You might think that cute little penguins are natural prey for polar bears in the arctic. Fortunately (for penguins), an encounter between a polar bear and penguin is not possible. Penguins live at the south pole and polar bears are at the north pole.
Many people do not realize that penguins are only found in the southern hemisphere. They live on many continents, but the one often confused is Antarctica, the frozen continent at the bottom of the globe.
As for polar bears, these white and furry creatures live in the Arctic, including parts of North America. The climate may seem similar Antarctic, but there are many differences. For example, Antarctica is a continent surrounded by ocean. The Arctic is a frozen ocean surrounded by continents.
There are 18 species of penguins, and they are all found in the southern hemisphere. Some experts think penguins evolved from a bird that could fly, and that’s how they got to Antarctica. Today’s penguins are flightless birds with highly developed swimming skills. They live along the shoreline where they have immediate access to food, such as fish, squid, and krill. Only a few species of penguins live in Antarctica, the coldest part of their range. Most penguins live in the temperate zone, along the coast of South America, South Africa, and New Zealand. One species of penguin lives on the Galapagos Islands, but that’s as far north as they go. The only penguins you’ll find living north of the equator are in zoos.
Though there is only one species of polar bear (Ursus maritimus), all individual members live in one of 19 areas spread across four Arctic regions. Ancestors of polar bears were probably brown bears that walked from North America northward. Today, approximately 60 percent of polar bears live in Canada. The other 40 percent can be found in parts of Alaska, Russia, Greenland, and Norway.
If polar bears and penguins did live on the same continent, it’s easy to imagine a natural prey-predator relationship between the two species. Millions of years ago, however, the roles were likely reversed, according to recent research that indicates the modern penguin’s distant dinosaur relative was an apex predator, feeding on species much larger than today’s polar bear.
Next time you see a picture of a polar bear and penguin in the same habitat (as in our trick question graphic below), you’ll know it’s wrong.