Polar Bear

By: Jibu Banerji, Alex Donner, and Levi Smith

The polar bear is the largest meat eating land dweller in the world.

Male polar bears reach their full size when they are 8 to 10 years old. Then they measure 8 to 11 feet and weigh more than 1,000 pounds. The necks, skulls, and bodies of polar bears are longer than brown bears. Polar bears have short tails, short furry ears, and sharp teeth. Polar bears have 12 inch front paws. Their toes are partially webbed to help them swim. Polar bears' back paws are smaller. They have pads of fur on the soles of their feet. This fur helps protect them from the cold. Polar bears have short, thick claws. Polar bears' sense of smell is so keen that they can smell a seal den covered by a thick layer of snow and ice. They can hear and see just about as well as humans. A polar bear climbs onto the ice. Like a dog, polar bears dry off by shaking the water from their hair. They also swim like dogs, paddling with their front paws.

Polar bears live in the Arctic. Between 3,000 and 4,000 polar bears live along the northern coast of Alaska. Canada has about 155,000. The polar bears like areas near the shore where pack ice forms. In the winter it becomes too cold for all polar bears, so bears migrate when the weather changes.

Mother polar bears and their cubs usually spend the winter in dens on land. In the spring, they return to the ice to hunt seals. When they migrate, polar bears often travel hundreds of miles. But they usually return each year to the same areas where they learned to hunt as young cubs.

Polar bears feed mainly on seals. Ringed seals are the most important source of food for the polar bears . They also prey on bearded seals and sometimes a belugas or walrus. Polar bears hunt seals on the ice that floats on the Arctic ocean. They wait or stalk them while they rest on the ice. The seal is killed by a crushing blow to it's thin skull. Polar bears eat everything, they cannot afford to leave anything edible behind. In autumn, polar bears will patrol the coastal areas for whale or walrus carcasses. Sometimes ten to twenty bears may be found feeding together. At this time of year, their diet is more varied, including such land mammals as lemmings, Arctic foxes, and eider duck. Like most bears, polar bears also eat vegetation.

The mother normally digs the den and enters it in October. Drifts soon covers the entrance. A narrow vent lets in fresh air. The cubs, usually twins, are born in December or January. A baby polar bear weighs about a pound and is small enough to hold in your hand. It cannot see or hear , and it has only a thin layer of hair. Female polar bears have four mammary glands. They nurse their cubs in a sitting position, or lying down on their side or back. The cubs grow fast, sucking their mothers fat-rich milk. Polar bear cubs stay with their mother until they are old enough to hunt for themselves. When spring, comes the cubs, which now weigh 20-pounds, follow their mother outside. During their first summer the cubs get hunting lessons. They go everywhere with their mother. Most polar bear cubs live with their mother for one or two winters.

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