Polar bears are the largest bears, and they are also the most northern of all the species. It is a wonder, that any animal can successfully raise their young in such a harsh, desolate Arctic landscape. In an area where the biggest threat is not from predators but from the climate, both natural and from human impact.
Attentive mothers however, are able to bring these amazing little bears into the world, and teach them the skills to turn this hostile place into their kingdom. Baby polar bears have some amazing features and learn to master some critical skills that help them achieve this.
In this post we look at some fascinating baby polar bear facts, and explore just how special these large semi-aquatic mammals really are.
9 Amazing Baby Polar Bear Facts
Baby Polar Bears Are Called Cubs
Like some other large mammals, for example baby cheetahs and baby lions, a baby bear is called a ‘cub‘. They are born as a ‘litter‘, usually in a maternity ‘den‘ which they live in with their mother for the first few months of their life.
As they hit their first year, they move on from being cubs, to ‘yearlings‘, and after this they become ‘young adults‘, which they will remain until they reach sexual maturity.
Adult male bears are called ‘boars‘ and females are called ‘sows‘. Other than a litter of baby polar bears, there is no other collective noun to describe a group of young polar bears. In general though, a group of bears are collectively known as a ‘sleuth of bears‘ or a ‘sloth of bears‘.
Baby Births Can Be Paused In The Womb
Female Polar Bears are capable of delayed implantation. Delayed implantation assures that the cub is born during the best time of the year for survival and allows the female to get into good physical condition and use her energy for nursing her newborn cubs.
They do this through a process called ‘embryonic diapause‘ until conditions are right to have their offspring. If they have not been able to take on board enough calories to provide the energy to survive a birth, fasting for months and feeding their young, then they will delay their pregnancy until conditions are right.
Baby Polar Bears Are Usual Born With Siblings
It is not uncommon for a polar bear to give birth to multiple cubs in a litter. The average is between 2 to 3 cubs in a litter, but 2 is the most common size. Mothers can have offspring every 2 years, but usually choose to wait a little longer between pregnancies. Cubs born in smaller litters tend to develop quicker and stronger than cubs in larger litters.
In a small litter there is less competition for their mothers milk, but then there is also less opportunity to learn through play.
As a young family, polar bears will interact very well together. The mother is very attentive of her young, and siblings will play, chase and wrestle each other. But when they reach between 2 to 3 years old, when the mother is ready to breed again, she will chase away her young cubs. From here on, they become solitary animals.
Baby Polar Bears Are Completely Dependant On Their Mother
Cubs are born covered in a thin and sparse coat of fur, toothless and with their eyes closed. Without the close care of their mum in the comfort of their den, they would not survive the climate and they would starve.
Their eyes will remain firmly shut for around the first month, and they will only start walking properly around their den at around the end of the second month.
They will remain in the comfort of the den for the first few months, nursing constantly from their mothers teats, up to six times a day at first. Cubs in small litters with lots of milk tend to be larger than those from larger litters with less available milk. Nursing reduces as the cubs grow, but can last anywhere between 18 to 30 months (if the mother skips a breeding season) until they are fully weaned.
The female will teach her cubs how to hunt and protect the from harm. Polar bear mothers are attentive, frequently touching and grooming their cubs. Polar Bear cubs play well together, chasing after and tackling their siblings.
Baby Polar Bears Learn To Be Great Swimmers
Baby polar bears grow up to be excellent swimmers as adults. However, it takes time to develop these skills and small cubs can drown easily. For this reason, young families stay close on solid ice. Youngsters get better at swimming as they grow, and as they take on more blubber.
As adults, polar bears are excellent swimmers and can swim at speeds of 9.7 kilometres per hour (6 miles per hour). They usually swim under water at depths of only about 3 – 4.5 metres (9.8 – 14.8 feet). They can remain submerged for as long as 2 minutes and are able to close their nostrils when under water.
They are known to swim for hours at a time and cover vast distances.
Baby Polar Bears Are Classed As Marine Mammals
Unlike other species of bear, baby polar bears are the only species that are considered to be born as marine mammals. That is because they spend most of their lives on the ice and depend on the ocean for food. The intestines of these semi-aquatic hunters are adapted to digest the fats of marine animals, which helps to replenish their blubber and keep them warm in their harsh, arctic climate.
Baby Polar Bears Have Pink Skin, But Not For Long
You have probably heard that polar bears have black skin right? Well not at first.
Polar bear cubs are actually born with pink skin. At around the time that the cubs are ready to leave the den for the first time – 3 to 4 months old, their skin turns black.
Their skin is generally only visible on the nose and footpads. But underneath that thick, white coat their whole bodies turn from pink to black. According to polar bears international, It’s not entirely clear why this happens, but it does come with advantages for the bear.
The black color enables them to absorb sunlight energy to warm its body, but also offers UV protection for their skin that would lessen with lighter colored skin.
Covering their skin are two layers of fur, which is oily and water repellent. The hairs do not become matted when wet, allowing the polar bears to easily shake free water and any ice that may form after swimming.
