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What Color is a Polar Bear's Fur?

Updated on August 7, 2017
davidlivermore profile image

David has had a variety of life experiences which he loves to share with his readers.

A polar bear cub with what appears to be a nice white coat of fur.
A polar bear cub with what appears to be a nice white coat of fur. | Source

A Polar Bear's Fur is White, Right?

Most pictures and video taken of polar bears show this white fur that covers their entire body. However, sometimes a polar bear's fur is seen to be yellow as well. How can that be? Are there black polar bears out there? Blue? Purple?

The only way to find out is to read on.

The fur of a polar bear made wet by the water.  What color does it appear to be when the polar  bear is under water?
The fur of a polar bear made wet by the water. What color does it appear to be when the polar bear is under water? | Source
Polar bear with what appears to be yellowish fur, or is it?
Polar bear with what appears to be yellowish fur, or is it? | Source

Polar Bear Fur Color

First off, the polar bear has two types of fur. The first, an underfur, is dense in nature. The second are the guard hairs, which is where the color of the fur on the polar bear actually comes from.

The fur color on a polar bear isn't white in color. In fact, their fur color is actually transparent, or colorless. But to the naked eye, the color of fur on a polar bear appears to be a white or tan color. The light reflects off of the polar bear's transparent fur and when our eyes process the light it appears to be an actual color, when it doesn't have a color at all.

There are other factors that can change the fur color on a polar bear. For example, as a polar bear ages their guard hairs can start to discolor, eventually turning to a yellow coat of fur. But this doesn't happen in all cases.

Something different happens to the color of fur on a polar bear when it's kept in captivity for long periods of time, especially in those cases where a polar bear is kept in climates that are warm and humid. Algae can grow directly inside of the guard hairs, resulting in their fur turning a light shade of green. But this is as very subtle change in their fur color and can be treated by a professional that knows how to treat polar bear fur.

The underfur is also transparent, but it's solid, as opposed to the guard hairs which are hallow.

So while various factors can affect the color of a polar bear's fur, their bodies are covered with transparent guard hairs that our eyes interpret as being white in color.

What color do you think this polar bear's fur is?
What color do you think this polar bear's fur is? | Source
Polar bears live in the Arctic Circle - Canada, Russia, Alaska, Greenland, and Norway.
Polar bears live in the Arctic Circle - Canada, Russia, Alaska, Greenland, and Norway. | Source

Facts About Polar Bears

  • The polar bear is believed to be an offshoot of the brown bear. Even though there are many theories, the most recent believes polar bears split from the brown bear over four million years ago.
  • Other languages, such as Russian and French, call the polar bear a "white bear" in each of their own languages, furthering the belief polar bears are purely white.
  • The skin of the polar bear is actually black, but their fur does a very good job of covering that up. However, on some areas of their body you can see traces of that black, especially on the face.
  • It was originally thought that the guard hairs on the polar bear were acting like fiber-optic tubes that pulled light into the skin, but that has since been disproved by further studies.
  • Polar bears live in the Arctic, Canada, Alaska, Greenland, Russia, and Norway.
  • Polar bears and penguins do not live in the same area. It's common belief that they do, but that is just another thing about polar bears people don't know about.
  • The main diet for a polar bear are seals.
  • Polar bears can live up to 25 years, but some are known to live longer.
  • Polar bear population has been shrinking due to global warming and is in danger of becoming extinct.

© 2012 David Livermore

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    • davidlivermore profile image
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      David Livermore 4 years ago from Bakersfield, California, United States

      I'm glad that you did, I enjoyed writing it! Thank you.

    • Alison Graham profile image

      Alison Graham 4 years ago from UK

      Fascinating information David - I really enjoyed reading this hub.

    • davidlivermore profile image
      Author

      David Livermore 4 years ago from Bakersfield, California, United States

      Great, thanks so much, I am glad you enjoyed it!

    • L.L. Woodard profile image

      L.L. Woodard 4 years ago from Oklahoma City

      Thanks, David. I enjoyed learning about the polar bear and have even more respect than ever for Mother Nature.

      Voted up and Shared.

    • davidlivermore profile image
      Author

      David Livermore 4 years ago from Bakersfield, California, United States

      They are colorless as well, but the guard hairs are hallow, the underhairs are not.

    • L.L. Woodard profile image

      L.L. Woodard 4 years ago from Oklahoma City

      I understand the guard hairs are transparent, even though my eyes tell me differently, but what about the underhairs?

    • davidlivermore profile image
      Author

      David Livermore 4 years ago from Bakersfield, California, United States

      Glad you learned something new! Funny the things nature throws at us. Thank you.

    • Dreamhowl profile image

      Jessica Marello 4 years ago from United States

      I knew their skin was actually black, but didn't know that their fur was transparent. It's an interesting fact to think about. Voted up and interesting!