The polar bear is arguably the most impressive and iconic mammals of the arctic tundra. Unfortunately, due to a combination of hunting, loss of habitat, increased pressure from an expanding local human population, global warming and the associated melting of the ice caps and accidental poisoning, polar bear numbers are now in decline.

This problem is exacerbated as polar bears have low reproduction rates, but before we can address, and hopefully arrest the decline in polar bear numbers we need to know as much as we can about their behaviour and habitats.

Polar bear facts

1. The polar bear is only found in the Arctic region of the northern hemisphere, and NOT AT ALL in the Antarctic region of the southern hemisphere.

2. The polar bear is not only the world's largest land carnivore, it is also the world's largest bear! An adult male weighs around 350–680 kg (770–1,500 lb), while an adult female is about half that size. This make a large male twice as big as the Siberian tiger!

3. The polar bear is classified as a vulnerable species, with eight of the nineteen polar bear subpopulations in decline.

4. The scientific name Ursus maritimus, the Latin for 'maritime bear', due to the animal's native habitat.

5. Polar bears can breed with brown bears to produce fertile grizzly–polar bear hybrids. This indicates that they have only recently diverged and are genetically similar.

6. Research on fossilised bones has shown that there is a giant form of the polar bear once roamed the arctic. Known as Ursus maritimus tyrannus it became extinct during the Pleistocene, and was significantly larger than any living subspecies.

7. Polar bears overheat at temperatures above 10 °C (50 °F), and are nearly invisible under infrared photography.

8. Polar bears are superbly insulated by up to 10 cm (3.9 in) of blubber!

9. The polar bear is an excellent swimmer. In fact they have been seen in open Arctic waters as far as 200 miles from land. It swims in a dog paddle fashion using its large forepaws for propulsion. Polar bears can swim 6 mph.

10. The skin of a polar bear is black while the hair of a polar bear is not white! It is in fact transparent and hollow!

11. When sprinting, a polar bear can reach up to 25 mph!

12. The polar bear has an extremely well developed sense of smell, and is able to detect seals up to 1 mile away and buried under 3 ft of snow.

13. Mature polar bears tend to eat only the calorie-rich skin and blubber of the seal, whereas younger bears consume the protein-rich red meat.

14. A polar bear can kill an adult walrus, although this is rarely attempted. Why? Because a walrus can be more than twice the bear's weight and has up to three feet long ivory tusks that can be used as formidable weapons.

15. Unlike brown and black bears, polar bears are capable of fasting for up to several months during late summer and early autumn.

16. As of 2008, the World Conservation Union (IUCN) reports that the global population of polar bears is 20,000 to 25,000, and is declining.

17. The Inuit (Eskimo) people of North America and Greenland hunt the polar bear for its meat and fur. However, they cannot eat its liver. Why? Because its holds such a high content of vitamin A, polar bear liver is poisonous to humans!

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