OPEN 365 DAYS A YEAR & FREE

Location, Hours & Directions

OPEN 365 DAYS A YEAR & FREE

Location, Hours & Directions

Walter Family Arctic Tundra

Open Daily
Walter Family Arctic Tundra

Animals

Adapted to Rule the Arctic

Polar bears thrive in one of the coldest landscapes on Earth—the icy, frozen Arctic—thanks to some very special adaptations.

A Natural Coat for Cold Weather

Think Chicago is cold in winter? Arctic temperatures can dip down to -50 degrees Fahrenheit! Polar bears handle the cold—including regular dives into icy water—with dense fur and insulating blubber that can reach up to 4.5 inches thick.

Bumpy Feet Ensure a Good Grip

How do polar bears keep from slipping on the snow and ice? Sharp claws help, but the bears also keep their footing thanks to soft, tiny bumps on the bottom of their feet. These papillae, as they’re called, keep polar bears from slipping as they move across the ice.

A Good Nose for Prey

As the Arctic’s top predator, polar bears feed primarily on seals, whose fatty blubber provides plenty of energy. The predators use a strong sense of smell to locate the holes in the ice where seals will resurface to breathe.

Prowling and Pouncing

White fur helps polar bears blend in with snowy surroundings as they sneak up on prey. Once seals are within reach, polar bears use a speedy burst to reach prey, relying on 2-inch-thick claws to haul seals out of the water. Adult polar bears need to catch between 50–75 seals a year to survive.

Strong Swimmers

Large, paddle-like paws help them swim between ice floes, covering as much as 60 miles—and sometimes more—in a single trip! While polar bears are strong swimmers, they still need frozen sea ice to rest, rear cubs and hunt prey.

Infographic: Polar Bears Favor a Fatty Diet—on Ice!

These predators need sea ice—and healthy seal populations—to thrive. Learn how you can help Save Our Sea Ice with our friends from Polar Bears International

True or False

Test what you know about the Arctic’s top predators: polar bears!
Play

True or False

Polar bears and penguins live together.

The Answer Is

False
Next Question  >
Polar bears live in the Northern Hemisphere, specifically in the Arctic. Arctic comes from the Greek word for bear. Penguins live in the Southern Hemisphere, ranging from Africa and South America to Antarctica. Antarctic means “opposite of the Arctic” or “opposite of the bear.” Penguins are not found in the Arctic and wouldn’t encounter polar bears in the wild.

True or False

Some polar bears don’t eat during the summer.

The Answer Is

True
Next Question  >
Polar bears living in southern parts of their range, like Hudson Bay, are forced ashore during the summer by melting sea ice. Without sea ice, polar bears can’t hunt their prey—seals—and so they have to live off stored fat until sea ice forms again in the fall.

True or False

All polar bears hibernate through the winter.

The Answer Is

False
Next Question  >
Pregnant females come closest to hibernating, as they dig a snow den and remain out of sight until their young are born three months later. They don’t technically hibernate, though, because they don’t experience a drop in heart rate or body temperature. They live off fat reserves until the young are ready to come out of the den.

True or False

Polar bears are marine (or sea) animals.

The Answer Is

True
Next Question  >
The scientific name for polar bear is Ursus maritimus meaning “sea bear.” A polar bear’s life cycle is closely tied to the Arctic Ocean and the formation of sea ice. They are excellent swimmers that rely on sea ice to travel, hunt, breed and den.

True or False

Polar bears must snuggle up in snow banks to stay warm in cold temperatures.

The Answer Is

False
Next Question  >
Polar bears have two layers of fur and a thick layer of body fat to protect themselves against the cold of the Arctic. The average Arctic temperature in January and February is -29 F, but polar bears are easily able to maintain a body temperature of 98.6 F with their thick insulation. Polar bears have more problems with overheating than they do with becoming too cold!

True or False

Polar bears are omnivores.

The Answer Is

False
Next Question  >
Polar bears are the top carnivores in the Arctic. Their primary prey is seals, such as the ringed seal. Other food sources in the Arctic are unpredictable and don’t provide them the same high calories and fat content that seals do.

True or False

Both male and female polar bears help raise young cubs.

The Answer Is

False
Next Question  >
Polar bears are naturally solitary animals. Adult males and females only come together during breeding season. The closest relationship a female bear will have is with her cubs.

True or False

Polar bears can walk on thin ice.

The Answer Is

True
Next Question  >
Polar bears have paws that measure 12 inches across. This large surface area helps the bears distribute their weight on thin ice to prevent them from falling through. Paws are also equipped with bumps on the bottom called papillae and strong, thick claws that help them grip the ice to prevent slipping!

True or False

Polar bears have poor eyesight.

The Answer Is

False
Conclusion  >
Polar bears can see nearly as well as people. They even have a clear inner eyelid that protects their eyes and serves as a second lens when they are swimming underwater.

S.O.S. - Save Our Sea Ice

Want to do your part to protect polar bears and their wild habitat? Our friends at Polar Bears International have steps you can take to Save Our Sea Ice.

Play Again

360 View of Walter Family Arctic Tundra North Side

360 View of Walter Family Arctic Tundra North Side

What does the polar bear see from the heart of their exhibit? Pretend you’re a polar bear—drag the screen to get the their point of view!

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2001 North Clark Street • Chicago, IL 60614 • 312-742-2000

2001 North Clark Street • Chicago, IL 60614 Get Map/Directions Call 312-742-2000