Polar Bear experts are on hand during Polar Bear Cam season to weigh in on your frequently asked questions!
Today’s Question: Are polar bears really white?
Polar bear fur consists of a dense, insulating undercoat topped by guard hairs of various lengths. It is not actually white—it just looks that way. Each hair shaft is pigment-free and transparent with a hollow core that scatters and reflects visible light, much like what happens with ice and snow.
“Polar bears look whitest when they are clean and in sunlight, especially just after the molt period, which usually begins in spring and is complete by late summer. Before molting, oils from the seals they eat can make them look yellow,” said Tom Smith, an associate professor and research wildlife biologist in the Department of Plant and Wildlife Sciences at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah.
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