No other animal is as adorable and cuddly, and at the same time, as dangerous and feared as the polar bear. They’re marine mammals, perfectly adapted for the harsh arctic climate. Their scientific name, Ursus martimus literally translates to sea bear. Also sometimes called ice bears, or just simply white bears, let’s take a look at some interesting facts about them.
Facts On Polar Bears
1. They’re the largest land carnivores
Adult male polar bears can weigh up to anywhere between 400-600 kilos. While on his hind legs, the bear is around 3.5 to 5 feet tall and can reach up to 10 feet while standing on his hind legs. They’re also one of the most sexually dimorphic mammals, as males are almost double the height and weight of their female counterparts. Reportedly, the biggest polar bear ever recorded weighed in at a whopping 1,002 kg, almost double the weight of the average polar bear, and was 11 feet tall. He was, unfortunately, shot and killed in Alaska, way back in the 1960s.
They’re not actually white
Contrary to popular belief, polar bears aren’t white at all. In fact, they have back skin, to optimize absorption of heat from the sun, keeping them as toasty as possible. Their fur, in reality, translucent and hollow, and only appears white, due to the way sunlight is scattered by it. Their fur also has great insulation properties. German researchers are reportedly currently working on solar heat harvesting and insulating textile, based on the structure of polar bear fur.
Interestingly, they can sometimes, especially in captivity, take on a greenish tinge, due to algal deposits that can be found within the hollow shafts of their fur.
These bears, however, love being clean, and often roll around in the snow like giant puppies to clean off, and also to cool off, as they can overheat.
They evolved from the brown bear
The big white beasts are actually closely related to the common brown bear and are believed to have descended from them. As they moved to the Arctic regions, they evolved to adapt to the cold, icy climate. They’re perfected suited harsh winters of the polar region. Their tiny round ears, little tail, and stout snout, as well as their relatively short legs as compared to other bears, reduce heat loss. They’re also very chubby. Their fat can be up to 10 centimeters thick, which helps with warmth, energy storage as well as buoyancy.
They also have natural, inbuilt socks. Well, sort of. They have thick fur on their paws, and even on their soles. This gives the bear the extra grip the need to keep them from falling over on the slippery ice, and also gives them an edge over their prey, along them to sneak up on them without making a sound.
4. They’re loners
Apart from the incredibly strong between a mother and her cub, polar bears are generally solitary animals. They spend most of their time all alone, roaming the Arctic. Polar Bears sometimes do display social behavior, when they do happen to cross paths, occasionally engaging in play fights with fellow bears. They apparently wag their head from side to side to initiate a mock battle, and gently boop each other’s noses as a greeting. Sometimes they cuddle with each other, seemingly for companionship rather than warmth.
5. Polar bears are pro swimmers
Polar bear paws, which are large and flat, act as paddles, propelling them to a speed of 10 kilometers per hour. GPS tracking data has shown they can cover very long distances at one go, swimming for days, and for hundreds of miles, losing a large percentage of their body fat in the process. This ability has recently been put into use due to all the melting ice, brought about by climate change. Cubs, however, aren’t as strong as their mothers, and sometimes end up drowning.
6. They have a killer sense of smell
Polar Bears have powerful noses and can smell their prey from miles away, and heavily rely on this sense for hunting. They can reportedly sniff out a seal, their favorite snack, 32 kilometers away, or 1 kilometer below the ice.
7. They don’t have babies unless they’re ready
Polar bear mums to undergo this process known as delayed implantation, wherein implantation does not take place immediately after fertilization. Mating occurs in April or May, but she does not give birth until her body is fully ready for the birthing process, around eight months later. She carries around the blastocyst until she enters her maternity den, where she remains for three to four months – the gestation period, during which she enters a hibernation-like state. What happens if she isn’t ready to have a baby during a birthing season? She just reabsorbs the fertilized egg and tries again next season. Another fun fact, mama bears almost always have twins, who stick with her for two to three years, after which, she either abandons or chases away.
8. Grizzly-Polar bear hybrids exist
Due to their changing travel patterns, polar bears have been crossing paths with grizzlies, and have apparently got it on with them. Canada and Alaska are home to quite a few a few of these crossbred creatures, known as prizzleis or golars. The two aren’t supposed to occupy the same regions, but melting ice caps force the two together, allowing for inter-species to take place.
9. They sometimes engage in cannibalism
Apart from being hypercarnivores, polar bears sometimes eat their own kind, Cannibalism is believed to be much more common in polar bears than previously anticipated. Males occasionally eat cubs, when other sources of food, mainly seals, are scarce. The baby bears and their mothers don’t stand a chance against male bears, who are sometimes more than double their size. This type of behavior is not seen in females as often, however, and is extremely rare, the females are highly devoted mothers, and fast for very long periods, up to months at a time.
They have also been spotted eating other bears, mostly smaller brown bears.