Imagine being out in a quiet, cold landscape with almost nothing around for miles except for the ice and sea. In this vast expanse of calm and quiet, you might either wander across the ice in search of a meal or even dive down into the freezing cold waters. Either way, you would remain quite comfortably warm. Thus is one of the advantages possessed by Ursus maritimus for surviving in this challenging environment. A thick coat of fur and insulating layer of fat provide warmth and the distinctive white coloring of the coat serves as excellent camouflage when stalking prey. A long neck and relatively narrow skull for the species provides the aptly-named "sea bear" with a streamlined figure excellent for swimming.
|Wild Life of the World, v.2. London, F. Warne and Co., 1916.|
|The Quadrupeds of North America. New York, V.G. Audubon, 1851-54. |
Yet even before climate change was a prominent topic in science and the news, polar bears held a special place in the public's imagination. Tales of exaggerated ferocity were plenty. One especially eyebrow-raising account tells of the polar bear's invariable habit of charging at any man encountered. While today we know that polar bears have been known to attack humans they are just, if not more likely, to avoid such encounters, yet this story goes on to insist that not only do they inevitably charge, they can just as inevitably be tricked into grabbing weapons and committing suicide with them. Polar bears were undoubtedly less studied and therefore not as well understood in 1861, yet even so the author seems barely able to contain his bemusement at the extraordinary claims of this "eye witness." Today, hunting bans now help to protect this magnificent species. Groups like BHL and our partners EOL work hard to make sure that scientists and others have access to important information about the species, its habitat and behavior so informed conservation decisions can be made.
The polar bear is documented in over 1,200 pages of open access literature made available through the Biodiversity Heritage Library. BHL relies on donations from individuals to support scanning of the biodiversity literature held in some of the world's most renowned natural history and botanical libraries. To learn more about how your donation supports the continued growth of BHL, please visit http://archive.constantcontact.com/fs181/1103622715135/archive/1115465985290.html. We hope you'll consider making a contribution today!