Fascinated by what we were capable of doing with our hands, we started wondering about other animals and whether they possess the same ‘handedness’ that humans do. There’s a funny myth out there in the world that all polar bears are left handed! Strange idea!
We thought we should examine more closely where this idea might have come from and if there’s any truth behind the myth. So are polar bears left handed?
To start with, let’s note the fact that polar bears have paws somewhat similar to our hands, but one major difference is the lack of opposable thumbs. It’s our opposable thumbs that make us humans so good at using our hands to manipulate objects.
It’s one of the key features that sets us apart from most of the animals in the animal kingdom. However, despite the lack of opposable thumbs, polar bears do use their paws for digging, hunting and even manipulating and moving objects around.
They’re capable of moving things using their paws, so does this mean that they should also possess a preference for one paw over the other? Does their ‘handedness’ – like ours – alternate from one paw to the other? Researchers in Alaska set out to find the answer to these questions.
Researchers observed polar bears in Alaska during the summer and spring as well as in Canada during the summer.
They were looking for evidence of side preferences when it came to manipulating objects with paws and claws. What they found was that no preference for a paw was evident in the Alaska and Canada samples.
Side preferences were only evident in polar bears observed on the island of Wrangel, southeast of Siberia during the summer and on the ice in Svalbard during the winter.
Only one animal showed a significant left-right preference, but this was observed at Wrangel Island in summer.
This means that polar bears are probably ambidextrous when handling objects with their paws and claws. However, like us, they may show a preference for one paw over the other when it comes to grooming their fur or digging holes (for reasons related to ergonomics such as leverage).
Evidence from wild and captive polar bears seems to suggest that they are neither left- nor right-pawed.
So, you can rest assured, when watching a polar bear hunt for seals on the ice floes, it’ll probably be using both paws equally.