Outdoors just for kids: Polar bears adapt to changing food sources

2014-05-15T00:00:00Z Outdoors just for kids: Polar bears adapt to changing food sources The Billings Gazette

Although polar bears may not slide around on the ice catching Coca-Cola bottles like you’ve seen in television commercials, the big white bruins may be a lot more adaptable to finding different foods than scientists once thought.

Polar bears are specially made to live in their icy, cold environment in the Arctic. One of their favorite foods is seal pups, which the bears hunt by going out onto the ice. But what happens when all of that ice begins to melt earlier and earlier in the year?

One reason polar bears have been listed as a threatened species is because their territory is changing so rapidly due to warming temperatures.

Yet, bears of all kinds are very adaptable. Polar bears separated from brown bears to specialize in the cold about 60,000 years ago, scientists believe.

Studies have found that as the polar bears’ traditional food of seal pups has gone down, they’ve begun hunting other animals like lesser snow geese when they can’t fly. They also are eating geese eggs and even hunting caribou — those big-antlered animals that look like reindeer.

Polar bears may also be traveling less, so they are using less energy, as well as eating more vegetation.

To learn how the polar bears’ diet has changed, scientists used specially trained dogs that sniff out bear scat — you know, poo. By closely examining the scat, scientists can learn what the bears have been eating. So now you can tell your parents that, sometimes, science stinks.

— Brett French,

Gazette Outdoors editor

Copyright 2014 The Billings Gazette. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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Brett French

Outdoors editor for the Billings Gazette.

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