Polar bears live in the frozen wastelands of the far north, managing to eek an existence in one of the harshest environments on the planet, but aside from the fact they are large, white and quite fluffy, what other interesting facts about polar bears are there and should you have the opportunity to visit their home, are they dangerous?
1. Unlike other bear species, the polar bear spends most of his life at sea, hunting his favourite food: seals. Polar bears tend to spend their time on the pack ice during the winter months, hunting seals along the edges of the frozen sea ice, but once the ice begins to retreat with the onset of the warmer temperatures, they can end up stranded on land for a few months.
2. Polar bears are excellent swimmers, which is why they are more than at home in the sea rather than land. Polar bears can reach speeds of 6mph when swimming and an adult polar bear has the stamina to swim hundreds of miles through the freezing water.
3. We tend to think of a polar bear as being snowy white, but a polar bear’s hair is actually clear rather than white: the clear hairs reflect the light, which makes the bears appear white in their natural environment. It is also normal for older bears to have a yellowish cast to their coats.
4. Although a polar bear’s favourite meal is a nice, fat seal, he is very much an opportunist when it comes to seeking out a meal. A hungry polar bear will eat anything, from a rotting whale carcass to birds and berries. And as man encroaches on the world of the polar bear, it is not uncommon for hungry bears to go scavenging through human refuse in search of food scraps.
5. Polar bears are the largest species of bear in the world. An adult polar bear can grow up to 1500 pounds in weight, although female polar bears are only around half the size of males, and it is their size combined with deadly speed on and off land which makes them a ferocious predator.
6. Polar bears have an excellent sense of smell and they can detect a tasty seal from almost a mile away. They also know when a seal is in the vicinity of breathing holes in the ice, which is why a patient polar bear is happy to spend a few hours waiting for an unwitting seal to emerge for a breath of fresh air.
7. A female polar bear only produces cubs every three years, and if she is suffering from a lack of food sources or is stressed in any way, she will not be receptive to mating.
8. A polar bear’s liver contains dangerously high levels of Vitamin A. This appears to cause the polar bear no ill effects, but it is very dangerous for humans who hunt and kill polar bears for food—for a long time, polar bear liver meat was the cause of illness or death in Arctic explorers and their sled dogs.
9. Polar bears are often viewed as aggressive predators, but they also have a playful side. Although the polar bear is largely a solitary animal, adolescent and adult males have been observed indulging in exuberant play and at least one zoologist has described the friendships between male bears.
10. Polar bears have no natural predators—except man.