100 Thrilling Polar Bear Facts You Must Know

Polar bears are majestic creatures. They look cute but behind that cuteness is a deadly punch of ferocity that we all should be wary about.

Luckily, they are confined to a specific part of the Earth, far from the reaches of human habitation.

In this article on thrilling polar bear facts, we are going to look into 100 thrilling facts that are really hard to digest! 

Before we start with the polar bear facts, let us take a look at scientific classification of polar bears:

KingdomAnimalia
PhylumChordata
ClassMammalia
OrderCarnivora
SuborderCaniformia
Family Ursidae
GenusUrsus
Species Ursus maritimus
Binomial NameUrsus maritimus

Polar Bear Facts 1-10

1. Polar Bears are mammals but most of us didn’t know that they are considered as marine mammals. The only reason why they are called marine mammals is that they live on the Arctic Ocean’s ice sheets!

2. Of all carnivores that live in this entire world, polar bears are the largest in size. They have only one close rival and that’s the Kodiak brown bear that lives in areas of southwestern Alaska.

3. Did you know that polar bears are found only in the Arctic? They are not found in Antarctica!

4. In the Arctic, they are found in Norway, Russia, Greenland, Alaska (USA) and in Canada.

5. Though today they are known as polar bears, scientists are of the opinion that some 400,000 years ago they evolved from a common brown bear ancestor.

6. All over the world, polar bears are known by several names. Some of the commonly used names are:

  • Thalarctos
  • Sea bear
  • Ice bear
  • Nanuq
  • Isbjorn
  • White bear
  • Beliy medved
  • Lord of the Arctic
  • Old Man in the Fur Cloak
  • White sea deer

7. There is a widespread notion that polar bears are all left pawed. There is no scientific evidence supporting this claim. As a matter of fact, scientists have observed that they use both their paws equally.

8. Did you know that there is a widespread myth that polar bears use tools? This myth has been proven false by scientists. They don’t use any kind of tools (not even ice blocks). They however may kick snow or end up slapping the ground or even hurl ice chunks out of frustration when they fail to capture their prey.

9. Yet another myth about polar bears is that their hollow hair can conduct UV rays. This myth has been thoroughly studied and eventually, physicist Daniel Koon disproved the myth.

10. Do Orcas prey on polar bears? Well, they don’t! This too is a myth that popped up from the evidence of range expansion for the Orcas. The truth is that barring humans, polar bears do not have any natural predators. This means that they are apex predators in their world.

Polar Bear Facts 11-20

11. These majestic beasts cannot be found in Antarctica. We have already mentioned this. However, we didn’t mention that the word ‘Arctic’ is actually a Greek word which means ‘bear’ and the word ‘Antarctic’ is a Greek word meaning ‘opposite of bear’. This means that the illustrations of penguins and polar bears living together are totally wrong.

12. The indigenous people of the Arctic region considered Nanuq (polar bear) to be powerful, wise and almost human. It is because of this, the Nanuq was one of the most prized among the animals that the indigenous people hunted.

13. Despite the fact that polar bears live in the chilly and harsh Arctic environments, they often need to cool down. They do so by either rolling on snow or by taking a dip in the chilly waters!

14. Polar bears have extremely powerful noses. Their nose is so powerful that they are capable of smelling seals that are located 16 kilometers away. They can also efficiently find the air hole of a seal from a distance of 1 mile. What else, they can sniff out the seal den that has been completely covered in snow!

15. Polar bears are extremely efficient swimmers. They have been known to swim for 60 miles straight without stopping in search of prey. However, the distance they cover by swimming is gradually on decline because of the changes in natural conditions.

16. As we said, polar bears are extremely efficient swimmers. They can swim at a speed of 8 knots or 6 miles an hour. While swimming, polar bears will keep their hind legs flat just like a rudder and then pedal with their front legs.

17. Polar bears may be efficient swimmers but they are not efficient killers when it comes to catching prey in open water. They instead make use of ice sheets as their hunting platform.

