Polar bears (Ursus maritimus) are carnivorous marine mammals that prowl the ice sheets and coastal waters of the Arctic region. They have developed several key adaptations to thrive in the harsh cold of their northern habitat, including a thick, insulating layer of fat and a coat of white fur that not only provides camouflage in snow and ice, but also extends to the bottom of their paws to provide additional grip. Polar bears are excellent swimmers because of their elongated bodies and strong front paws, and are able to cross distances of up to several hundreds of kilometers in water. The animals have no natural enemies and primarily hunt for seals along the edges of the ice where their prey surface to breathe, but they are also known to feed on land mammals or the carcasses of whales. After mating in spring, female polar bears set out to gain weight and dig a den in the snow, where they enter a hibernation-like state and give birth in winter, generally to a litter of two cubs. They raise their young for a period of approximately two and a half years without the help of males, boldly protecting them against the elements and threats, such as wolves and other polar bears.
Information sources: National Geographic, WWF
Image: Polar bear roaming sea ice in Nunavut, Canada. Credit: Ansgar Walk, Wikimedia Commons.