A mother polar bear gives birth for the first time when she’s 5 or 6 years old to one to three cubs (usually twins), in the month of November or December. She’s the sole caregiver to her fur babies. But her job’s not all hard work! These extremely intelligent animals have a playful side.
2. Out in the worldAndreAnita/Shutterstock
A polar bear mom gets ready to give birth by fattening up on seals, then digging a snow den in a drift; she hangs out in there until she gives birth a couple months later. She nurses her babies snuggled up inside, away from predators, where it can be 40 degrees warmer than it is outside. Sometime around March, the young bears are ready to emerge.
3. The family that sticks together stays warm togetherSergey Uryadnikov/Shutterstock
The polar bear (Ursus maritimus) is one of only eight species of bear worldwide. Unlike its black and brown bear cousins, it thrives on the ice and snow—thanks to its special coat made of long hairs that stick together when wet to provide insulation and cause moisture to roll right off. It also has a second snuggly undercoat of fur and black skin that absorbs heat from the sun.
4. Into the water!Sylvie Bouchard/Shutterstock
Polar bears are excellent swimmers. They can paddle up to 6 miles an hour, and travel as far as 60 miles, using their front paws to pull them through the water and their back paws as rudders. Their stores of fat keep them extra warm.
5. Adrift on the open seaFloridaStock/Shutterstock
Polar bears may swim to stalk seals for their dinner, but mostly they hunt them from on top of the ice. These biggest of all land predators can sniff out their prey from 20 miles away; they can then stand for hours waiting for it to surface before grabbing it with their powerful paws and jaws.
6. Bears just wanna have funGreen Mountain Exposure/Shutterstock
According to the San Diego Zoo, playful solitary polar bears “have been observed sliding repeatedly downhill or across ice for no apparent reason other than just for the fun of it!” Imagine what they could do if someone gave them some sleds or skis!
7. Amazing paws!Elpisterra/Shutterstock
The paws of an adult polar bear can be 12 inches across. They’re not just big and beautiful, though; they’re highly specialized tools that allow the bears to grip the ice, dig their snow burrows, spear some seals, and walk across the tundra snowshoe-style without sinking. The thick, rough pads on the bottoms of their paws give them extra traction.
8. Baby stepsGer Bosma Photos/Shutterstock
Baby polar bears start their lives at about 12 inches long and weighing around one pound. But lying in the warm den with their mothers for three months or longer, nursing on milk that is 33 percent fat, helps them grow up quick. This three-month-old cub could weigh 30-plus pounds and is now ready to watch its mother hunt for seals—and hopefully give it a little taste of the blubber.
9. Pal-ing aroundOndrej Prosicky/Shutterstock
Even though they’re mostly solitary animals, grownup polar bears can form short- or long-lived friendships. How do they like to spend their time together? Wrestling, traveling together in order to hunt—and if this photo is any indication, showing each other their bellies!
10. Shhhh…polar bear sleeping!poutnik/Shutterstock
Unlike other bears, polar bears don’t hibernate for the winter. But that doesn’t mean they don’t like a good snooze, especially in the summertime, when they’ve been observed sleeping for up to 8 hours at a stretch. They may use a rock for a pillow; they might dig a shallow hole in the ground, or make a pile of seaweed, to be used as a “day bed.”
11. Take it easyAndrey Yurlov/Shutterstock
Hunting seals is exhausting work that can use up a polar bear’s fat and energy reserves, especially as the climate warms; they have to work harder to catch their prey in the fewer and fewer months in which there’s any ice to hunt on top of. Is it any wonder they may rest for up to 20 hours some days?
12. Hello, gorgeous!Riekus/Shutterstock
Weren’t sure you loved polar bears? Then this glamor shot of a wet bear, post-swim, should change your mind forever!