10 Profound Polar Bear Facts
They’re cute, they’re cuddly, they’ll eat your face off – polar bears are the undisputed kings and queens of the north. As one of the major draws of Artic cruises, they’re almost always on the must-see list of northern-bound adventurers.
While seeing one in the furry flesh is cool, there’s actually way more going on under their shaggy exteriors than just their growling good looks. Here are just 10 quick trivia tidbits concerning Ursus maritimus.
1. Polar bear fur isn’t actually white.
A Polar bear’s fur is actually pretty much transparent, and the skin under all that fluffiness is actually black like their noses. So why do they appear to be white?
There are actually two layers of polar bear fur. The inner layer is shorter and thicker. The outer layer has longer strands of up to 15cm. These longer strands are actually somewhat like needles in that they’re hollow in their middles. This hollow space contains mostly air for buoyancy and warmth, with a sprinkling of light-scattering particles shifting around inside them. Additionally, sea salt particles get caught between the hairs.
When Mr. Sun shines his light down some of it bounces around inside the hollow portion of the longer hairs it hits those drifting particles, scattering the light’s colours like a prism. Scatter the light enough and voila! You have a shimmering whiteness where no whiteness actually exists.
2. They’re the biggest bears.
The biggest of the big, male Polar bears can reach up to 3 metres (about 10 feet) when they rear up on their hind legs. They can weigh up to 545 or so kg (1,200 pounds) – roughly the same as up to 7 adult men.
3. Reindeer can see them better than we can.
Going back to point #1 – just because we see Polar bears as being white doesn’t mean everything else does too. Reindeer, for example, can see into the ultraviolet range, which means the bears have a much harder time hiding in the snowy environment when trying to sneak up on Donner and Blitzen as opposed to when they prey on Ralph and Bob from Miami, Florida.
4. Polar bears can fast for months.
If a Polar bear has a trouble finding its next meal over the space of a week or more, it is able to deliberately slow its metabolism so that it can survive off of its stored fat.
5. Polar bears don’t hibernate.
The closest that a Polar bear comes to hibernation is when a mother builds a den so she can give birth and raise her cubs. Mama bears have been known to go for up to 3 months without drinking, eating, or defecating.
6. They can go a long way between meals.
Not only do Polar bears sometimes have to go a long time between one lunch and the next, they sometimes have to travel (via swimming) over 100 km before they can find something to munch on.
7. Those cute noses make for excellent sniffers.
Polar bears can smell seals or other unfortunate critters up to 32 km (20 miles) away. They can even smell the breathing holes seals create in the ice from almost 1 km (.5 miles-ish) away.
8. They’re sleepy.
All that travelling for food can make for some sleepy bears. Polar bears can spend up to 20 hours a day taking a nap or otherwise just chilling out on the ice.
9. Polar bears come with their own socks.
Well, sort of. As you can imagine, things can get kind of slippery out there on the Arctic ice. It makes it can of hard to tackle lunch if you’re sliding all over the place. So polar bears (and some other Arctic animals) have developed short bristly fur on the pads of their feet that helps grip the surface. Added bonus – the feet fur also helps muffle the noise of their stealth attacks.
10. Polar bears like Arctic cruises too.
Polar bears spend almost all of their time at solitary and at sea. The only real exception is when females become pregnant and head onto solid ground to carve out a den.