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Largest of all the bear species, the beautiful polar bear is the king of the bears. They live on the southern edge of the Arctic ice cap and are specially equipped for their arctic lifestyle.
The polar bear’s coat ranges from white to ivory. Individual hairs are hollow and act as a heat conductor to help insulate the body. A polar bear can sleep comfortably in conditions that would kill a human in minutes. The white color of the coat acts like a camouflage on the ice and allows the bear to stalk its prey, but under the fur, the skin is black. Polar bears also have fur on the soles of their feet to keep them from slipping on ice.
The polar bear is the best swimmer of all the bears. It has been observed swimming over 50 miles (80 km) at 6 miles (10 km) per hour without rest, and can swim underwater for up to two minutes. Its forepaws are webbed and designed for swimming and the hind feet act like rudders for steering.
The main food source for the polar bear is seals. It stalks the seals both in and out of the icy cold water. Of all bears, the polar bear is the most carnivorous. In fact, this nomadic giant is believed to be the largest land carnivore in the world. Its diet also includes crabs, rodents, hares, caribou, fish, and plants such as berries when in season. When hunting, the polar bear patrols coastal waters and uses its keen eyesight and hearing and excellent sense of smell. It can detect the smell of seals, dead whales, and carrion up to 20 miles (32 km) away. The polar bear is also an intelligent animal. It is worth mentioning that at the polar bear exhibit at the Australia Zoo, they list the polar bear’s diet, which includes a variety of food (mainly plants).
Polar bears are solitary for the most part, but they occasionally come together and feed. Sometimes they follow each other for miles. When they meet, they sniff noses and may play and wrestle. Sometimes they show aggressive behavior.
Usually two cubs are born in November or December. They are very small like all other species of bears, weighing one to two pounds (0.5–1 kg). In March or April they leave the den with their mother to explore their surroundings. They stay with their mother until the spring of their third year, learning all they need to know to survive in their habitat.
Hunting of the polar bear did not start until the 17th century. Polar bears were hunted for their beautiful white coat, but now they are protected and hunting is regulated. The present population is an estimated 40,000.
Carnivora • Ursidae • Ursus maritimus
Height: 5 feet (1.5 m) at shoulders, 8–11 feet (2.5–3.4 m) standing
Weight: 650–1,700 pounds (295–790 kg)
Length: 6-l/2–8 feet (2–2.5 m)
Life Span: 20–25 years
Special Design Feature: The hairs of the polar bear’s coat insulate the body from the cold temperatures and act as a heat conductor.
Did You Know? The polar bear is a very good swimmer and can swim over 50 miles (80 km).