From nature documentary to a cola bottle, the polar bear is an iconic animal. But how much do you really know about the polar bear? Is it really as big as the rumors say? How does it survive the harsh climate of the Arctic year after year? We’re here to answer all these and more.
1. The polar bear’s scientific name Ursus maritimus means “maritime bear”.
Even though polar bears are born on land, they spend most of their life in the sea swimming between ice floes, and hunting for seals.
2. The symbol of the Great White North, isn’t actually white.
Their thick clear fur reflects the white snow, allowing them to blend in with their surroundings and stay warm in the cold Arctic winter. But their skin is actually black. You can see this black skin on their nose and mouth, and on the pads of their paws.
3. Polar bears are the biggest land carnivores… on the planet.
We often think of the African safari as being home to the world’s largest land predator. But in truth it’s the Arctic safari that holds the title. Followed closely by the grizzly bear, the polar bear takes the number one position with males weighing up to 700 kg (1,500 lbs) and when standing on his hind legs can be over 2 metres (9 ft.) tall.
4. The polar bear’s nose warms up the air as it breathes.
Unlike other bears, polar bears have an elongated snout, which is perfectly adapted to warm up cold arctic air before entering their lungs.
5. Polar bears can smell prey a kilometre away. And sometimes even under ice!
6. A polar bear has never met a penguin.
Contrary to images found on pop cans, polar bears are only found in the Arctic, while penguins can only be found in the southern hemisphere including Antarctica. It’s an adorable animal relationship that was never meant to be.
7. Looks like it’s twins!
On average, polar bears give birth to two cubs at a time.
8. Pizzly’s are real.
Due to changing climates, scientists have witnessed polar bears moving further south, and meeting Grizzly bears who have been expanding their habitat north. The two bears are close enough related that they’ve been successfully breeding and creating a whole new bear species: the pizzly.
9. The Arctic actually gets its name from the polar bear, not the other way around.
The Greek word for Arctic (arktikos) is derived from arktos, meaning “bear”. This also means that Antarctica roughly translates to “no bears”!
10. It’s more than fur that keeps polar bears warm.
Polar bears are brilliantly adapted animals to the Arctic climate. The outermost layer of their fur contains guard hairs that can grow 15cm long. Below that is their thick underfur that traps in body heat and air for added insulation. And finally, polar bears use their incredible tick skin, and large pockets of blubber to stay cozy during Arctic blizzards.
11. Polar bears can be found around the Arctic Circle in Greenland, Norway, Russia, and the United States, but Canada has the highest population by far.
12. The Inuktitut name for polar bear is nanuq (pronounced: nan-ook)
13. Polar bears are incredibly patient.
Their most common form of hunting is referred to as “still-hunting” where they patiently wait next to a breathing hole for a seal to pop up. Sometimes they’re waiting for hours, with only 2 out of 10 hunts being successful.