Polar bears live in the crisp, brisk Arctic region. Ursus maritimus, its scientific name, means sea bear, as they are the only marine mammals in the world. The polar bears that exist today evolved from brown bear ancestors over 600,000 years ago. However, unlike brown bears, polar bears live in Northern frozen areas with lots of snow, rather than in temperate climates.
Ursus maritimus are most common in Canada, home to over 60% of the world’s polar bear population. They are also known to live in parts of Alaska, Greenland, Russia, and Norway.
Male polar bears weigh between 775 and 1200 pounds, while females measure 330 to 650 pounds. However, female polar bears who are expecting cubs may weigh 600 pounds.
Polar bears usually have two cubs. Single cubs and triplets can occur, depending on the mother’s condition and health. After birth, cubs spend the first couple years of their life with their mothers, learning how to hunt and survive in the harsh environment.
The fur of a polar bear is not actually white; it appears white by reflecting visible light. When wandering on land, their heavy fur prevents almost all of their heat from escaping their body. In the frigid water, they depend on their fat to keep them warm. Due the lack of fat in cubs, mothers keep their cub’s fur dry for warmth and survival.
Polar bear paws can measure one foot across, making it easier for them to walk on thin ice. Small bumps on their paws, known as papillae, prevent the bear from slipping. Bears use their pointed claws and sharp teeth to catch and eat ringed seals, their favorite prey.
It is believed that polar bears are very intelligent animals, potentially even smarter than apes. Polar bears smash ice blocks to reach frozen fish lodged inside. Polar bears are very strategic about the techniques they use to hunt their prey. They have extraordinary senses: smelling, hearing, vision.
Polar bears communicate through vocalization and body language. Loud noises, made with their voice, are often used to exhibit anger. When a bear stands on its hind legs and shakes its head it is showing that it is playful.
Contrary to popular belief, only pregnant polar bears hibernate during the winter months. Males and non-pregnant females are active throughout the year. Bears that hibernate stay in their den until March or April.Although the exact population of polar bears is unknown, it is estimated that the population is currently between 20,000 and 25,000 bears. The population is decreasing due to climate change melting the ice in the Arctic. Levels of greenhouse gas are rising because of human activities. People need to work together to reduce emissions so the polar bears can be saved before it is too late.