The polar bear (Ursus maritimus) is a species of mammal that has the distinction, along with the Alaskan grizzly bear, of being one of the biggest land carnivores on Earth. These white bears' feeding habits revolve around meat, and lots of it. Occasionally during the warmer summertime months, however, polar bears sometimes also dine on plant-based sustenance.
Mammals of the Polar Bear Diet
Polar bears, despite their cuddly and fluffy physical exterior, are carnivorous predators to the core. Polar bears' preferred prey animal is the ringed seal, notably young pups, although they also actively go after a variety of other mammals, including walruses, harp seals, bearded seals and hooded seals. They are in no way limited to larger mammals, and also often hunt smaller varieties. Once in a while, they even feast on reindeer, tiny rodents, muskoxen, trash left behind by humans and waterfowl, but only if other sustenance is scarce. Polar bear diets have a high fat intake. These diurnal bears frequently leave behind the remnants of prey animals after feeding solely on their blubber layers and skin.
Other Common Polar Bear Diet Elements
Polar bears also do not exclusively feed on mammalian flesh. Fish, sea birds and the eggs of sea birds are also relatively common components of the polar bear diet. Plants and berries might add a little summertime variety, although in minimal amounts. They also sometimes consume kelp, which is a type of brown seaweed.
Carrion in the Polar Bear Diet
Carrion also makes up a good portion of what polar bears eat. These family Ursidae creatures can be scavengers, and they often dine on the remains of bowhead whales, narwhals, walruses and beluga wales, according to SeaWorld.
Seals make up the bulk of the polar bear "menu." Because of this, polar bears hunt for their various preferred seal species by spending a lot of time in areas that have many rifts on the ice surfaces, where seals may emerge in order to take in some air. Polar bears generally hunch their bodies down while stealthily waiting for the seals to pop up. After they kill their prey, they pull it out of the water and start eating. Prime hunting season for polar bears lasts between April and July -- times in which their favored prey animals are easy to track down -- and the bears are often willing to travel far in order to find them.
Hibernation in Polar Bears
The only polar bears that go into hibernation are pregnant females. When these polar bears hibernate, however, it's very easy for them to wake up. They don't take in any food at all during hibernation. This period often lasts from around October or November all the way into April.
Polar bears have massive stomachs -- they're capable of taking in around 150 pounds of food at a time, according to the North American Bear Center. Because of this, they can survive for weeks at a time without eating a morsel.
- ARKive: Polar Bear
- Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History: Ursus maritimus
- Blue Planet Biomes: Polar Bear
- University of Michigan Animal Diversity Web: Ursus maritimus
- IUCN Red List: Ursus maritimus
- National Geographic: Polar Bear
- Defenders of Wildlife: Basic Facts About Polar Bears
- SeaWorld: Polar Bears - Diet & Eating Habits
- North American Bear Center: Polar Bear Facts