Unlike other members of the Ursidae (bear) family, polar bears are almost entirely carnivores. Their diet mainly consists of ringed seals, bearded seals, and fish.
However, polar bears don’t eat penguins. This is because penguins inhabit the Southern hemisphere, whereas polar bears live in the Northern hemisphere.
But, does that mean that if the path of these two species were to cross, polar bears would still refrain from eating penguins? This article will investigate all such questions and much more!
In the animal kingdom, the availability of a food source plays a significant role in how an animal’s diet is determined.
For example, some bears (like the American black bear) can switch their diet from meat to insects, grass, roots, or berries – depending on the weather and landscape.
Related: Do Bears Eat Berries?
Polar bears inhabit the Northern hemisphere and are found in five countries: Canada, the USA (Alaska), Norway, Russia, and Greenland. Conversely, penguins inhabit the Southern hemisphere and are found in Antarctica, New Zealand, Australia, etc.
That means the biggest reason polar bears don’t eat penguins is that they inhabit completely different parts of the world and never seem to run into each other.
It’s safe to say that if penguins and polar bears were to meet in the wild, carnage might ensue because polar bears are carnivores and skilled hunters.
However, penguins may also not be the kind of food polar bears might like. The penguin’s fat content isn’t as high as that of a seal, so the polar bear would probably prefer a seal anyway.
But, at this point, anything about polar bears eating penguins is all conjecture and theories as they don’t cross paths!
Anything to do with polar bears eating penguins is theory-based primarily because there are no real-life incidents.
But that hasn’t stopped zoologists from speculating what might happen if the two species were to live close enough to interact.
Related Article: 10 Penguin Adaptations
There are two main issues to consider on this question.
1. They Probably Would, But…
Polar bears would have no problem adding penguins to their daily diet because they have such high energy and protein needs. They will eat anything!
There are reports of polar bears eating small rodents, reindeers, sea birds, bird eggs, and even vegetation to survive when seals are scarce. That means there’s a high chance that polar bears wouldn’t stop short of hunting penguins to make up for their daily caloric intake.
2. Penguins Won’t be their Top Dietary Choice
On the other hand, penguins aren’t the kind of species that has what it takes to become a regular part of the polar bear diet.
Penguins, unlike seals, don’t have a lot of body fat and wouldn’t contribute too much to the polar bear’s diet. In short, polar bears would only ever resort to eating penguins when the seal supply ran short.
Either way, polar bears would eat penguins if they lived close enough, which would be good news for the world’s penguins!
Related Article: Can Polar Bears Breathe Underwater?
Could Polar Bears Hunt Penguins?
Polar bears are apex predators. They are at the top of the food chain in the Arctic. That means they hunt many animals, but they aren’t preyed upon by other animals.
Furthermore, scientists are discovering polar bears might be more intelligent than they initially thought. There are stories from Inuit guides that narrate polar bears throwing rocks off a cliff with perfect accuracy to kill walruses resting at the foot.
That means polar bears can adapt their hunting skills to suit the situation and prey.
This means there’s a very high possibility that polar bears could effectively hunt and kill penguins without much difficulty – given a chance. That’s true for both hunting on land and in the water.
Penguins have swimming speeds of 8 km/h, whereas polar bears can swim at 10 km/h. In short, there’s absolutely no competition between the two.
Dietary Habits of Polar Bears
A polar can eat about 20% of its body weight in food. This is because they need to store a lot of food through tough and cold weather.
Polar bears are also a very efficient eaters. They digest and utilize approximately 97% of the fat and 85% of the protein they eat – meaning barely anything goes to waste.
The species also needs to consume at least 4.5 pounds of fat every day to keep functioning.
They prefer eating animals like seals because their bodies contain high amounts of blubber which can help add fat to the polar bear’s body, keeping it warm.
However, when summer sets in and sea ice starts melting, polar bears can eat fish and bird eggs to survive. The species also rely on several methods of hunting to ensure their prey doesn’t get away.
These include still hunting, land and aquatic stalking, and tracking birth lairs of seals. Polar bears generally adopt the still hunting method throughout the year.
They tend to wait motionless, beside a ledge waiting for a seal to surface. Once the seal breaks through the surface of the water, the polar bear latches on to it and drags it to the surface to kill.
It’s true that no one’s ever seen a polar bear eating a penguin because there’s literally the whole world between where they live. Penguin populations are safe from becoming polar bear food because polar bears probably don’t know they even exist!
If the two species were to meet in natural settings, there’s little doubt that an apex predator like the polar bear would miss the chance of hunting penguins. But, until such a grim theory becomes a reality – all one can do is guess.
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