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12 Polar Bear Pictures That Will Melt Your Heart

These beautiful marine mammals hunt, sleep, and raise their families on what's left of the Arctic ice.

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Female polar bear playing with her little cub on the snowLamberrto/Shutterstock

Playtime!

A mother polar bear gives birth for the first time when she’s five- or six-years-old to one to three cubs (usually twins), in the month of November or December. She’s the sole caregiver to her fur babies. But her job’s not all hard work! These extremely intelligent animals have a playful side.

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Polar Bear (Ursus maritimus) cub coming out den and playing around, Wapusk national park, Canada.AndreAnita/Shutterstock

Out in the world

A polar bear mom gets ready to give birth by fattening up on seals, then digging a snow den in a drift; she hangs out in there until she gives birth a couple months later. She nurses her babies snuggled up inside, away from predators, where it can be 40 degrees warmer than it is outside. Sometime around March, the young bears are ready to emerge.

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Polar she-bear with cubs. A Polar she-bear with two small bear cubs. Around snow.Black and white photo.Sergey Uryadnikov/Shutterstock

The family that sticks together stays warm together

The polar bear (Ursus maritimus) is one of only eight species of bear worldwide. Unlike its black and brown bear cousins, it thrives on the ice and snow—thanks to its special coat made of long hairs that stick together when wet to provide insulation and cause moisture to roll right off. It also has a second snuggly undercoat of fur and black skin that absorbs heat from the sun.

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Polar bear attacking underwater with full paw blow details showing the extended claws, webbed fingers and lots of bubbles - bear looking at camera.Sylvie Bouchard/Shutterstock

Into the water!

Polar bears are excellent swimmers. They can paddle up to 10 kilometres an hour, and travel as far as 96 kilometres, using their front paws to pull them through the water and their back paws as rudders. Their stores of fat keep them extra warm.

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polar bear sow and pose together on ice floe in norwegian arctic waters, with nice reflectionFloridaStock/Shutterstock

Adrift on the open sea

Polar bears may swim to stalk seals for their dinner, but mostly they hunt them from on top of the ice. These biggest of all land predators can sniff out their prey from 32 kilometres away; they can then stand for hours waiting for it to surface before grabbing it with their powerful paws and jaws.

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a silly polar bear pushes across the snow on his belly.Green Mountain Exposure/Shutterstock

Bears just wanna have fun

According to the San Diego Zoo, playful solitary polar bears “have been observed sliding repeatedly downhill or across ice for no apparent reason other than just for the fun of it!” Imagine what they could do if someone gave them some sleds or skis!

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Paws of polar bear. Ursus maritimus.Elpisterra/Shutterstock

Amazing paws!

The paws of an adult polar bear can be 12 inches across. They’re not just big and beautiful, though; they’re highly specialized tools that allow the bears to grip the ice, dig their snow burrows, spear some seals, and walk across the tundra snowshoe-style without sinking. The thick, rough pads on the bottoms of their paws give them extra traction.

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Three month old baby Polar Bear cub (Ursus maritimus) close up portrait.Ger Bosma Photos/Shutterstock

Baby steps

Baby polar bears start their lives at about 12 inches long and weighing around one pound. But lying in the warm den with their mothers for three months or longer, nursing on milk that is 33 per cent fat, helps them grow up quick. This three-month-old cub could weigh 30-plus pounds and is now ready to watch its mother hunt for seals—and hopefully give it a little taste of the blubber.

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Two Polar bears lying on drifting ice with snow, white animals in the nature habitat, Canada. Funny scene with dangerous mammals from arctic nature.Ondrej Prosicky/Shutterstock

Pal-ing around

Even though they’re mostly solitary animals, grownup polar bears can form short- or long-lived friendships. How do they like to spend their time together? Wrestling, traveling together in order to hunt—and if this photo is any indication, showing each other their bellies!

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polar bearpoutnik/Shutterstock

Shhhh…polar bear sleeping!

Unlike other bears, polar bears don’t hibernate for the winter. But that doesn’t mean they don’t like a good snooze, especially in the summertime, when they’ve been observed sleeping for up to eight hours at a stretch. They may use a rock for a pillow; they might dig a shallow hole in the ground, or make a pile of seaweed, to be used as a “day bed.”

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White Polar Bear Hunter on the Ice in water drops.Andrey Yurlov/Shutterstock

Take it easy

Hunting seals is exhausting work that can use up a polar bear’s fat and energy reserves, especially as the climate warms; they have to work harder to catch their prey in the fewer and fewer months in which there’s any ice to hunt on top of. Is it any wonder they may rest for up to 20 hours some days?

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"Because I’m worth it!", a portrait of polar bear who appears to be auditioning for a shampoo advert as it shakes itself dry in the Wildlands Adventure zoo in Emmen, the NetherlandsRiekus/Shutterstock

Hello, gorgeous!

Weren’t sure you loved polar bears? Then this glamor shot of a wet bear, post-swim, should change your mind forever!

Next, check out 10 of the cutest tiny animals from around the world.

Originally Published on Reader's Digest