Polar bear

Latin Name
Ursus maritimus

Class
Mammals

Order
Carnivora

Description

The largest land-based predators on Earth, polar bears can reach up to 8 feet long and 1700 pounds in weight. Their distinctive white coat is actually composed of long, transparent hairs; the reflection of light on fur provides the white appearance. Small ears and a short tail help limit heat loss in the polar bear's icy environment while large paws assist them in paddling through the water.


 

Range

Polar bears make their homes on the ice of the Arctic Ocean, where they hunt seals and other blubber-rich prey. During summer, the bears can occasionally be found on islands and icy coastlines.


Status

This massive predator is classified as vulnerable. As the bears are dependent on ice to hunt their prey, global warming has left them with a shrinking habitat. Lincoln Park Zoo participates in the Polar Bear Species Survival Plan®, a shared conservation effort by zoos throughout the Association of Zoos and Aquariums.


Habitat

Polar bears inhabit the ice floes surrounding the North Pole. They can be found in Canada, Alaska and even the southern shores of Greenland and Iceland.


Niche

Polar bears are carnivorous, preying mostly on seals. They often lay in wait for their prey, staking out a seal’s breathing hole in the ice and attacking when the marine mammals resurface. Polar bears are strong swimmers and can head under the ice to sneak up on prey. The energy-rich blubber of seals provides polar bears with the nutrients they need to stay warm in their icy home.


Life History

Polar bears are solitary, coming together only to breed. After mating, females will dig snow dens to give birth to their litters of one–four cubs. Cubs are born blind and helpless, and they remain in the den for months as they mature. Even after leaving the den, cubs are dependent on their mother's care for two–three years. Male polar bears are known to prey on cubs, so females have to be vigilant in defending their young.


Special Adaptations
  • The polar bear's thick coat helps it to stay warm, and black skin beneath helps the species absorb heat. Beneath the skin, a sizable layer of blubber—up to five inches thick—helps the mammal stay warm.
  • In addition to insulation, the polar bear's coat provides camouflage as well. By blending into the snow of the Arctic, the predator is better able to stalk prey.
  • Thick fur on the polar bear's feet helps the species maneuver on the ice.


Bonus Content

Polar Bear Explores the Snow
As part of our Polar Bear Awareness Week celebration, here's a video of Anana enjoying the snow in her exhibit.


Female polar bear Anana at Lincoln Park Zoo

Field Note: Polar Bear
Learn some cool facts about this arctic carnivore’s breeding behavior and social interactions in the wild.

A mother polar bear with two cubs near Churchill, Manitoba. Anthony's Arctic experience, including this encounter, underscored the importance of working together to conserve this iconic species.

Polar Bear Day Q&A
We celebrate International Polar Bear Day with a special Q&A with Keeper Anthony Nielsen. He's traveled to the Arctic to assist climate research and works with fellow caregivers to raise awareness about the conservation impact of climate change.

Learn more about one of Lincoln Park Zoo’s top predators with this closer look at polar bear Anana.

All About Anana
Learn more about one of Lincoln Park Zoo’s top predators with this closer look at polar bear Anana.

Polar Plunge Slideshow
Anana, the zoo’s female polar bear, enjoys an autumn afternoon swim while searching for frozen fish treats tossed into her pool by keepers.

 


ARKive Media

ARKive video - Polar bear - overviewARKive image - Polar bear mother and cub sleepingARKive video - Immature male polar bears play fighting on the ice

ARKive is creating the ultimate multimedia guide to the world's endangered species.
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Lincoln Park Zoo Exhibit