Bears are known for their large claws and fur-covered bodies. Some of them swim, while others like to climb trees. Bears are divided into eight species, each with a conservation status ranging from threatened to least concern. Depending on the species, South America, North America, Europe, Asia, and the northernmost polar regions are viable bear habitats. For one, the striking polar bear, also known as The Rider of Icebergs, is the King of the Arctic. Hence, this leaves many of us wondering, are there also polar bears in Antarctica?
Background On Polar Bears
Polar bears are the world’s largest bear species and massive land-based carnivores, despite spending most of their lives near water and ice. And although the Arctic and Antarctica ecosystems are similar in many ways, only the Arctic is home to polar bears. Even scientists are stumped by what might happen if they relocate polar bears to Antarctica, and if history has taught us anything, it will almost certainly be disastrous. In this article, we will explore the habitats of polar bears, their diets, and other interesting facts.
Are There Bears in Antarctica?
The short answer is a resounding no. Polar bears, or any species of bear, cannot be found in Antarctica. While the Arctic and Antarctica have certain similarities, they are home to quite distinct organisms. Although both poles include a variety of seal and whale species, the polar bear lives only in the Arctic. Scientists can only make educated estimates, but according to the most recent IUCN study, there are roughly 26,000 of them. And then, another more recent study (Hamilton & Derocher, 2018) found approximately 23,000 polar bears.
Polar bears (Ursus maritimus) and their cute cubs thrive around the Arctic Circle in Alaska, Canada, Greenland (part of Denmark), Norway, Russia, and, on rare occasions, Iceland. To the frustration of many experts, many believe the popular notion that polar bears roam the world’s southernmost continent. Here’s an idea of why polar bears do not live in Antarctica: The ocean that ringed Pangaea surged into the crevices between the now separate land masses when the Earth’s tectonic plates eventually broke apart the supercontinent. The tremendous force of the sea pushed the continents apart, finally settling in the areas depicted on maps today.
Following the breakup of Pangaea, a subspecies of the brown bear was isolated to the northern Laurasian continent. That species evolved into the polar bear to survive in the frigid northern regions where their ancestors landed. It is why the Arctic Circle is the polar bear’s natural habitat.
What Do Bears in the Arctic Look Like?
Polar bears sport white fur, which helps them blend in with their environment. Their coat is so highly camouflaged in Arctic conditions that it can pass for a snowdrift. The polar bear’s coat is unique in that it lacks white pigment; its skin is black, and its hairs are hollow. They also have a double-layered coat that keeps them warm while swimming and protects them from the harsh Arctic air.
Polar bears are also the world’s largest bears, with only the Kodiak bear (a brown bear subspecies) coming close to matching their size. Adult males often weigh between 350 and 600 kilos (775 to more than 1,300 pounds). Female adults are typically lighter, weighing 150 to 295 kilograms (330 to 650 pounds). When measuring bears on all fours, scientists commonly refer to their height at the shoulder. Adult polar bears typically reach 1–1.5 meters (3.3-5 ft), and an adult male can even reach over three meters (10 feet) when standing on its hind legs.
What Do Bears in the Arctic Eat?
The polar bear is the bear family’s most carnivorous member. Seals, particularly the fat of ringed seals, which has a high calorific content, are a polar bear’s staple food. It allows them to have a thick layer of fat on their bodies for insulation and energy storage when food is limited. Polar bears have a keen sense of smell, which comes in handy when hunting, and they can smell the breathing hole of a seal from a mile away. Male polar bears also hunt larger bearded seals. When mature bears are in good form, they solely eat the blubber to build up the fat reserves they need to survive between meals. Scavengers such as arctic foxes, ravens, and other bears eat the carcass.
Other food that polar bears may consume are less predictable. Except for walruses and whales, most of these meals are insufficient calories to maintain the polar bear’s large body size or build up its fat reserves.
Are Bears in the Arctic Dangerous?
Although clumsy and fluffy in appearance, polar bears are dangerous. They are not naturally aggressive, but they’ve grown large enough to regard humans as food. They’re twice the size of a Siberian tiger and are frequently hungry and desperate. Polar and grizzly bears are vicious creatures that have been known to assault and kill people. They have 42 teeth, including very sharp 2-inch canines. Their teeth are used to bite into blubbery seals and remove massive chunks of meat for consumption.
Polar bears are also dangerous since they’re skilled apex predators, capable of outrunning humans and knocking their heads off with a stroke of their pawed fist. That is to say, as cute as the polar bear is, it is effectively the great white shark of the North. Its nose can smell you from miles away, its paws grip ice and snow better than your shoes, and despite its size, it’s a swift predator on land and sea. If you see one, it can smell you and knows you’re there.
What Animals Thrive in Antarctica?
The penguin is Antarctica’s national symbol, and the entire penguin family represents this harsh region. Most of its wildlife are extremophiles or unusual critters that have evolved to thrive in settings where most other animals would perish. Among the most well-known animals found in Antarctica are penguins, leopard seals, and killer whales.
The photo featured at the top of this post is © Mario_Hoppmann/Shutterstock.com
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