18. They spend nearly 50% of their hunting time in a day in search of food. Interestingly, when they are not hunting, they can spend up to 20 hours a day just resting!

19. Did you know that though polar bears appear white, their fur isn’t really white? Their fur is actually transparent with a hollow core for reflecting light. This is an interesting adaptation because it helps them to blend in with the surrounding.

20. Because the habitat of polar bears is known to vanish for a few months every year, these creatures are known to have the longest fasting period in the entire animal kingdom.

Polar Bear Facts: 21-30

21. Polar bears can get dirty and they use the same trick to clean themselves that they use to cool themselves down. Yes, they roll on snow to clean themselves.

22. Sleuth and Pack are the terms that are used for referring to a group of polar bears.

23. Polar bears, unlike their black and brown counterparts, do not hibernate during the winter months. Only the pregnant polar bears den up during the colder months.

24. Indigenous people living in Arctic regions are known for eating the meat of polar bears. However, they ensure that they discard the liver of the polar bear, because it is toxic to humans. 

The liver of a polar bear contains extremely high levels of Vitamin A. A liver from a polar bear is capable of killing 52 adults. 

An adult human needs 0.9 mg of Vitamin A daily. This can be achieved by eating just 1/10th of a gram of liver from a polar bear. With that calculation, a single liver can last for 143 years if we are to eat the liver of a polar bear.

25. The fur of the polar bear is used by indigenous people to make kamiks or soft boots for women while it is used for making warm trousers for the men.

26. In the past, the indigenous people who used to hunt polar bears used to hang the skin of the dead bear in an honored place in their house.

They paid respect by offering bow-drills and knives to the spirit of the dead polar bear if the dead animal happened to be a male. For female spirits, they used to offer needle cases, skin-scrapers and knives.

27. The reason they used to honor the spirit of the hunted polar bear was a legend which stated that if the spirit of the dead bear was treated properly, the spirit would go and tell other bears who would want to be hunted by the hunters. Ill-treated spirits would inform about the ill-treatment and the bears would stay away from the hunters.

28. There is yet another legend. It was believed that strange polar bear men used to live in igloos. They were capable of walking upright and were even capable of talking. They used to shed their own skin in the privacy of their homes.

29. Did you know that the skin of the polar bears is actually black in color. The color helps them to soak up sunlight during day time and stay warm. They also have blubber – a thick fat layer underneath their skin that keeps them insulated from near-freezing water and frosty air. Of course, their fur also works as an insulator.

30. Polar bears eat mostly the fat of the ice-dependent seals. They usually do not eat the meat. The leftover meat becomes food for other wild animals in the Arctic.

Polar Bear Facts: 31- 40

31. Of all bear species that exist on Earth, the polar bear is the largest. However, there is one exception to this. There is a subspecies of brown bear known as the Kodiak bear which is just as large as the polar bear.

32. As per Polar Bear International, a bear’s height is measured from its shoulders when it stands on all its four legs. With this measurement method in mind, the average height of polar bear ranges between 3.5 feet (1 meter) to 5 feet (1.5 meters).

33. However, if a male adult polar bear stands on its hind legs, it can reach the height of 10 feet or more. The tallest specimen till date has been recorded at 11 feet and 1 inch tall.

34. If we try to measure the length of a polar bear all the way from its head to its rump, the average length is 7.25 feet (2.2 meters) to 8 feet (2.5 meters). However, if the tail is thrown in the measurement, the length increases by another 3 inches to 5 inches.

35. What about the weight? The average weight of a polar bear ranges between 351 kilograms and 544 kilograms (775 lbs. and 1,200 lbs.). However, the heaviest one on record till date is the same one that was the tallest while standing on its hind legs. It weighed a whopping 2,209 lbs. That translates into 1,000 kilograms.

36. Interestingly, the weight we mentioned above in #5 is that of male adults. Female adults are not as heavy as that of males. Female adult polar bears have an average weight of 50 kilograms to 295 kilograms (330 lbs. to 650 lbs.).

