Polar bears, also known as white bears, are truly massive carnivores native to the Arctic Circle in the northern hemisphere. These predators are known as hypercarnivores, which means that over 70% of their diet comes from meat. Known for their characteristic white fur and participation in soda commercials, these great bears are in danger of extinction. Read on to learn about the polar bear.
Description of the Polar Bear
When you think of a polar bear, you think of thick, white fur. These bears are massive, with the largest ever recorded standing just over 11 ft. tall on its hind legs!
Their feet are incredibly large as well, measuring 12 in. across on adults. This size helps them distribute their weight on thin ice, and swim efficiently in water. In comparison to other bears, their body is more elongated, and they have a longer head and muzzle.
Interesting Facts About the Polar Bear
It is easy to describe these bears as impressive, their size alone makes them incredibly imposing. Amazingly, there is even more to these creatures than meets the eye!
- Marine Mammals – Just like sea lions and sea otters, polar bears are classified as marine mammals. This is because they are incredibly reliant on sea ice, and extremely comfortable in the ocean. One bear was recorded swimming for nine days straight to reach an ice floe at sea!
- Incredible Insulation – It is no secret that the Arctic Circle is cold. To survive, these bears must stay extraordinarily warm. They are equipped with incredible insulation. Each bear can have a layer of blubber up to four inches thick, topped with a double coat up to six inches thick.
- White Bear? – While these bears are commonly referred to as white bears, their hair is actually not white. Though their outer guard hairs appear to be white or tan, they are actually transparent. These transparent hairs are hollow, and can begin to yellow as the bear ages.
- Super Sense – To survive in the Arctic wilderness, these bears must be equipped with some incredible hunting skills. Their primary resource in locating a meal is their impressive sense of smell. Polar bears can smell a seal from over a mile away, and under three feet of snow!
Habitat of the Polar Bear
These bears are uniquely adapted to a life at sea and on the sea ice. Sea ice is compromised of large sections of the surface water that freezes during the winter. Their favorite habitat is where the sea ice meets the ocean, because their prey is most prevalent in these areas. This ice will break up and float away, and the bears will swim and follow their prey out to sea.
Distribution of the Polar Bear
Polar bears are found only in the Arctic Circle, and within the Arctic Circle most live in and amongst the sea ice. In some warmer areas, during the summer when the ice melts, they will retreat north, to areas where the ice is frozen year-round. They can be found in the northernmost reaches of Canada, Russia, the United States (in Alaska), Norway, and Greenland.
Diet of the Polar Bear
Polar bears are carnivores, which means the vast majority of their diet is made up of meat. Their primary source of food is seals. Most kills are made when a seal surfaces in an air hole, or climbs onto the surface of the ice.
They utilize still-hunting by waiting silently at an air hole until a seal surfaces, and then snagging the seal with its large paws and pulling it onto the ice. When food is scarce, they have also been known to hunt muskox, reindeer, eggs, birds, crabs, rodents, carrion, and even one another.
Polar Bear and Human Interaction
Hunting of these bears caused a steep drop in populations in the 20th century. Each year the number of bears killed increased, as hunting technology grew more efficient. Hunting hit its peak in 1968 with over 1,250 bears killed. Hunting regulations helped to improve their population numbers.
Unfortunately polar bears are far from being out of the woods. While some populations are stable or increasing, global climate change severely threatens the overall survival of this species. These predators rely heavily on the formation of yearly pack ice for survival.
Without pack ice, polar bears cannot hunt their marine mammal prey, seals. While they can subside on other foods occasionally, they must consume large amounts of fat, which is found only in marine mammal blubber. This fat intake is essential if they are to survive the harsh conditions in such a cold climate.
Polar bears have not been domesticated in any way.
Does the Polar Bear Make a Good Pet
Polar bears are potentially the most dangerous pet you could own. A single swipe of the paw, and its lights out! Not only are they incredibly powerful and dangerous, it is also illegal to own one.
Polar Bear Care
In zoos, polar bears do not need to consume nearly as much fat as their wild counterparts. This is namely because they are not exposed to such frigid conditions, so their fat stores and size are less important. In zoos, their diet normally consists of fish, commercially prepared zoo carnivore meat, dog kibble, rabbits, cow femur, and the occasional fruit or veggie as a treat.
Their habitat must be temperature controlled, as these bears will overheat if the temperature passes 50º F.
As marine mammals, it is also imperative that they be provided with large amounts of water to swim in. Because they do not have to spend all their time hunting to survive, these bears can get bored. Environmental enrichment is essential, and it can come in the form of large floating toys, live fish, food frozen in blocks of ice, snow, and positive reinforcement training.
Behavior of the Polar Bear
The behavior of these bears varies on the individual animal. Some will remain solitary, living and hunting entirely alone. Other animals will form bonds with other bears, and will remain together for various periods of time ranging from weeks to years.
Sometimes unbonded individuals will congregate at a large food source, like a whale carcass. Female bears with cubs will avoid other bears, because adult males will frequently attempt to kill cubs that are not his own.
Reproduction of the Polar Bear
Males begin to search for females in March, using their strong sense of smell. When he finds a receptive female the pair will remain together for approximately two weeks.
Females have what is known as delayed implantation. This means that the embryo does not begin to develop until the perfect conditions are met. Mother bears dig themselves a small den, and give birth inside where it is much warmer. The young, called cubs, will nurse until they are two and a half years old.