Polar Bears Aren’t Really White


Things aren’t always as they appear. Polar bears can be a lot of different colors, but technically, white is not one of them. In reality, although they typically appear white to the human eye, their skin is actually black, and their fur is transparent. It only appears white because the transparent guard hairs have particles inside them that scatter visible light.  When the sun’s rays hit off of the guard hairs, some of this light energy travels into the hair and gets trapped. This energy bounces around inside the hollow part of the hair causing luminescence, an emission of light.

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If a bleach bath sounds unpleasant for the bear, well, it’s probably quite uncomfortable to begin with, at those temperatures. Polar bears are extremely well insulated by up to 4 in (10 cm) of adipose tissue, not to mention their hide and two layers of thick fur, so they tend to overheat at temperatures of 50° F and above. In fact, they’re so well insulated, they’re nearly invisible under infrared photography.

But even at the polar bear’s most pristine, some arctic animals have adapted an ability to differentiate it from the vast white tundra that surrounds it. Reindeer, for instance, which polar bears sometimes prey on, are one of the few mammals that have adapted the ability to see ultraviolet light, which makes the polar bears stand out from their snowy environment.

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