The spectacled bear is small and dark, ranging in color from black to brown, and a few have a reddish tinge. It has distinctive circular or semicircular creamy white markings on the face around the eyes, reminiscent of spectacles. Lines and patches of white usually extend onto the throat and chest as well. The amount and pattern of the white markings can be quite variable.
There are few measurements available for this bear. However, the body length of adults is about 150 to 180 centimeters (60 to 72 inches) and males may be 30 to 40 percent larger than females. Males weigh 100 to 155 kilograms (220 t o 340 pounds) and females weigh 64 to 82 kilograms (140 to 180 pounds). At birth, cubs weigh from 300 to 360 grams (10 to 11 1/2 ounces).
Spectacled bears are highly adaptable and are found in a wide range of habitats, including rainforest, cloud forest, dry forest, steppe lands, and coastal scrub desert. Possibly because of loss of habitat and persecution by humans, they appear to be more common in heavy forest. They have been reported at altitudes ranging from about 180 to 4,200 meters (600 to 13,800 feet) but prefer moist forests between about 1,800 and 2,700 meters (6,000 and 8,800 feet). No populations have been documented from areas that lack bromeliads and fruits.
Spectacled bears are found mainly in or near forested mountains from Venezuela and Colombia south through Ecuador, Peru, and into Bolivia.
Females reach sexual maturity between four and seven years of age. Mating occurs in April, May, and June, and pairs stay together for a week or two, with copulation occurring numerous times. Litters of one, two, or occasionally three cubs are born from November to February.
Nothing is known of the social organization of spectacled bears in the wild. In captivity, females and their cubs regularly vocalize to communicate, using two and five types of calls respectively.
Spectacled bears eat a wide variety of foods, including rabbits, mice, birds, berries, grasses, and orchid bulbs, but have a strong preference for the leaves, bases, and hearts of plants of the Bromeliaceae family and the fruits of other plant groups. They will sometimes climb cacti to feed on fruit at the top. Tree nests are often constructed as a platform to feed from fruit-laden branches and to sleep in.