Species: Polar bear (Ursus maritimus)
Status: Vulnerable (VU)
Interesting Fact: The polar bear is the largest living land carnivore.
Polar bears show some amazing adaptations to their Arctic life, with their thick fur and non-retractable claws that dig into the snow like ice-picks. Using their heightened sense of smell, they are also able to detect prey that are almost a kilometre away and hidden under a metre of compacted snow. The main prey of the polar bear is the ringed seal, and, to a lesser degree, the bearded seal. Seals are captured when they surface to breathe, or are hunted in their lairs under the snow, where the young seals are nurtured. Polar bears breed from late March to late May, and, after mating, the female polar bear delays implantation of the fertilised egg until mid-September to mid-October. Polar bear cubs are born in a snow den two to three months later, and the female cares for the cubs for around 2.5 years.
Climate Change: The polar bear is dependent on sea ice for its survival, but climate change is causing drastic reductions in the extent of ice cover across the Arctic region. This reduces the polar bear’s access to prey, forcing them to spend more time on land and rely on stored fat reserves. Less food also means bears will give birth to fewer, smaller young.
For more information on climate change, visit ARKive’s climate change pages.
Becky Moran, ARKive Species Text Author