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Polar bears live in a very cold habitat. This lesson will teach you about the different kinds of adaptations polar bears have developed in order to survive in a cold, harsh Arctic environment.

Where do Polar Bears Live?

Imagine packing for a trip to the Arctic Circle. You would need a heavy jacket, warm socks, boots, a hat, and gloves just to try and stay warm. Your body doesn’t have special features to survive in the Arctic without warm clothes.

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Polar bears, on the other hand, do, making them right at home in the cold! Polar bears live in the Arctic, which is the area around the North Pole.

Polar bear
Polar bear

The average air temperature in the Arctic is 29 degrees Fahrenheit below zero in the winter and 32 degrees in the summer.The average water temperature in the Arctic Ocean during the summer is 29 degrees.

In the winter, it drops to 28 degrees, the temperature where ocean water starts to freeze over.Polar bears have special adaptations, or features that have evolved, letting them live in this bitterly cold Arctic climate. And they don’t even need a jacket!

Polar Bear Adaptations

Feet

If your dinner is swimming around, you’d better be a good swimmer, too! Polar bears are excellent swimmers, in part because they have big feet that are partially webbed.

They use those feet to push themselves through the Arctic water, like you use webbed swim fins to swim faster in the pool. Their feet are also covered in fur, like snowshoes, so they stay warm and don’t slip on the ice.

Polar bear swimming
Polar bear swimming

Nose

When a tasty meal, like a seal, swims by, polar bears might have to dive down to catch it. But they don’t get icy water up their nose when they dive because their nose holes close when they’re underwater.

Fat

Polar bears don’t need jackets like you do because they have a built in layer of fat underneath their skin. That fat can be over 4 inches thick and it keeps their bodies warm, even when the air and water are very cold.

Fur

If someone asked you what color a polar bear’s fur is, you would probably say white, but that’s not quite accurate. The hairs that make up the outer part of their fur coat are actually clear and hollow, like straws. The light reflecting off those hairs makes the polar bear’s fur look white, helping them blend in to their surroundings.

When the polar bear is wet, those guard hairs stick to each other and keep the polar bear’s undercoat dry. When they get out of the water, it drips off and helps them dry faster.

Polar bear blending in
Skin

Polar bears have black skin under all that fur, which helps them absorb heat from the Sun. But they have to be careful not to overheat! You might not think about overheating in the Arctic, but polar bears have such good adaptations to keep them from freezing that they can get too hot.They lumber along slowly and stop to take breaks so they can cool off, the way you rest after playing a long game of tag. Sometimes they go swimming just to cool off, the same way you might on a hot summer day!

Lesson Summary

Polar bears live in the Arctic where the air and water temperatures are very cold. They have special adaptations, or features that help them live in that habitat, like webbed feet, a layer of fat, fur that helps them blend in and dry off, and black skin to absorb the Sun’s heat.

They are so well adapted to the Arctic that they have to be careful not to overheat.

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