Polar bears are found in some of the coldest regions on the planet. Their distribution extends throughout the Arctic Circle where they commonly encounter temperatures below -30 °C (-22 °F) during the winter months. Fortunately, polar bears are able to survive in this environment thanks to some unique characteristics. Let’s take a look at how a polar bear stays warm when the temperature drops below freezing.
How do polar bears stay warm?
Polar bears are insulated to protect them from the cold environment. The first defense against the cold is their fur. They have long oily guard fur which prevents water from penetrating their coat and short fur which is formed into a thick undercoat to keep them warm. Blubber is also an essential ingredient in keeping the polar bear warm. This layer of fat is up to 10 cm thick in certain parts and insulates the animal from the cold. In the winter months the polar bear will create a burrow in the snow to insulate them from the cold. They may also enter a state called winter sleep, similar to hibernation, where the biological processes slow down. This is also thought to help keep the polar bear warm.
Did you know?
Polar bears are so effective at living in cold climates that they begin to overheat when the temperature reaches just 10 °C (50 °F).
It was once thought that the fur that makes up the undercoat was able to conduct light back to the skin, but this has since been found to be untrue.