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Wild Things: The Polar Bear

Polar bear looking for that can of Coke.
Courtesy of Karen Foley
Two polar bears playing in the mud together.
Courtesy of Karen Foley
This polar bear isn't up to much.
Courtesy of Karen Foley

Polar bears are the world's largest land predators. They are at the top of the food chain in the North Pole and dine mostly on seals and Coca-Cola. Just kidding, although the seal part is true, the Coke part isn't.

Polar bears live throughout the Arctic. The five areas known as 'polar bear nations' are Alaska, Canada, Russia, Greenland and Norway. Because polar bears never seem to be happy in one spot, people thought they were aimless wanderers. But their wandering is anything but aimless. The place a polar bear considers home depends on how much food is in the area. Polar bears living in an area packed with lots of ice and seals will have a smaller territory and therefore don't roam as much.

The Weighty Issues

An adult male weighs anywhere from 775 pounds to more than 1,500 pounds. Female polar bears are much smaller and normally weigh 330 to 550 pounds. Although they are smaller, females don't get pushed around. Male polar bears have been seen running in terror from a mother defending her cubs.

The Truth about Deaths

The 'Polar Bear Capital of the World' is Churchill, Manitoba, Canada, which was established in 1771. This town has had polar bears stroll into trailers, homes, onto porches and even a legion so a lot of people have probably been killed, right? Wrong!. Despite the number of scary encounters, only two locals have ever been killed by polar bears.

  • In all of Canada, only seven people have been killed by polar bears in the past 30 years.
  • In Alaska, during the same time period, only one person was killed.
  • In all recorded history, only 19 people have been killed by polar bears in Russia.
  • In each case where a human was killed by a polar bear, the animal was starving or had been provoked.

Myths

Have you heard that these great white bears are lefty's? Scientists studying the animals haven't seen a preference. Polar bears seem to use their right and left paws about the same.

Another myth you might have heard is that polar bears use objects, like blocks of ice, to kill their food. Not true. This belief probably comes from fruitless attempts at hunting. After failing to catch a seal, a frustrated and angry polar bear may kick the snow, slap the ground or even hurl chunks of ice. In other words they have temper tantrums.

Have you ever seen pictures of penguins and polar bears hanging out like best buds? This image is popular in children's books. Polar bears live only in the North Pole.
They have never seen penguins,
which live only in the South Pole.

Fun Facts

  • Polar bears are considered a marine mammal. Maybe because they spend just as much time on ice as they do on land.
  • Even though our eyes tell us differently, a polar bear's fur is not white. Each hair is completely color free and transparent with a hollow core. Polar bears look white because the hollow core scatters and reflects visible light, just like ice and snow does. When photographed with film sensitive to ultraviolet light, polar bears appear black.
  • A polar bear is so well bundled-up that it loses almost no heat. In addition to its thick fur, the bear's blubber can be up to 4.5 inches thick. In fact, they're so well insulated that adult males quickly overheat when they run.
  • When the ice is very thin, polar bears crawl on their bellies to keep from breaking the ice and falling in. By crawling, the bears spread out their weight more evenly.

Have you had an encounter with a polar bear? Have you heard any other myths about these great white bears?

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Comments

alexiarina123

alexiarina123 wrote:

polar bears aren't the largest land animal....................elephants are
commented: Wed Aug 20, 2014

kep7hk

kep7hk wrote:

Aww
commented: Sat Dec 15, 2012

mainmuffin

mainmuffin wrote:

Sooooo cute! and sad...
commented: Wed Aug 29, 2012

there are 3 more comments

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