Why do polar bears eat their young

Animal children: little polar bears

Do you still know Knut and Flocke? A few years ago, the two polar bear babies enchanted us. But how do polar bear babies grow up in nature? We take you on an exciting journey to the Arctic

When polar bears see the light of day, they are usually a few months old! Because the birth of polar bears in nature usually takes place in the deepest polar winter - exactly when it is not really bright during the day. Why is that so?

Polar bears mate between March and June year after year - the mother is eight months pregnant. Shortly before the birth, she then prepares for the confinement by looking for a suitable place in the deep snow of the arctic autumn to dig a birth cave eight weeks beforehand.

This cave is designed to prevent the newborns from freezing to death. Thanks to the insulating snow cover, the temperature in the cave, which is covered with up to 2.5 meters of snow, rarely drops below minus 1 degree Celsius. That would be too cold for us humans - but just right for polar bears!

This cave becomes the mother's home for a long time. She spends up to eight months in the cave to raise the offspring. During this time she does not eat or drink, although she is bearing and feeding her children. It does not need any food during this time because it eats up a supply of fat in the summer months - and then weighs almost twice as much.

It uses up this fat store completely during rearing in winter. She passes on a lot of energy to her children in the form of food.

The first baby is born

But let's take a step back to birth. Twin births are not uncommon. Two months after the mother polar bear moved into the snow cave, the first baby is born. Shortly thereafter, twin children follow.

They are still deaf and blind, outwardly thin and naked. Only from the tenth day of life does a tender coat develop and only after four to five weeks do the polar bear babies open their eyes. The hearing and the sense of smell are now also developing.

The little polar bears are only the size of a guinea pig when they are born. They weigh between 400 and 600 grams, the mother weighs 300 times as much! But thanks to the high-fat breast milk, the polar bear cubs grow quickly. The little ones want to drink every two to three hours and wrestle about their chests. From birth, they have long, sharp claws to hold onto their mother. Thanks to their healthy appetite, the polar bear cubs put on weight quickly - after two months they weigh at least 10 to 15 kilograms. By the time they are two years old, they will double their body weight.

Shy footsteps in the snow

After the winter snow storms end, the polar bear family leaves their birth cave in March or April. At this point, the offspring are already three to four months old. After the mother has churned up the thick blanket of snow from below and lures her offspring to the daylight with loud shouts, the first polar bear child pokes his nose curiously through the opening and sniffs its new surroundings for minutes. Is the air clean? Then let's get out into the snow. His siblings quickly follow.

The polar bear mom lovingly takes care of her little ones. They are protected from the icy wind between their strong front legs and are warmed by their breath and soft fur. When it gets stormy, she digs a big hole to let herself and her children blow in. The snow cover offers camouflage and insulation at the same time. The mother avoids all risk and defends her young from all danger. For this reason, the family always stays close to the home cave in the first few days after leaving and uses it as a place to sleep for another two to three weeks.

After the initial shyness, the little ones now boldly explore their surroundings. They play in the snow, romp with each other and keep climbing on their mother's back. Despite their young age, the polar bear cubs can withstand temperatures of up to 45 degrees Celsius in their first few weeks of life. Only the icy waters of the Arctic Ocean are not yet allowed to be explored. Your fat layer, which warms the body, has not yet formed. In the water, their body temperature would drop life-threateningly.

On a tour of discovery

The polar bear mom leads the offspring on the frozen sea. The huge ice surface offers ideal conditions to prepare the little ones for the dangers of the Arctic. This is where the first encounters with other polar bears occur. The polar bear cubs only have a few summer months to learn how to survive in the Arctic. Although they are still suckled in the first 2.5 years, after a few months they look at their mother's hunting behavior and increasingly feed on prey.

The training of the young animals, which at this point already weighs 80 to 100 kilograms, is only completed after three years. From now on they have to cope with life in the Arctic on their own. Only a few years later, at the age of four or five, they will start their own family before the first shy polar bear babies poke their noses out of the snow cave again in spring.

Photo gallery polar bears: family happiness in the snow

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