Baby Polar Bears Only Live In The Arctic
Baby polar bears only live in the wild across the Arctic Circle and surrounding areas. They are found particularly around the coastal areas, close to where they may find food. It’s a bitterly cold, hostile and desolate habitat.
Although closely related to other bears, particularly the brown bear, polar bears have evolved to occupy a narrow ecological niche. They have many body characteristics adapted for cold temperatures, for moving across snow, ice and open water and for hunting seals which make up most of its diet.
Polar bears can also be found in many zoos and captive programmes around the world. As with all baby bears born in captivity, baby polar bears born in these programmes need special care and have mixed fates. In one study of German zoos over the last ten years, it was recorded that only around half of polar bear cubs born in this period survived.
Cubs Use Many Vocalizations
Polar bear cubs vocalize more often than adult bears and for diverse reasons. Sounds include hissing, squalling, whimpering, lip smacking and throaty rumblings. Mothers are less vocal, but will vocalize most when they are agitated or threatened. They will warn cubs with a chuffing or braying sound. Polar bears also communicate through sight, touch and smell.
Baby Polar Bear FAQs
What Is The Lifecycle Of A Baby Polar Bear?
Polar bears breed in the summer months from March through to June. Females give birth in their dug-out overwinter dens where they give birth to 2 -3 tiny cubs. The timing of the birth is sometime during early winter between December and January.
Females remain in hibernation nursing their cubs until April. Females may go without eating for up to 8 months, surviving only on their body fat, while over-wintering and feeding their new-born young.
The cubs stay with their mother for the next 2 – 3 years during which time she provides for them, and teaches them the skills they need to survive on their own. After their first years, these cubs become yearlings and by the time they leave home they are young adults.
They will leave home at this time, usually when their mother is getting ready to have her next litter. But young polar bears won’t reach sexual maturity until years after they have set out on their own. For females, sexual maturity hits around 4-5 years of age, for males it’s a little later at 6 years on average.
The lifespan of a polar bear is typically around 20-25 years, but can be as long as 30 years. Some bears can live longer, the Asiatic black bear can live up to 40 years in the wild for example.
How Big Do Baby Polar Bears Grow?
Polar bear cubs weigh around 500-600 grams (1,4 pounds) when they are born. They can fit inside the palm of your hand. Compared to the massive animals they will become, this is tiny!
By the time they emerge from their den in the spring, the cubs may have grown to weigh 10 – 15 kilograms (22 – 33 pounds).
As adults, they can weigh up to 1,700 pounds. The average adult male however, weighs around 350-680 kg (770-1500 lb), while females are about two-thirds the size of males.
What Do Baby Polar Bears Eat?
Young, growing Polar Bears eat the meat of marine animals while adults eat mainly Seal blubber. The young need the protein from these animals to encourage and fuel their growth.
The majority of their diet is made up of eating Seals – particularly ringed seals, and other fish or shellfish when available. They will also sometimes eat bearded seals, or young walruses and baby whales.
Depending on availability in their range, they may also eat ungulates like muskox or reindeer, or even small rodents, birds and eggs. They will even strip a dead carcass if they are lucky enough to find one.
They have far more success hunting in the fertile Arctic Ocean around the coastline, than they do on land. Even so, most hunts are unsuccessful.
As adults, they employ some very useful hunting techniques. They will sit very still by a hole in the ice and wait for Seals to surface to breathe. When a Seal appears, the bear strikes it with a front paw and drags it out onto the ice before biting its head.
The Polar Bear is a highly adaptable opportunist omnivore and in times of need, will eat berries, kelp and rubbish. They can’t sustain or put on weight without meat however.
Where Do Baby Polar Bears Live?
While polar bears are known to inhabit ice fields, they also live in dug out dens in the snow. They are also known to dig out maternity dens for giving birth to and rearing cubs. This is where baby polar bears spend the first few months of their lives.
It is only the female polar bears, and their young when they arrive, that occupy these dens. These are usually temporary homes for winter, though some ‘summer dens’ are used to help bears cool off in the warmer months.
When cubs grow up, they are solitary animals other than when mating or rearing their own young. They will roam the Arctic circle and its surrounding areas, including parts of Russia, Alaska, Canada (including around Hudson Bay), and Greenland.
The Polar Bears home range and territories are huge and can measure up to 125,000 square kilometres (48,250 square miles) because their prey is sparsely distributed.
What Are The Predators Of Baby Polar Bears?
Adult polar bears are at the top of their food chain, apex predators with no natural predator with exception to other hungry polar bears.
Baby polar bears on the other hand don’t have the size and weight to protect them that they do as adults. They can be preyed upon by opportunistic wolves, particularly the arctic wolf. While their territory doesn’t overlap often, in places where it does, wolves are becoming more confident at snatching cubs.
The main threat to baby polar bears however, comes from the threat of cannibalism from a starved and malnourished mother or an aggressive male.