Polar Bears Use Scent as a Trail of Bread Crumbs

Picture of polar bear
A new study confirms polar bears leave signals for mates with every step they take. (Photograph by Mike Lockhart)

By Emily Shenk

National Geographic

Imagine you’ve drawn a line across a jigsaw puzzle, and you’re following that line from beginning to end. Suddenly the puzzle breaks apart and the pieces move in different directions. How do you follow the line to your destination?

In the case of polar bears, the destination is a potential mate walking across the sea ice. A new article published this month in the Journal of Zoology confirms what many researchers have observed in the wild—that polar bears leave scents behind in their tracks, which they use to find each other in their vast habitat.

The first-of-its-kind study was a decade in the making. In 2004, scientists began collecting samples from polar bears in the wild by swabbing their paws. Researchers then conducted a series of experiments with captive polar bears in zoos, where they presented the scents to them and observed how the polar bears responded.

“We had hypothesized and certainly scientists had long assumed that polar bears would have to rely on scent to navigate their social landscape,” said lead author Megan Owen, associate director at the San —> Read More Here


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