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Polar Bear Facts

10 Fascinating Facts About Polar Bears


Polar bears are found in the Arctic, but are also the star attraction at many zoos. Here you can learn more about polar bears.

Polar bears are marine mammals.

Polar bears are the only bear species to be considered a marine mammal. This is because of their webbed paws, which makes them powerful swimmers. These animals are classified as carnivores and are in the bear family (Ursidae).

Polar bears are the largest bear species.

Although some Kodiak (brown) bears are as large as individual polar bears, the polar bear is generally thought to be the largest bear species. Polar bears are 8-11 feet tall and can weigh about 1,700 pounds, although according to Discovery.com, the largest polar bear ever measured weighed 2,200 pounds.

Polar bears have clear fur and black skin.

Polar bears have a coat that appears white, but is actually made up of clear, hollow hairs that reflect light. These give the bear a white appearance and also help to camouflage it in its snowy, icy habitat. Although polar bears have a light coat, they have black skin underneath.

Polar bears may also appear yellow, especially close to molting, which occurs in summer. The yellow coloration comes from the oils in the seals that they eat. Polar bears in zoos may also look green due to algae growth on their fur.

Polar bears eat other marine mammals.

The polar bear's preferred prey are seals - particularly ringed (their primary seal prey) and bearded seals. Polar bears will patiently wait at the edge of the ice or at seal breathing holes for a seal to appear. Unless food is scarce, the bear will eat mostly the seal's energy-rich skin and blubber, leaving the carcass (including meat) for other Arctic animals to scavenge. Polar bears will also eat walruses, whale carcasses, and even garbage if they live near a garbage dump.

Polar bears need sea ice to survive.

According to Polar Bears International, there are 19 different populations of polar bears and they live in 4 different regions in the Arctic. Ice is essential for polar bears to survive because it gives them access to the types of ice seals (ringed and bearded seals) that are their preferred prey. You can help polar bears by taking actions to reduce global warming, including walking, riding a bike or using public transportation instead of driving; conserving energy and water; buying locally; and avoiding products with excess packaging. Click here for a longer list from Polar Bears International. Even better - many of these actions will help other marine life, and the oceans overall.

Polar bears can travel great distances.

Polar bears are strong swimmers, capable of speeds of up to 6 mph when swimming. They have been observed far out to sea more than 100 miles from land, although they may have traveled there on ice floes. Polar bears can also trek long distances on land or ice, traveling as ice recedes, and also to find prey or mates.

Polar bears have powerful noses.

Polar bears have a strong sense of smell. It is thought polar bear can smell a seal from about .6 mile away and 3 feet under the snow. Polar bears may also feed on carcasses of seals, whales and walrus, and can smell these carcasses from miles away.

Polar bears keep warm with a thick layer of fat.

Polar bears have a layer of fat under their skin that is 2-4" thick. But the main way the keep warm is through their thick fur, which has a dense under coat covered with longer guard hairs, that protect the polar bear's skin from moisture. The fat and fur keep the bear so warm that they need to move slowly to avoid overheating.

Polar bears don't hibernate.

Polar bears don't hibernate, but can enter a lethargic state. They dig a den out of the snow and go to sleep. Their body functions slow down, but the bear can wake up easily. This sleep helps them conserve energy and stay warm during the winter. Bears are also capable of giving birth and caring for their young during this lethargic state.

Polar bears usually have multiple cubs.

Polar bears can reproduce starting when they are 4-8 years old. In early winter, they dig a snow den, in which they give birth during the winter. Polar bears usually give birth to 2 cubs, although they may have between up to 4. The cubs are much smaller than most human babies - they are about 12" long and weigh a pound. Like puppies and kittens, the cubs are blind at birth. They stay with their mother in the den until spring, nursing her rich milk, which is about 30% fat.
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