Interesting facts about polar bears

An image of a polar bear and it's baby.

Early northern explorers were intrigued by the polar bear.

John Muir, an American naturalist, described it as:

 ‘a noble-looking animal and of enormous strength, living bravely and warm amid eternal ice.’

Though weighing from 1,000 to 1,400 pounds [450 to 640 kg], they are almost catlike in their agility.

One biologist said:

“They are like big cats. It is absolutely unbelievable how fast they are—oh, do they come fast.”

Mating and Denning

The male bear is no ‘family man.’

After mating, he leaves the female on her own with all the responsibility of rearing the cubs.

The fertilized egg inside the mother divides a number of times, then it remains dormant for the next four or five months.

When implantation occurs and growth begins, the female digs a snow den in the deepest drift she can find or an earthen one along the bank of a lake shore.

There she remains without food, neither urinating nor defecating until the end of March.

The den is well engineered.

From the entrance a tunnel slopes upward for six or seven feet [2 m] to the sizable living quarters.

Here her body heat is trapped, so that the den is often 40 degrees Fahrenheit [20° C.] warmer than the temperature outside.

A small opening in the roof allows stale air to escape.

A fresh floor covering is made, as needed, by trampling down snow scraped from the roof.

You would expect such a huge bear to give birth to sizable replicas of herself.

But the newborn cubs weigh only about a pound! [.5 kg]

They normally arrive sometime in December or early January.

Born blind and deaf, the cubs are covered with fuzzy wool except for the pads of their paws and their nose.

With sickle-shaped claws, they creep along the mother’s fur to suckle on her rich, creamy, cod-liver-oil-flavored milk.

Females usually bear twin cubs every three years in most regions of the North.

The cubs grow rapidly. At about 26 days, they hear their first sounds.

Seven days later their eyes open.

Natal fuzz turns into real fur, which has much greater density.

Toward the end of March, the family  emerges from the den into the sunshine of an Arctic spring.

With plenty of snow about, the cubs romp and tumble.

Finding a steep hillside, they slide down it on their fat little tummies, front paws and hind legs outstretched, into the waiting arms of mother below.

The cubs at times find it difficult to follow in their mother’s tracks through deep snow. The solution?

 Why, a piggyback ride!

 A photographer once saw female bears, who had been disturbed by a helicopter, fleeing with their cubs riding on their backs “like frightened little jockeys.”

Carefully, mother trains them for some two and a half years. Then she abandons them.

The young bears are now on their own.

Other Characteristics

According to an article in Life magazine,

“polar bears are the most powerful four-footed swimmers in the world.”

They can swim among ice floes across wide bays.

Since neither water nor ice crystals adhere to their oily fur, a good shake sends out a halo of droplets.

A roll in dry snow blots up any remaining moisture, and in a few minutes the coat is dry.

Scientists have only recently learned amazing secrets of the bear’s coat.

The way light is absorbed and reflected from it not only helps to keep the body warm but also gives the coat its dazzling white appearance.

But how do they find their way in the ever-changing Arctic seascape that contains few, if any, permanent features that might help them navigate?

According to the book Arctic Dreams, the bear,

“must have a map in its head . . . Memory is no help. How bears create and use such maps is one of the most intriguing of all the questions about them.”

They can wander for weeks and not get lost.

We hope you have enjoyed this visit with the giant bears of the North, which are reported to be among the ten “most popular” animals of the world.