DO THE BOOBY!
Don't be fooled by these laid-back balls of fur. Polar bears are powerful, meat-eating animals! Turn the page to find out more.
Polar bears are great swimmers. They often swim 10 miles (16 km) without stopping. The bears jump into the water to cool off--or just for fun! Seven-month-old cubs (see photo above) love a swim--as long as Mom's nearby.
AT HOME ON THE ICE
A polar bear spends months wandering across the frozen surface of the arctic seas (below). Why? It's usually looking for a meal. Often bears have to make their way over slushy, thin, or cracked ice. To avoid falling through, they straddle tricky spots--just as the bear here is doing. Or on really thin ice, they crawl with all four legs spread out!
A polar bear's feet are extra wide, like snowshoes. This helps the bear spread its weight out evenly--and keeps it from sinking into snow. Lots of fur and leathery, bumpy pads on the bottoms of its feet help give a non-slip grip on ice.
The polar bear's scientific name is Ursus maritimus. It means "sea bear." And this name fits. Polar bears live on, in, or near the frozen arctic seas.
ARE THEY BIG?
You bet! A large polar bear is one awesome creature. It weighs about as much as eight grown men. If it stood up in your room, its head would poke right through the ceiling.
THE BETTER TO CATCH YOU
Polar bears often hunt for seals that are under the ice. The bears can't see their prey, so how do they catch them? They wait near a hole where seals come up for a breath of air (above). A long, thin face and neck help a bear squeeze way down into an air hole.
With luck, a seal will pop up soon! (right) But the bear will wait for hours if it has to.
MIGHTY TEETH AND LEGS
When a seal comes to the surface, wompf! The bear uses its huge teeth to bite the seal's head and neck. It then hangs on and drags its catch up through the breathing hole. Now it's mealtime!
NOT FUSSY EATERS
When the hunting is good, polar bears eat their fill of seals. (Ringed seals are their favorite.) Other times, the bears hunt walrus pups and beluga whales. From time to time, they'll snack on birds or seaweed.
How does a polar bear survive in its icy-cold world? Well, it's built tough! A thick layer of fat, called blubber, acts as insulation. The blubber holds in the bear's own body heat. Two layers of toasty-warm fur help too. If anything, polar bears get overheated, not chilly!
A polar bear's white fur blends right in with the snow and ice all around it. This helps the bear sneak up on seals resting on the ice.
"SEALED" WITH A SNIFF
A polar bear would be lost without its sniffer! The bear's sense of smell is as good as a dog's--good enough to catch the scent of a seal half a mile or so away.
HARDLY ANY ENEMIES
A polar bear has few enemies--aside from other polar bears. Once in a while, wolves may attack cubs, and walruses may kill a swimming bear. More often, people kill polar bears for their meat or hides.
Young bears often rough-house for hours (above). The playful bears rear up. Then they shove, box, and pretend to bite each other--like frisky puppies. This play-fighting prepares young male bears for later battles. When they're grown they'll battle other males for real. The winner will mate with nearby females.
WHERE THE BEARS ARE
Polar bears live on and around the sea ice of the Arctic. In a few places, such as the town of Churchill, the ice melts every summer. There the bears move onto land. But to the north, the bears find ocean that is frozen year-round.
Where polar bears live Churchhill Hudson Bay
In the fall, a soon-to-be mom makes a den. A favorite spot is a hillside near the sea. Here she claws out a cozy home in the snow or cool earth. Then she crawls in and goes into a deep sleep.
A few months later, the mom gives birth. She can have one, two, or three cubs at a time. Twins are the most common. Mom and her cubs stay in the den, safe from the worst of the winter weather.
Newborn cubs are tiny, toothless, and totally helpless. Each one weighs just over a pound (450 g)--as much as an adult squirrel. Their eyes are closed, and they have very thin hair and no blubber. To keep warm, they snuggle up against Mom.
Mom nurses her cubs often. By the first month or so, the cubs have opened their eyes. Soon, they have some teeth and a coat of thick, white fur.
By early spring, the cubs are ready to leave the den. They weigh about 30 pounds (13.5 kg) each--around the same as a cocker spaniel. They follow Mom out into the big, snowy world. There she keeps a close watch on her babies and protects them from danger. And she often stops to let them nurse. Then it's nap time--for some, anyway! (above)
JUST HAVIN' FUN
The little cubs soon discover how to have fun. They chase each other. They leap headfirst into pools of melted ice. And they slide down slopes on their backs, spread-eagle style (right).
LEARNING THE BASICS
Most cubs stay with their mom for two and a half years. They follow after her, copying her every move. She teaches them where and how to hunt. She shows them how to handle thin ice, blizzards, rough seas, and other dangers. With luck, the cubs will remember all their mom has taught them. And they'll grow into great white sea bears just like her!
Here a Bear, There a Bear . . .
Every fall the area around Churchill, a town in Manitoba, Canada, is invaded by polar bears. Churchill sits on the shores of Hudson Bay. Most of the year the bay is covered with ice, and that's where the bears stay. But in late summer the ice melts, so the bears come ashore. They hang around the coast in and near Churchill until the bay freezes up again.
Thousands of tourists come to Churchill to see the great white sea bears. The people climb aboard bear-proof buses called tundra buggies to get a better look (left). But wait, who's checking out whom here?