37. Polar bears (as opposed to other bears) have a body build that’s far more elongated. Their nose and skull are also longer. They have stocky legs, small tail and small ears. Because they live in icy Arctic regions, their feet have also adapted accordingly.

38. In adult polar bears, the feet may be 30 centimeters across. Such large feet are designed for weight/load distribution when these large animals walk on ice sheets that are thin. Such wide feet also help in propulsion when they swim.

39. Looking at the paws of polar bears one can find small and soft dermal bumps in order to provide traction when they walk on ice. Also, their claws are stocky and short which allows them to properly grip ice and heavy prey.

40. The claws of polar bears are scooped deeply on the underside. This is probably because they need to dig into ice pretty often. Such claws assist in digging.

Polar Bear Facts: 41- 50 

41. Their fur has two layers – a dense underfur and a not-so-dense outer layer known as guard hairs. The guard hairs that we see are actually transparent and they give the appearance of white to tan – a unique adaptation for the polar bears in their immediate surroundings.

42. Why are the guard hairs transparent? Scientists think that it is so because the two genes – AIM1 and LYST – responsible for influencing melanin production have both been mutated. As a result of this mutation, the guard hairs do not have any pigment.

43. The guard hairs are around 2 inches to 6 inches long and present over almost the whole of the body of a polar bear.

44. Polar bears are known for moulting between the months May and August (both included) however, they are not known for shedding their coat to get a darker shade that provides camouflage during the summer months.

45. As the polar bears age, their white coat gradually gets yellowish. Those polar bears that are kept in captivity in warmer places such as zoos will usually have their fur turned into a pale shade of green. This happens because the humid conditions allow algal growth inside guard hairs.

46. There was a time when it was thought that the transparent and hollow guard hairs of the polar bears helped in conducting light all the way back to their skin for absorption by acting as fiber optics. In 1998 however, scientific studies managed to disprove this theory.

47. The change in color of the fur is usually because of oxidation during summer months or simply because of changes in light conditions.

48. Male polar bears have ornamental hair on their forelegs. These ornamental hair are way longer than the female counterparts.

49. It is believed that long ornamental hair serves a similar purpose as that of lion’s mane – that is they help the males to attract females.

50. The ornamental hair grows till the males attain the age of 14 years. After that, the ornamental hair on their forelegs simply stop growing.

Polar Bear Facts: 51- 60

51. Polar bears are capable of swimming for days without break. In one particular case, a polar bear was spotted swimming for 9 days at a stretch covering a distance of 687 kilometers across frigid Bering Sea.

52. After swimming for so long, the bear reached the ice far from land. From there, it traveled another 1,800 kilometers. However, for this long journey she had to pay a heavy price.

53. Yes, the polar bear in question was a female and she lost 22 kilos of body mass in addition to losing her yearling cub.

54. Polar bears are such good swimmers because of the buoyancy they get out of their body fat and their large forepaws provide propulsion, allowing them to attain a speed of up to 10 km per hour.

55. When it comes to walking, they have what is known as lumbering gait where they maintain 5.6 km per hour of average speed. They can reach the speed of 40 km per hour when they sprint.

56. Polar bears are not at all territorial. They live in the vast wilderness of the Arctic and travel at free will, going wherever they want to.

57. Because they are carnivores, it is often assumed that they are really aggressive but that’s not the case in normal conditions. They will avoid a direct confrontation and run away.

58. Very hungry polar bears however are known for attacking humans, killing them and eating them. Satiated polar bears, on the other hand, will rarely attack humans unless they are provoked.

59. Adult polar bears are known to be solitary creatures. However, it is not unusual to spot them playing or resting in embrace for hours at a stretch. Also, they are known to be quiet animals but they can be seen communicating using vocalizations and sounds. They may also indulge in chemical communication, leaving behind scents in their tracks so that they can be traced by other bears.

