When we say Ice Bear facts, we mean polar bear facts! Do you remember the various names used for polar bears? In case you do not remember, you can check them out here (point #6). Well, in our last article on polar bear facts, we learned about their physical characteristics, their appearance and their behavioral traits. In this article on facts about the Lords of the Arctic, we are going to cover their habitat, their dietary habits and their reproduction habits. So, let us begin…
Ice Bear Facts: 1-5 | Habitat of Polar Bears
1. 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.
2. 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!
3. 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.
4. 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 high arctic sea.
5. 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 Polar Basin close to North Pole but are rather found in polar ice pack’s perimeter.
Ice Bear Facts: 6-10 | Polar Bear Range
6. 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.
7. 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 territories.
8. 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.
9. One of the longest range 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.
10. According 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.
Ice Bear Facts: 11-15 | Hunting Style of Polar Bears
11. The Lords of the Arctic have three different hunting styles. One of those is to raid birth lairs created by female seals. This lairs are created in snow and provide an easy hunting ground for the bears.
12. 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.
13. 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.
14. 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.
15. 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.
Ice Bear Facts: 16-20 | Dietary Habits of Polar Bears
16. 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 material are also highly digestible.
17. 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.
18. The problem with subadult 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 the 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.
19. It may sound really surprising but did you know that polar bears can kill seals only 2% of the times 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.
20. 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.
Ice Bear Facts: 21-25 | Dietary Habits of Polar Bears
21. 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.
22. 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.
23. 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.
24. 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.
25. 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.
Ice Bear Facts: 26-30 | Reproduction and Life Cycle
26. 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.
27. 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 snow bank and crawls in. Inside the den, the female goes into a hibernation-like state but doesn’t really hibernate.
28. 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.
29. The mother polar bear stays with her cubs in the den to 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.
30. 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.
Bonus Ice Bear Facts:
- 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.
- Polar bears cannot run for long as they overheat quickly. When they run, they need more oxygen.
- When running, polar bears spend nearly twice as much energy as other mammals.
- Polar bears are capable of galloping as fast as horses but for a very short time period.
- Leaner and younger bears are better runners than larger and older bears because the larger and older bears overheat quickly.
- After the polar bears eat, they wash themselves with water or snow.
- It is believed that there are anywhere between 20,000 and 25,000 bears present in the wild.
- Inuit people still hunt polar bears but such hunting is highly regulated using a quota system.
- On IUCN conservation list, polar bears have the status ‘vulnerable’.
- Adult male polar bears can kill polar bear cubs and eat them.