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Allison Stewart

Mrs. Pettay

English 111

13 December 2016

Grizzly Bears vs. Polar Bears

Their mighty roar reaches across the plains and the tundra, with prey scurrying or

swimming away to protection. The polar bear and the grizzly bear are classified as the worlds

two most dangerous bears. Neither back down from a physical fight easily. But what about the

fight to survive in a new environment? The question of which bear is more adaptable finds its

roots in places other than muscular strength. Based on food source, habitat, and survival

methods, the grizzly bear would more easily adapt to a strange domain than a polar bear.

Although the grizzly bear and the polar bear are both at the top of the food chain in their

respective habitats, the grizzly bear opts to be more of an omnivore. According to the National

Wildlife Federation, the United States largest nonprofit conservation education organization, and

the Get Bear Smart Society, whose mission is to minimize the number of bears killed by human

caused problems, they eat fruits, berries, grasses, forbs, seeds, roots, and fungi. As Bear Smart

says, plants can be up to 90% of a bears diet. Insects and vegetation are the most common

food sources for the grizzly bear because while they may be low-calorie, they are reliable.

However, bears still need fish and meat as they are important sources of protein and fat. Non-

coastal grizzly bears heavily rely on carrion, but are also quite adept at stealing newborn elk,

deer, caribou, and moose away from their mothers (Bears). National Geographic, a well-

known nonprofit scientific education organization, says that grizzly bears will eat just about
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anything, ranging from moose to rodents Because of this, the grizzly bear is seen as being an

extremely adaptable animal, as it is able to survive off of almost anything. The grizzly bears diet

starkly contrasts the polar bears, which is supremely focused on one food source.

The polar bears diet is different from the grizzly bears in variety of food sources, but

they are similar in that both bears are at the top of their food chains in their respective habitats.

Polar Bears International, the worlds leading polar bear conservation organization, reports that

polar bears mainly feed on seals, the breed usually being ringed or bearded seals. However, they

do occasionally eat walruses and whales. The reason why polar bears are fixated on seals is that

seal fat is extremely high in calories. As said by Endangered Polar Bear, a website about polar

bears, during the summer in the southern arctic region, polar bears live off fat stores. This is

because when the ice melts the bears are forced to retreat back to land, where they are not as

close to seals. Therefore, it is important that polar bears consume as many calories as possible

when the food is available. The fact of the matter is that most other sources of food in the arctic

simply do not provide enough calories to sustain life in such harsh conditions (Polar Bear

Facts). The habitat of the polar bear, as with any animal, greatly affects its food sources and


Calorie-dense foods are a large component of the polar bears diet because of the freezing

arctic climate it must endure. The polar bear prefers to live on offshore pack ice and on shores of

the Arctic region because these locations place them in close proximity to their food source

(Polar Bear Habitat). Polar bears are most abundant in areas with annual sea ice and stable

ringed seal populations (Polar Bear Facts). However, they still do encompass the entire

circumpolar Arctic region, residing in Canada, Russia, Norway, Greenland, and Alaska (Polar

Bear Habitat)(Polar Bear Facts). In fact, over 40% of polar bears live in Northern Canada
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(Polar Bear Habitat). Polar bears, although they live in a number of different countries, live in

one kind of habitat with, as it is cold, icy, and snowy year-round in the Arctic. They differ greatly

from the grizzly bear in this aspect; the grizzly bear can be found in a number of habitats with

varying climates.

Many different habitats claim the grizzly bear as a resident. The Defenders of Wildlife, a

nonprofit conservation organization, names a few environments in which grizzly bears live, a

few being meadows, plains, and tundras. Just like with polar bears, grizzly bears inhabit several

different countries including Russia, Scandinavia, western Canada, the United States, and parts

of Europe (Basic)(Grizzly Bear). The variety of climates in the different countries

demonstrates that the grizzly bear can comfortably live in a number non-homogenous habitats.

Only about 1,000 grizzly bears still live in the continental United States in the western states of

Wyoming, Idaho, and Montana. However, over 31,000 grizzly bears are estimated to reside in

Alaska (Grizzly Bear Facts). The great variety of habitats of the grizzly bear put its adaptations

and survival skills to work.

No matter where grizzly bears live, certain physical and behavioral attributes remain

common among them to facilitate their survival. One of the physical attributes is the grizzly

bears distinct hump on their shoulders. This is actually a mass of muscle that gives the bear

extra strength for digging (Basic)(Grizzly Bear). Another physical feature that helps the

grizzly bear dig is is its long claws, which are usually two to four inches long (Basic). Both of

these digging advantages serve grizzly bears well in winter when they dig dens in hillsides for

winter hibernation (Grizzly Bear Facts). Grizzly bears start preparing their dens during

hyperphagia, a period of two to four months in which they increase their calorie intake to put on

weight for winter. During this time, the bears can gain more than three pounds per day (Basic).
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Once hibernation begins, the grizzly bears body slows down its heart rate and reduces its

temperature and metabolic activity. The bear lives off its fat reserves. Grizzly bears stay in their

dens for up to seven months, but their hibernation is not a deep sleep; they will wake when

disturbed (Grizzly Bear). If the bear has not built up enough fat reserves, it might wake up and

go look for food, demonstrated by the fact that some bears have been observed leaving their

winter dens and feeding on winter-killed animals (Bears). The grizzly bears survival skills

are considered more general, whereas the polar bears adaptations are specifically tailored to its

freezing habitat.

