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Discovery Magazine 1/1/2009

The Powerful, Predatory Polar Bear

This massive creature can grow to be 10 feet long and weigh over 2,000 pounds. It is the world’s largest land living predator. With its 42 razor-sharp teeth, it can consume 100 pounds of food in a single meal. Although many pictures and postcards present this animal as cute and cuddly, the polar bear is one of the world’s most efficient predators.

Polar bears live in the Arctic region near the outer edges of the North Pole. This area is freezing cold, and can reach temperatures of -50 degrees Fahrenheit. Polar bears, however, are not bothered by the extreme cold, because God designed them with special features that help them stay warm. These bears have two fur coats, an outer coat composed of longer hairs that are transparent, and a thick inner coat. In addition to this thick fur, God designed polar bears with a layer of blubber that can be as much as four inches thick. Furthermore, the bears have small ears and tails, which help keep the bear from losing heat from these two areas.

Have you ever walked on ice? If you have, you know that it is very slippery and can be difficult to keep your balance. How do huge polar bears keep from slipping and sliding all over the ice? Again, God gave the bears special features to cope with the ice. Polar bears have massive paws that can be 12 inches across. These paws are so big that they act like snow shoes and keep the bears from sinking deeply into snow. Imagine a paw as wide as a one-foot ruler! Also, on the pads of their paws, the bears have tiny bumps called papillae (puh-PIH-lee) that give them traction. The bears also have fur that grows between their toes and foot pads, giving them additional traction. It is like they have been given their own set of snow tires.

Polar bears eat mostly seals. They have an amazing sense of smell, and can use their noses to locate seals a mile away. Often, the bears find a small hole in the ice where seals come to the surface to breathe. The bears then wait patiently. Sometimes they have to wait for hours, and sometimes it can take days. When the seal finally appears, the bear pulls it out of the hole and eats a meal. But seals are not the only thing polar bears eat. They will eat just about anything. Sometimes they eat walruses (which can be twice as large as the bears). Polar bears have been known to eat muskoxen, whales, berries, birds, eggs, carcasses of dead animals, and even other polar bears! These creatures will eat just about anything that comes along.

One thing they do not eat is penguins. Many people have the idea that polar bears and penguins live together, since these animals both live in very cold regions. But that is not true. Polar bears live at the northern part of the Earth and penguins live in the southern part of the globe. Polar bears have never see penguins, unless they live in a zoo and their cage is next to the penguin exhibit.

Polar bears are excellent swimmers. They use their huge front paws as massive paddles under water, while their hind legs act as rudders to steer them. These bears can swim very long distances in very cold water. Once, a polar bear was recorded to swim over 60 miles! They can dive to catch food, as well, although most of their hunting is done on the ice.

When polar bears are born, they do not look like efficient predators. They weigh about one pound at birth, are only about one foot long, and are blind and toothless. Polar bear mothers usually give birth to two cubs in a den that she digs in the snow. She and the cubs stay in the den for many months. During that time, the mother does not eat or drink anything. Yet she still has enough energy to produce the milk that the baby cubs must have in order to survive. Polar bear cubs usually stay with their mother for about two and a half years. During that time, they learn to hunt and survive by following their mother and other bears.

God designed polar bears to be the perfect polar predators. He gave them all the necessary tools to stay warm, keep their balance on ice, smell food far away, and hunt successfully. Polar bears could not have evolved. Without all of their God-given tools, they could not survive in their frigid habitat.

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