Polar Bear

Polar Bear

[ Ursus maritimus ]

Quick Facts


HEIGHT:  up to 12 feet when standing

male: 770 to 1,430 pounds or more; female: 385 to 660 pounds

WILD DIET: ringed seals, bearded seals, walruses, beluga whales, sea birds, fish, carcasses of marine mammals, vegetation, and berries
ZOO DIET: Natural Balance Zoo Carnivore diet (beef), Herring, lettuce, carrots, hard boiled eggs, and dog chow.
DISTRIBUTION: coastal plains surrounding the North Pole, including Canada, Russia, Greenland, Norway, and the United States
HABITAT: pack ice on and between coasts and islands; open water between ice floes


Bear in the Water

Extreme bears
Most everything about polar bears is extreme. They are the most carnivorous of bears, eating A LOT of meat. They live farther north than any other bear, and they live in the harshest habitatthe sea ice and snow of the Arctic. They are the best swimmers of all bears, crossing miles of open ocean with ease. And, they are the largest of all bears---in fact, they are the largest land carnivores in the world!

Polar bear profile
Polar bear fur appears to be almost pure white, which camouflages them in a snowy environment. Sometimes the fur has a yellowish hue, which comes from the oil of seals they hunt, or from exposure to the sun. Polar bears are long-necked, with a head that looks a little too small for the body. Compared to their chunky brown bear relatives, polar bears are slender and longer (up to ten feet, not counting the tiny tail). Really big males can weigh 1,700 pounds or even more. Most tip the scales at around 1,000 pounds.

Northern exposure
Polar bears are well-adapted the subzero cold of the far north. They use the layered approach to staying warm: dense fur covers every inch of their body except the soles of their feet and their nose. The fur, which is made up of colorless, hollow hair, traps the warming sunlight. Their fur is also water repellent, which keeps icy water away from their body. Under the coat is black skin
that maximizes the absorption of the sun’s feeble northern rays. And below the skin is a thick layer of fat that helps keep their body heat from escaping.

Hunting gear
Polar bears hunt in and around ice and frigid water. They have adaptations for surviving cold, but they are well-equipped for hunting, too. Their arms are massive and end in paws nearly 12 inches across. Their main weapons are formidable: powerful jaws with long canine teeth, and exceptionally sharp claws.

Polar bears sense of smell is so keen that they can smell prey from 30 miles away! Travelling such a great distance over pack ice is no problem. Their broad feet spread out the bear’s weight as it moves over ice and snow---like snowshoes. When prey is closer, their coloration camouflages them against the snowy background. Unlucky seals or sea birds don’t see the bear until it’s too late.

Often, polar bears hunt by simply waiting next to a seal’s breathing hole in the ice. When the seal surfaces to breathe, the bear grabs it and pulls it through the ice.

Dinner for one
In the Arctic, food sources are few and far between. A polar bear needs lots of food to keep its big body going. When a bear makes a kill, it eats as much as it can as quickly as it can---as much as 150 pounds at a time! By gorging this way, a bear produces the body heat needed to survive the cold.

With food scarce, it’s not surprising that polar bears live alone most of the time. It’s hard enough finding food for one polar bear, much less two. Sometimes they’ll congregate when there’s a whale carcass washed up and food is plentiful enough for everyone. But more often than not, a polar bear’s menu is "seal for one."

Chicago Zoological Society/Brookfield Zoo is accredited by the Alliance of Marine Mammal Parks and Aquariums.

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Conservation Fund of the Chicago Zoological Society