The physical features of a polar bear allow it to not only survive in the Arctic, but also

keep it quite comfortable. Polar bears have not just one but two layers of fur with a thick layer

of fat underneath. Their small ears and tail prevent heat loss. These features make it so that the

polar bear actually has more problems with overheating than getting too cold (Polar Bear

Facts). This means that the polar bear would only be able to live somewhere as cold or colder

than the Arctic. Polar bears furred feet have small bumps called papillae, along with long claws

that keep them from slipping on the ice. Having furred feet, papillae, and long claws are

especially helpful when a polar bear is pulling a seal out of the water (Polar Bear Facts).

Speaking of seals, polar bears have a strong sense of smell that helps them locate seals (Polar

Bear Facts). The polar bear has adapted to live in water and on land, so much so that the World

Wide Fund for Nature, a preservation organization, says they are classified as marine mammals.

Polar bears are excellent swimmers that can hold a pace of six miles per hour and have been

spotted over 100 miles away from land or ice (Polar Bear)(Polar Bear Habitat). It also helps

that they have a water repellant coat. All of these features imply that the water is the polar bears

complete source of life, because the seal is the polar bears source of food. Because the polar
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bear is already warm enough and has a steady food source, they do not hibernate over the winter.

Pregnant female polar bears are the only ones that den up, digging in the snow, giving birth,

and emerging three months later with their cubs (Polar Bear Facts). All of these features serve

the polar bear well in the Arctic, but the bear might be in trouble if it ever had to relocate to a

warmer area.

What if both bears were dropped in a random habitat somewhere around the world? The

polar bears survival advantages in the Arctic may disadvantage it somewhere else. All of its

features that are designed to keep the polar bear warm would cause it overheat in a forest,

meadow, or even the mountains. The grizzly bear would most likely be able to live comfortably

in most environments, with the exception of the Arctic. Even though they too have thick fur,

grizzly bears simply do not have the extra layer of fat and the water resistant coat of the polar

bear. However, in any other environment, the grizzly bear would be able to adapt easily because

of its more general features such as its muscle, claws, and hibernation cycle. Another reason the

grizzly bear would be able to fit in with almost any habitat is its wide variety of food sources.

Grizzly bears eat almost anything they can find, ranging from roots to berries and rodents to

moose. No matter where it was, the grizzly bear would be able to find something to eat. In

contrast, the polar bear eats seal almost exclusively. They would have to undergo a major diet

change in order to survive in an environment that was not the Arctic. Polar bears are used to

eating a large animal all at once, so it is hypothesized that they would attempt to go after moose

or deer. It is unlikely that a single polar bear would be able to catch and take down one of these

animals by itself. Since polar bears are solitary animals, they would fail in this endeavor and

possibly starve. It seems that the grizzly bear would have a better chance of survival in a new

environment than a polar bear.

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If a grizzly bear and a polar bear were each dropped into an arbitrarily chosen ecosystem

and forced to adapt to survive, the two would react differently. Based on the evidence and

analysis of the two bears habitats, food sources, and survival methods, the grizzly bear is more

adaptable than the polar bear. The grizzly bear is more versatile than the polar bear because of its

ability to live in multiple environments, variety of food sources, and universally applicable

survival methods. We must recognize that the Arctic is the polar bears only suitable habitat, so it

is vital that we work to preserve the northern frozen tundras.

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Works Cited

Basic Facts About Grizzly Bears. Defenders of Wildlife, Defenders of Wildlife, 19 Sept. 2016,

www.defenders.org/grizzly-bear/basic-facts. Accessed 13 December 2016.

Bear's Food and Diet. BearSmart.com, Bear Smart Society, www.bearsmart.com/about-

bears/food-diet/. Accessed 13 December 2016.

Grizzly Bear. National Wildlife Federation, National Wildlife Federation, 2014,

www.nwf.org/wildlife/wildlife-library/mammals/grizzly-bear.aspx. Accessed 13

December 2016.

Grizzly Bear Facts - National Geographic. National Geographic, National Geographic, 2015,

animals.nationalgeographic.com/animals/mammals/grizzly-bear/. Accessed 13 December


Polar Bear. WorldWildlife.org, World Wildlife Fund, 2016,

www.worldwildlife.org/species/polar-bear. Accessed 13 December 2016.

Polar Bear Facts &Amp; Information. Polar Bear Facts &Amp; Information, Polar Bears

International, 2016, www.polarbearsinternational.org/about-polar-bears/essentials.

Accessed 13 December 2016.

Polar Bear Habitat. Endangered Polar Bear, Endangered Polar Bear, Apr. 2013,

www.endangeredpolarbear.com/habitat.html. Accessed 13 December 2016.