How bears beat the heat

Summer is prime time for spotting bears swimming in lakes and ponds, splashing in swimming pools and hot tubs, emptying kiddie pools and stretching out in the shade. People can wear light-colored, breathable clothes, big hats and stay inside in the AC sipping cold drinks. Bears live in their fur coats year-round, so they are forced to find creative ways to beat the summer heat until cooler days arrive.

Bears don’t have sweat glands and their insulating fur is designed to keep them warm, not cool. But bears have several physiological, adaptive and behavioral mechanisms to help them stay cool when the heat is on.

Shedding their underwear

Like dogs, bears lose some of their soft, dense insulating underfur as well as some of their coarse outer guard hairs when temperatures climb. That’s why bears can look very scruffy by late summer. As the weather cools and they layer on fat for hibernation, their underfur and guard hairs grow back.

Letting off steam

Bears are able to dissipate heat through their paws, which are well-supplied with blood vessels. They also lose heat through other areas with minimal fur, such as faces, ears, nose, belly and the insides of their legs. Any cool, shady area where they can stretch out on their lightly furred bellies with their legs spread wide makes a great place to cool off, whether that’s under a tree in the forest or under your porch.

Photo by Brian Wartchow

Diving in

Bears will take advantage of any available water source, from swimming pools, hot tubs and sprinklers to ponds, lakes, streams and fountains. Like dogs, bears shake off vigorously when they emerge from the water, which creates an evaporative cooling effect (and a big mess if you’re standing in the way). Bears are excellent swimmers and have no problem swimming considerable distances and navigating the deep end.

Bear in the pool?

The best thing you can do is encourage the bear to leave if you can do so safely. Make sure the bear has an escape route, then bang pots and pans, yell and make lots of noise until the bear moves on. You might think there’s no harm in letting a hot bear cool off in your pool, but it’s never a good idea to encourage bears to visit homes and communities.

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