The polar bear is the world’s largest terrestrial predator. Polar bears can grow to be about 8 – 10 feet tall on their hind legs and weigh more than 1,700 pounds. While most of this additional weight is fat, a newborn polar bear weighs only 1.5 pounds.
Polar Bears’ diets can be surprising. Polar bears eat varieties of items; they eat different plants and animals. The ability of polar bears to hunt their prey gives them the choice to select among different animals, both big and small on land and in water. Their highly developed sense of smell is an important factor in their diet. Now, they are known to eat seals, walruses, and even whales in the water.
Diets of Polar Bears
Scientists have discovered that polar bears have a diverse diet; they eat a variety of animal and plant species. This suggests that they may have always been such omnivorous predators, but that their foraging behaviors may be changing in response to changing environmental conditions. Polar bears have been able to develop an adapted diet that consists mostly of fat.
Polar bears have long relied on seals for their diets, but increasing spring ice breakup means that they have less time to hunt seals. The foods they consume during the ice-free season help them overcome the nutritional stress that comes from the decreased opportunity to hunt seals. These changes in polar bear diets may be related to rapid climate change.
In addition to seal meat, polar bears also eat fish and birds. These species are known to eat ringed seals and beluga whale carcasses, as well as fish and plant debris. These animals also eat kelp and vegetables in small quantities. Polar bears are rarely vegetarians but do eat them sporadically during the summer months in the Arctic. Polar bears have been observed to eat bird eggs and other food items from land, leaving the ice to do so.
Aside from fish and meat, polar bears consume large amounts of seaweed. These animals can swim up to eight knots and six miles per hour. However, they must store their meals so they can survive the winter. It’s crucial that polar bears find a way to store their meals for future months.
Plants in Polar Bears’ Diet
Plants are a critical part of the polar bear’s diet. These items help them obtain nutrients, reduce parasite loads, and facilitate bowel movements. While polar bears have been observed to eat seals, marine algae, caribou, and eggs, they also eat plants.
Polar bears consume vegetation and certain plants are favored over others. A plant called Lyme grass is a particular example of a plant that polar bears frequently eat. Researchers have observed that polar bears are eating spikes of Lyme grass, a perennial grass that is abundant in the Hudson Bay region.
Lyme grass develops seed heads in early July and is a rich source of protein. The grass is found along the entire western Hudson Bay coast. When polar bears arrive at these locations, they gorge on them. They will eat the entire plant but tend to prefer eating its seed heads. This grass remains available until late August.
Prey Species Preferred by Polar Bears
Polar bears use the ice-free period of the Arctic to hunt terrestrial prey. For instance, polar bears have been observed chasing and catching lesser snow geese and thick-billed murres while on land. The study results indicate that polar bears are inefficient predators of seabird eggs
Polar bears feed on a variety of prey. They have been observed hunting small whales, which they wait for to come up to the surface. While these animals generally avoid the bears, they can be a problem during the winter months, when they become trapped in polynyas and cannot escape.
Most polar bears hunt seals, they depend on seals for survival. Their preferred prey includes ringed and bearded seals. Polar bears live on the ice and stay close to breathing holes. They wait for hours for seals to surface. When seals do surface, they stalk them. They then make explosive pounces from 30 to 40 feet away and catch pinnipeds before they fall back into the sea.
Aside from seals, polar bears will also eat walruses and whale carcasses. They will also take garbage if it is close to humans. Their strong sense of smell helps them detect their prey from a distance. They also eat beluga whales, which float on the water and are trapped in the ice. While they will occasionally eat carrion, polar bears prefer fresh meat.
Another popular prey choice of polar bears is birds. These animals are smaller and less likely to be harmed by the bears, although they can occasionally take nesting birds. Polar bears have also been observed to hunt walruses. However, these activities are dangerous for polar bears because of their large size. The bears will approach walrus groups on sea ice and try to surprise them.
Adaptability and Survival of Polar Bears
Polar bears have a large paw surface area that is able to move through snowy environments easily. This allows them to move quickly on both land and sea ice. Although their size and strength would not suggest it, polar bears are exceptionally agile predators. They can run at speeds up to 40 kilometers an hour.
Polar bears are likely to be selective when they are satiated, when the colony is full, or when they are not experiencing energetic deficits, such as after their spring hyperphagic period. However, selectivity in prey quality may not be optimal under conditions of rapid environmental change due to human activities. This could decrease prey availability and profitability.
Polar bears also have a strong sense of smell. This helps them find seals under compacted snow. By using their keen sense of smell, these bears can detect seals even when they are hidden under compacted snow. Biologists have observed polar bears hunting seals, but the number of these animals in the Arctic is still unknown.
Because of climate change, polar bears are facing the threat of food shortage. They are becoming underweight and smaller, and their pups are less likely to survive. This is particularly problematic in areas with shorter sea ice seasons, which limit the bears’ ability to hunt seals.
While most polar bears live alone, they sometimes congregate together to scavenge at human garbage dumps and whale carcasses. These bears do not have territorial boundaries but rather are loyal to large regions. They usually mate once per year in late winter or early spring. During mating season, male polar bears will play and fight with each other. This may result in broken teeth or scars.
A polar bear’s diet is made up of a variety of foods, including seals and other marine mammals. They do eat plants if they can get them. Polar bears have been known to hunt in packs to take down much larger prey such as muskoxen or walruses. Polar bears also hunt small animals such as lemmings and other voles that live in Arctic habitats.