Arctic National Wildlife Refuge

Arctic National Wildlife Refuge

Species Spotlight: Polar Bear

February 23, 2012, 2:11 pm

Polar Bear mother and cubs in the ArcticFeb. 27 is International Polar Bear Day! To celebrate these majestic mammals, we feature them in this month’s Species Spotlight.

Polar bears are kings of the Arctic. They’re at the top of the arctic food chain and are the largest predatory mammals on land. Adult males weigh from about 775 to 1,200 pounds and can be as tall as 10 feet when standing on hind legs. In the wild, polar bears live between 20 to 30 years.

Polar bears live near the Arctic Circle and can be found in Canada and on Alaskan public lands such as the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and Bering Land Bridge National Preserve. They’re built for the icy temperatures. Two layers of thick fur and a thick layer of fat keep the bears insulated. Wide paws help evenly distribute their weight on ice and act as paddles for swimming. Small bumps on the bottom of their paws, called papillae, help grip the ice. Their trademark white fur serves as camouflage.

A polar bear diet consists mainly of seals. Seals’ plentiful blubber helps polar bears build up fat reserves and get the proper amount of calories. Polar bears hunt seals through openings in the ice by grabbing or biting the seals and bringing them onto the ice to feed.

Females settle into their den around November and don’t emerge until the spring. During this time they don’t eat or drink. Cubs stay with their mother for two and a half years before venturing out alone.

In 2008 polar bears were placed on the threatened species list. Polar bear habitat is in danger due to melting ice caps from rapid climate change. As sea ice melts, it’s harder for polar bears to find sufficient food and make dens. The only predators of polar bears are humans.  You can help by reducing your carbon footprint or adopting a polar bear.

FUN FACTS

Polar bears have black skin! The black skin absorbs sunlight better and helps keep them warm. Their tongue is also black.

The closest relative to the polar bear is the brown bear.

There are 19 different polar bear populations.

Mothers usually give birth to twin cubs.

Photo: U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service

By Erica Sanderson