Polar Bear Fur: What Colour Is It, And How Warm Does It Keep Them?

Joan Agie
Oct 25, 2023 By Joan Agie
Originally Published on Nov 16, 2021
photo of polar bear in Canada

The polar bear is the largest carnivore on land.

Polar bears are known for their iconic white fur, which has been a mystery for several years. Polar bears belong to the Ursidae family and Ursus genus.

They are mainly found in the Arctic circle. There are currently only 26,000 polar bears in the world.

Changes in the climate, coupled with man-made disturbances and other threats, have resulted in a decrease in the population of polar bears in the last 50 years. Polar bears mainly feed on ringed seals and bearded seals. They are the largest bears in the world.

The polar bear has 42 teeth, three eyelids, and 4 in (10 cm) of body fat. Continue reading to know more about polar bears and their hair.

If you enjoy these fun facts, you can also check out our other articles to find out if polar bears eat penguins or if polar bears live in Antarctica.

How did polar bears' fur turn white?

The arctic ocean was frozen 200,000 years ago. In this difficult era, brown bears scattered in search of food. During this time, a particular set of polar bears were stuck in the northern territory and were separated from their other brown bear ancestors.

The massive ice caps and snow kept the two groups separated. Some of the bears in the northern region, with evolutionary advantages and thick coats, survived the harsh winters while others died.

Some bears even had hairs that repelled water! This helped them swim.

This bear group evolved and acquired some features which were suitable for the Arctic climate and helped them stay warm over the next 1000 years. Their fur also turned white to help them blend in with the ice and snow-filled environment and offered them an edge while hunting.

Do polar bears have clear fur?

For several decades, the color of the fur of polar bears has remained a mystery. After many types of research, scientists have concluded that a polar bear's fur is transparent.

Though the fur appears to be white, it still does not have any white pigment. So, why does it look white? There are a lot of external factors that give their fur a white appearance.

What is a polar bear's fur made out of?

A polar bear's fur is made of keratin. It is the same substance that is present in our nails and hair.

Keratin is a protective protein that is produced by epithelial cells. Keratin is a very long-lasting protein. It serves multiple purposes that aid in the construction of various types of biological tissues. It is a significant component of mammalian hair.

Did you know that, apart from climatic changes, toxic pollution and oil exploration are the two major threats to polar bears?

What color are a polar bear's fur and skin?

The hair of the polar bear is clear. The fur will appear in several colors like yellow, green, orange, and gray under different lighting.

For instance, if the diet of a polar bear has sea oils in large amounts, it will look yellow. Algae, which grows in the fur coats of polar bears that live in warmer regions, makes polar bears look green. However, most of the time, they look white.

This might come as a shock to most of you, but the skin of a polar bear is black. It is their thick coat of hair that gives a polar bear a white appearance under certain light.

Why do polar bears have black skin? Black skin is yet another characteristic that was developed to adapt to the Arctic climate. Black skin helps a polar bear to absorb heat.

Why is polar bear fur white?

The hair of a polar bear is its most attractive feature. They have two layers of thick fur. These coats are made of guard hair and an undercoat. There are various elements that work together to generate fantastic optical illusions that make their hair appear white.

When the light from the sun hits a polar bear's guard hair, some of the light rays travel through these hairs and are trapped in the hair. The energy from the light uses the hollow parts filled with air in the hair as a surface from which it can bounce back.

There are tiny light scattering particles in polar bear hairs which are not visible to the naked eye.

Due to all the bouncing light, the hair emits a whitish glow. This helps polar bears to blend into their habitat.

The human eye is built in such a way that it can only perceive certain light wavelengths. Ultraviolet light helps make polar bear fur visible to us.

When sunlight hits a polar bear, the ultraviolet rays in the light strike the bottom parts of the guard hair. The light meets the black skin of the animal. The skin reflects this light.

As a result of fluorescence, which occurs when the light meets the skin, the white color is formed and picked up by the eye. They appear whiter in summer when they replace their fur.

What does a polar bear look like without fur?

The inner skin, beneath two thick layers of fur, is black. So when you take off their fur, they look somewhat like grizzly bears (a close relative of the polar bear) but darker.

Why does a polar bear have thick fur?

The primary habitat of a polar bear is the ice caps in the Arctic. The temperature in the Arctic is between 46-59 F (8-15 C).

In order to protect itself from the biting cold and adapt to its habitat, a polar bear has several adaptations. One adaptation is its thick fur. Apart from making the polar bear look cute, the hair also traps heat. The hollow hair reduces thermal conductivity. This is why a polar bear has thick fur.

When polar bears are swimming, a thick layer of hair repels water due to the presence of oil. While swimming, the hair is not of much use since it is wet. This is when the fat content in their body comes in handy. Their fat reserves provide insulation.

Here at Kidadl, we have carefully created lots of interesting family-friendly facts for everyone to enjoy! If you liked our suggestions for 'Polar bear fur' then why not take a look at 'Polar bear adaptations', or 'Polar bear facts' pages?

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Written by Joan Agie

Bachelor of Science specializing in Human Anatomy

Joan Agie picture

Joan AgieBachelor of Science specializing in Human Anatomy

With 3+ years of research and content writing experience across several niches, especially on education, technology, and business topics. Joan holds a Bachelor’s degree in Human Anatomy from the Federal University of Technology, Akure, Nigeria, and has worked as a researcher and writer for organizations across Nigeria, the US, the UK, and Germany. Joan enjoys meditation, watching movies, and learning new languages in her free time.

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