Polar bears (or Ursus Maritimus – to give them their posh Latin name) can be found pretty much anywhere inside the Arctic Circle – Canada, Russia, Greenland etc, and are the largest living land carnivore with males coming in at 400-600kg and females at 200-300kg. On average, their heights are an incredible 8.5 feet (males) and 6.5 feet (females).
Here are a few more facts about the Polar bear:
- Polar bears have non-retractable claws that act like ice-picks and the soles of their feet act like suction cups to make life easier for getting about on the ice.
- They have dark skin underneath a layer of dense ‘underfur’ and an outer layer of ‘guard’ hairs (which is what we see when we look at a polar bear). The guard hairs are transparent and hollow and reflect the light which gives the illusion of colour.
- Their noses are pretty impressive too. They can smell their prey from nearly 2/3 of a mile away and up to 1 metre beneath the snow.
- Their prey is mainly ringed seals or bearded seals, although polar bears have been known to chow down on walruses, belugas, narwhals, waterfowl and seabirds should the need or opportunity arise, so it helps that they are good swimmers They can swim an average speed of 6mph and have been known to swim up to 100miles!
- Polar bears have the ability to switch their metabolic rate down from its ‘normal’ state to a slowed down hibernation-like condition; although they don’t actually hibernate, but they do ‘den’ to avoid bad weather and females ‘den’ with their young. Some females will build dens with more than one ‘room’ and even have a ventilation system in the roof
- Polar bears breed from late March to late May. Females meed to mate alot over several weeks to induce ovulation (and then fertilisation). This can often mean pairs staying together for up to 2weeks to ensure success. Implantation of the fertilised eggs is delayed until mid-september to mid-october and the female gives birth approx. 3months later
New genetic evidence suggests that polar bears ‘split’ from its ancestor the brown bear about 600,000 years ago during the Pleistocene period. The polar bears lack of genetic diversity (it’s ‘made’ to live in the Arctic and nowhere else) suggests that changes in environment such as warm phases, led to dramatic falls in numbers at times (polar bears over heat at temperatures above 10C/50F), but nothing like the numbers we’ve seen now.