fur seals, sea lions, bearded seals, crabeater seals, elephant seals, gray seals, harbor seals, harp seals, hooded seals, and many others.
Here are some of the most interesting ones.
Earless Seals (True Seals)
The earless seals, phocids, or true seals, are fish-eating aquatic mammals that have no visible external ears. They mostly live in the cool oceans of Antarctica and the Arctic.
Earless seals are the most closely related to bears out of all other seals (pinnipeds).
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.
Walruses are large marine mammals with mustaches and long-tusks that live in freezing waters near the Arctic Circle. They are gregarious animals that sometimes live in groups of up to 100 animals.
Walruses are almost two times heavier than bears, but that doesn’t stop bears from occasionally attacking them. These two animals had a common ancestor 45-50 million years ago.
There are 2 walrus species related to bears: the Pacific walrus and the Atlantic walrus.
Sea lions are large seals with short hair, long ears, and the ability to walk on all fours on land.
They are found mainly in the Pacific, on sandy shores and rocky outcrops.
Just like bears, sea lions are predators and feed on seafood, mainly squid and fish, and sometimes clams.
6 species of sea lions that are related to bears are the Galápagos sea lion, the California sea lion, the Australian sea lion, the South American sea lion, the Northern sea lion, and the New Zealand sea lion.
Given their relation to bears, perhaps they should be renamed sea bears?
Read More: Examples of sea lion lookalikes!
Fur seals are seals that have external ears, long and muscular foreflippers, and can walk on all fours. They can be found on the coasts of the Pacific and southern oceans.
Male fur seals are around 5 times bigger than females. They weigh about 700 pounds; which is a bit less than what polar bears weigh, for example.
There are about 9 species of seals that are related to bears: the northern fur seal, the Antarctic fur seal, Galapagos fur seal, Juan Fernandez fur seal, New Zealand fur seal, brown fur seal, South American fur seal, and subantarctic fur seal.
Musteloids are the second closest bear relatives. They include animals like red pandas, weasels, otters, martens and badgers, raccoons, coatis, kinkajous, olingos, olinguitos, ringtails, cacomistles, skunks, and stink badgers.
Mustelids split from bears around 50, and from seals around 35 million years ago. Here are some of the notable members of this group.
Out of all musteloids, skunks are the bear’s closest relatives.
Skunks are small, black and white North American mammals that spray a horribly smelling liquid when frightened or attacked.
Despite sharing some relations with bears, they are not very alike. Skunks grow only up to 20 inches and resemble a squirrel or a groundhog more than a bear. Bears usually avoid skunks.
There are around 10 species of skunks related to bears: Molina’s hog-nosed skunk, Humboldt’s hog-nosed skunk, American hog-nosed skunk, striped hog-nosed skunk, hooded skunk, striped skunk, southern spotted skunk, western spotted skunk, eastern spotted skunk, pygmy spotted skunk.
People say bears stink like skunks, but you’d be surprised. Read more about bear smell here.
Red pandas are raccoon-like mammals that have reddish-brown furs and bushy tails. They can be found in the high bamboo forests of the Himalayas and in southern China.
Despite both the red pandas and panda bears having eye patches, black legs, and elongated wrist bones or “false thumbs” to grab bamboos, they are not very closely related.
Racoon is a grayish American mammal with a foxlike face and a ringed tail. Similar to bears, raccoons are omnivorous; they will eat fruits, plants, nuts, berries, insects, rodents, frogs, etc.
Bears and raccoons, just like bears and red pandas, share some relations, but they are not as close as we move along the taxonomic tree.
There are 7 species of raccoons with the most common and well-known being the North American raccoon.
Weasel is a small, slender, and active carnivorous mammal that is a member of the family Mustelidae. It lives in environments with small rodent-like prey, in the open fields, woodlands, thickets, roadsides, and farmlands.
Just like the raccoons, they share some relations with bears but are not as closely related.
There are over 16 species of weasels, including the mountain weasel, Amazon Weasel, Colombian weasel, Japanese weasel, long-tailed weasel, and many others.
Canids are carnivorous animals that are members of the dog family (Canidae). And although it seems improbable, bears and canids had a common ancestor, some 60 million years ago.
Canids are a huge group of animals that are related to bears and consist of domestic dogs, wolves, coyotes, foxes, jackals, dingoes, and many other mammals.
It is worth noting that canids are even less closely related to bears than seals, for example.
Here are photos of the most important ones so you see how they resemble bears for yourself.
Wolves are wild carnivorous animals that are native to Europe, Asia, and North America.
Bears and wolves both belong to the same order (Carnivora), and the same suborder (Caniformia). Seals, badgers, raccoons, and skunks are also members of that suborder.
However, this is where their relationship stops; wolves belong to the family Canidae, along with foxes and jackals, while bears belong to the family Ursidae.
Bears and wolves live in the same habitat and are both carnivores.
Coyotes are small wolf-like carnivores native to western North America.
The situation between coyotes and bears is similar to the situation between wolves and bears – they belong to the same order and suborder, but to different families. This means that they are not as closely related.
Foxes are medium-sized carnivorous mammals of the dog family that have a pointed muzzle and bushy tail. They are members of the Canidae family, just like domestic dogs, wolves, and coyotes.
Another animal that shares some relation with bears is a domestic dog. The common ancestor of bears and dogs lived some 60 million years ago and was called a miacid.
There are many dogs that look like bears, for example, a chow chow – remember that just because they look alike, does not mean that they are closely related.
Read More: Kodiak bear vs a gorilla – who wins?
This concludes our article going over the question: What are bears related to?
The animals that bears are the closest related to are seals, they shared a common ancestor about 50 million years ago. Other bear cousins include walruses, sea lions, wolves, coyotes, skunks, red pandas, weasels, and many others.