As cubs there’s nothing cuter than a polar bear, but the little balls of fluff grow into some of the fiercest predators around. Wandering around the ice of the Arctic these bears are built to withstand the cold and can easily defend their title as the top of the world’s top of the food chain.
Polar bears stand out from other bears because of their white fur. It lets them blend in with the snow and ice to better sneak up on prey. Underneath though polar bears have black skin to better to soak up any warmth coming from the sun. The polar bear’s white hair is really transparent – it reflects light in a way that makes it look white, just like the snow and ice the polar bear lives in.
It’s not a surprise to hear that the Arctic is really cold. The way that polar bears survive is with their water-repellant fur coat, and underneath that, a thick layer of fat. To keep up their weight, polar bears spend most of their time on the hunt for food. Their favourite meal is a seal - seals are so packed with fat that a bear may only need to eat once a week. Polar bears will also snack on bird eggs or dead carcasses that have washed up on shore. They’ll go after things that people throw out, so anyone living in a place near polar bears has to be careful about where they put their garbage.
Polar bears spend most of their time in the water. They can swim for days in freezing waters looking for solid ice, and have webbing between their paws to help them move through water. That layer of fat keeps them warm and also keeps them floating, like a built-in life vest. Even with all their abilities, the swimming style polar bears use is the doggy paddle.
Adult polar bears spend a lot of time on their own and travel over huge distances. One way bears find each other is by smell – polar bears have a sweat gland on the bottom of their feet that leaves a distinctive scent. Even though the footprints are over ice and may be days old, other polar bears can use their sensitive noses to track them.
Baby polar bears are born in the snow. In the fall, a mother bear will tunnel into a big snow bank, or sometimes frozen earth, digging out a den that she will spend months in. Usually between November and January one or two cubs are born. The family doesn’t come out of their snowy home until the spring, when the cubs are able to walk. Pretty soon the mother bear leads them to the sea to teach the cubs how to swim and to get back to that all-important eating.