Polar bears are fascinating animals and the largest bear species on Earth. They live in an incredibly harsh environment, and to navigate their environment, they’ve had to develop many specialized skills.
They have two fur coats to help survive the cold and sharp claws to hunt prey. But one of the polar bears’ most impressive skills is their sense of smell.
Let’s take a look at how far polar bears can smell and what they use this exceptional talent for.
How Far Can Polar Bears Smell?
Adult polar bears are fierce hunters. On land, they can smell a seal for up to 20 miles away. They’ll pick up on the scent, then follow it until they find their target.
Polar bears can even sniff out seal breathing holes more than a mile away. They can detect faint scents left by the sears on the shore.
As it happens, younger polar bears have an astonishing sense of smell, too. Most polar bears can smell a seal even if it’s under 3 feet of snow.
What Makes Polar Bear Noses Special?
Polar bears have a very strong sense of smell, so what makes their noses so special?
Inside their nose, polar bears have a complex system of very thin bones. We call these bones turbinates. Humans use turbinates to regulate how much air is going into the nose. Turbinates also have a mucus lining to warm and humidify the air.
Turbinates in polar bears work the same way, but they have a much larger surface area. This allows for more air to flow in and it reduces water loss.
A combination of those factors gives polar bears improved olfaction, which is the sense of smell. Every living organism gives off a scent in the form of chemicals into the air. The olfactory system picks up on those chemicals and identifies them as scents.
What Do Polar Bears Use Their Strong Noses For?
As you’ve probably already guessed, polar bears use their sense of smell to hunt, but that’s not the only role their enhanced sense plays.
To find each other in the snow, polar bears will use their sense of smell. Male polar bears will follow the scent of a female in heat.
Females, on the other hand, will steer clear of the males until they approach them. Female polar bears will also use their sense of smell to keep track of their baby cubs.
Polar bears have many special skills to help them thrive in their environment. One of their most impressive adaptations is an acute sense of smell.
They can use their noses to find prey that’s miles away – even up to 20 miles away! And when it’s time to mate, polar bears use their noses to find each other.