There are many animal species living in the Arctic. To survive the cold, they all have to develop special adaptations.
Polar bears, in particular, have two layers of fur and can go a long time without food. But one of its most notable adaptations is its feet.
Anatomy of Polar Bear Feet
Polar bears spend their whole life on their feet, so they need a sturdy base. Polar bears’ paws have a similar structure to human hands and feet, but with a few twists.
In human hands, two bones fuse together to form the Carpal bone. That’s the main part of the appendage.
In polar bears, it’s one large bone in the forepaw. The pisiform, the part that connects the carpal to the limb, is also much larger in polar bears.
Another huge difference lies in the metacarpals. This is the part that divides and gives humans their fingers. In polar bears, the metacarpals aren’t separate and don’t have the same range of motion.
The metacarpals attach to the phalanges. These are the bones of the fingers. Polar bears have phalanges that increase in size from medial to lateral.
Connected at the tip of each phalange is a thick, strong claw. They can’t retract them, but polar bears can use their claws to do serious damage.
Adaptations of Polar Bear Feet
Polar bears have to survive in one of the harshest environments on Earth. They don’t only survive; they thrive!
To navigate the heavy snow, polar bears have slightly webbed forepaws. This increases the surface area of the paw and allows the polar bear to walk on fresh snow. It also comes in handy when the polar bear is trying to swim.
The hind paws are a little different. They’re elongated, which gives the polar bears their long strides.
Because of the cold, polar bears have fur all over their bodies, apart from the nose and the footpads. Polar bear footpads are wider than most bears to help distribute their weight. They’re also thick and black to help polar bears absorb heat from sunlight.
The footpads also have soft papillae. They’re small structures like the tiny bumps on the surface of your tongue. This gives the polar bear extra friction to make walking on ice easier.
At the tip of each toe, polar bears have sharp claws. Compared to other bears, polar bears have shorter claws, but they’re just as sharp. They can use them to climb mountains or attack prey.
Very few animals have as many adaptations as polar bears. They have to navigate living in an incredibly harsh environment, after all, from high rocky mountains to deep snow.
Polar bears have incredibly specialized feet. The basic structure of polar bears’ feet is similar to human feet. But polar bears have much wider feet and less articulation in the metacarpal.