Protected from cold by a thick fur coat and a layer of blubber, the polar bear hunts seals in open areas in the Arctic sea ice.Astrong swimmer, the polar bear uses its large front paws as paddles. Its white fur blends in with the ice and snow as it stalks or still-hunts seals. Ringed seals are the polar bear's primary food, but it also consumes bearded seals, and occasionally walruses, belugas, narwhals, musk oxen, and carrion (dead terrestrial and marine mammals). Although largely carnivorous, when on land the polar bear may eat grasses, kelp, berries, and lichens. Males and nonpregnant females do not make dens or hibernate, but spend the winter hunting on the sea ice. The polar bear evolved from the terrestrial brown bear about 100,000 to 200,000 years ago. In captivity, polar bears and brown bears have interbred and produced fertile offspring. This shows a high degree of genetic relatedness. In nature, however, these two species are geographically isolated fromone another and would rarely meet. Swimming in icy water among the ice floes of the Arctic, quietly stalking a resting seal, then killing it with a crushing blow of its forepaw, the polar bear is an impressive example of an animal's ability to adapt to and live in one of the harshest environments on earth.
Physical Characteristics of Polar Bears
Male polar bears are up to five feet high at the shoulder while on all fours and up to ten feet long. When standing on its hind legs, a male can be eleven feet tall. Adult males are generally much bigger than females: 1,100 to 1,770 pounds for males, 330 to 770 pounds for females. Like other bears, polar bears are plantigrade. Mating takes place in late March to late May. This is the only time that the male is with the female. Other than family groups of females with their cubs, polar bears are solitary. Pregnant females dig snow or earth dens in which they will give birth to one to three cubs in late November to early January. The mother's milk is very rich, with an average fat content of 33 percent. The cubs, which weigh 1 to 1.5 pounds at birth, grow quickly and weigh 22 to 33 pounds when they emerge from the den with their mother in late February to early May. Polar bear cubs usually leave their mother at 2.5 years of age, at which time the mother is ready to breed again. Therefore, the female usually gives birth every third year.
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