Did you know polar bears have black skin, and their fur isn't really white? Yes, they appear white when you look at them, but the real story is somewhat complex, so let's take a closer look.
First, it's important to understand how we perceive color. A red stop sign appears red because the red paint absorbs all colors (wavelengths) except for red, which is reflected back to your eyes. The paint on a black car absorbs all colors, so no colors are reflected to your eyes. White paint, on the other hand, reflects all colors, and therefore looks white. This, of course, is why you stay cooler wearing white on a summer day, compared to wearing black.
Well, beneath a polar bear's thick fur is black skin. This helps the bear absorb sunlight, converting it into body heat.
Wait! Doesn't the bear's fur reflect all the sunlight, preventing the black skin from absorbing the light? Here's where things get interesting. A polar bear's fur isn't white at all! Each hair is hollow, and it basically has no pigment, like a miniature version of a transparent plastic straw. When sunlight hits the fur, the light goes through a complex scattering pattern and it hits the bear's black skin, warming the bear. Only a small amount of the light is reflected, and because sunlight is all colors—in other words, white—that's why we perceive polar bears to be white. If it wasn't for this complex scattering phenomenon, the bear's fur would appear transparent, and we would see the black skin when we look at a polar bear.
- Polar bear - DepositPhotos
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