60. When it comes to vocal communications, they use a number of vocalizations. These include the following:

  • Roars, grows and hisses – showing aggression.
  • Snorts, chuffs and huffs – when they are nervous.
  • Cubs can hum when they are nursing.
  • Bleats – subadults and cubs in distress.
  • Chuffs and moans – females communicating with their young ones.

Polar Bear Facts: 61-70 

61. Ice bears or polar bears or white bears are known to be marine mammals. The reason why they are called marine mammals is that they spend several months of their time in a year in the sea.

62. While this ‘marine mammal’ thing may be a bit difficult to digest, here is another stunner. They are the only known marine mammals that have large and powerful feet and limbs enabling them to not just walk on land but also run!

63. While the polar bears are usually distributed throughout the arctic, their most preferred habitat is the annual sea ice that is known for covering the water sitting atop the continental shelf as well as inter-island archipelagos.

64. The most preferred area of habitat of the Lords of the Arctic is known by the name ‘Arctic Ring of Life’. It is so called because of high biological diversity and productivity in those particular areas compared to the high arctic sea.

65. Polar bears prefer seals as food over other animals. It is because of this, these white bears are known for frequenting those areas where ice sheets meet the water as that’s where most seals are found. Because of this, polar bears are not found much in the Polar Basin close to the North Pole but are rather found in the polar ice pack’s perimeter.

66. Polar bears have a home range that is way bigger than any known bear species. There are two factors that determine the range of polar bears. First, the quality of the habitat and second, the availability of seals – their favorite prey.

67. Because the habitat keeps changing with seasonal variations, their range also keeps on changing with the same. It should be noted that during summer months, the sea ice melts and hence, reducing their range while in winters, the expansion of the sea ice increases their range. This explains why polar bears usually do not have territories.

68. If polar bears live in areas where availability of seals is less, they can travel to great distances to find their food. They can travel up to 1,000 kilometers. In general however, studies show that these white bears usually keep their home range within a few hundred miles.

69. One of the longest ranges ever traced was that of a female polar bear that was satellite-tracked. She traveled a total of 4,796 kilometers starting from Prudhoe Bay of Alaska to Greenland to Ellesmere Island in Canada and then back to Greenland.

70. According to Polar Bears International, 60% of all known polar bears usually live in Canada but in general they are distributed in several countries that ring the whole Arctic Circle. These countries include Canada, Russia, US (Alaska), Norway and Greenland.

Polar Bear Facts: 71-80

71. The Lords of the Arctic have three different hunting styles. One of those is to raid birth lairs created by female seals. These lairs are created in snow and provide an easy hunting ground for the bears.

72. The second method is that of stalking. Yes, polar bears are stealth hunters. If a bear spots a seal resting on ice, it will stalk and walk slowly until it reaches within 90 meters. The bear will then start crouching. If the seal fails to spot the bear, it will crouch as close as 9 to 12 meters and then suddenly charge forward to catch the seal.

73. The third hunting style is by far the most popular hunting style of the ice bear. It is known as the still-hunting method. In this method, the bear will sniff and efficiently locate a breathing hole of a seal and get close to it stealthily.

74. Once close, the bear will sit still and wait for the seal to appear. When the seal exhales, the white bear can immediately smell the breath and know that the seal has appeared. It will then use its forepaw to reach for the seal and use its scooped claws to grab the seal and pull it out.

75. Once the seal is out, the polar bear will bite on the seal’s head and crush the skull with a powerful bite. This will instantly kill the seal and voila! The meal will be ready.

76. The primary diet of a polar bear is composed of Bearded Seals and Ringed Seals. In general, the mature bears will eat the blubber and skin of seals as they are rich in calories. In addition to that, those materials are also highly digestible.

77. The younger bears on the other hand are known for eating the meat of the killed seal as the meat is rich in protein. Subadult polar bears are known for scavenging the leftover carcasses of the kills of the mature bears.

78. The problem with sub adult polar bears is that though they separate away from their mothers, they are not big enough to kill seals on their own. However, even if they manage to kill one, they need to defend it from the bigger seals. Failure to defend the kill will force them to eat the leftover carcasses.

79. It may sound really surprising but did you know that polar bears can kill seals only 2% of the time they attempt to hunt? Yes, they are not very efficient killers and that is especially true when then they are trying to hunt on land (ice) or in open waters. They are known for efficiently hunting seals in the interface between air, ice and water.

80. While seals are what they usually prefer, they are not limited to eating seals only. They can go for other meals as well. There are documented instances where polar bears have been found to scale nearly vertical cliffs to eat eggs, birds and chicks.

Polar Bear Facts: 81-90

81. They usually go for ringed seals because seals are smaller than them and weigh less. They go for bearded seals but bearded seals can be as big as the polar bears. Adult bearded seals are way too big for adult female polar bears and hence, they are usually killed by adult male polar bears.

82. Adult male polar bears are also known for charging into a pack of walruses that are way bigger than them. The charging bears hope to isolate a young walrus or an incapacitated or injure walrus that can become an easy prey. Walrus calves are however easy prey for polar bears.

83. Polar bears are also known for occasionally preying on narwhals and beluga whales. The bears usually hunt them at their breathing holes. It is not unlikely to see polar bears feeding on carcasses of dead whales and adult walruses. While scavenging on the dead carcasses, polar bears again go for the fat and skin even if they are in a rotten state.

84. Polar bears are also flexible in their diet. They can also go for muskox, birds, eggs, reindeer, crustaceans and even cannibalize on other polar bears. They are also seen feeding on kelp, roots and berries but vegetarian diet is never a significant one.

85. The dietary flexibility is usually seen during summer months when the sea ice is gone and seals are scarce. Since their metabolism is designed for consuming large amounts of fat from marine mammals, the bears do not usually get the necessary calories from terrestrial animals. Many polar bears decide to fast during the summer months and survive on their fat reserves.

86. Courtship followed by mating usually takes place during April and May and this happens on sea ice, especially in seal hunting grounds. Males need to fight for mating rights and these fights are often very brutal, leaving behind scars as well as broken teeth. The winner mates for an entire week and it is this mating that induces ovulation in female polar bears.

87. Post mating, the fertilized eggs in females stay in a suspended state till August or at the most till September. During this period the female eats a lot and nearly doubles her weight. After that, the female digs a den known as maternity den in a snowbank and crawls in. Inside the den, the female goes into a hibernation-like state but doesn’t really hibernate.

88. Polar bear cubs are born between November and February. The female usually gives birth to twins but she can give birth to triplets or even a single cub. The newborn cubs are very tiny and weigh nearly 0.5 kilograms. They are blind at birth and feature light brown fur.

89. The mother polar bear stays with her cubs in the den to a maximum of mid-April and until then she feeds the cubs with fat-rich milk. By the time the mother breaks open the den’s entrance, the cubs grow up to 15 kilos in weight. Cubs are weaned for 2.5 years after which they are either abandoned by the mother or are chased away.

90. Females reach sexual maturity when they are 4 years old and the males reach sexual maturity when they are 6 years old. However, considering that competition for females is very high, males may decide not to mate until they are 10 years old.

Polar Bear Facts: 91-100

91. In the wild the Lords of the Arctic barely live beyond 25 years of age but on an average they live anywhere between 15 and 20 years.

92. Polar bears cannot run for long as they overheat quickly. When they run, they need more oxygen.

93. When running, polar bears spend nearly twice as much energy as other mammals.

94. Polar bears are capable of galloping as fast as horses but for a very short time period.

95. Leaner and younger bears are better runners than larger and older bears because the larger and older bears overheat quickly.

96. After the polar bears eat, they wash themselves with water or snow.

97. It is believed that there are anywhere between 20,000 and 25,000 bears present in the wild.

98. Inuit people still hunt polar bears, but such hunting is highly regulated using a quota system.

99. On the IUCN conservation list, polar bears have the status ‘vulnerable’.

100. Adult male polar bears can kill polar bear cubs and eat them.

Sources

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