Arctic Animals: Overview

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Arctic Animals: Profiles

icon_mouse_darkorangeReading 01: Polar Bear
icon_mouse_greenReading 02: Ice-edge dwellers
icon_mouse_greyscaleReading 03: Land dwellers
icon_mouse_rubyReading 04: Ocean Communities
icon_mouse_greyscaleReading 05: Plant Communities

Animals of the High Arctic have special adaptations that allow them to survive in the harsh climate. The muskox, stays warm with a double-layer of insulation. Shaggy coarse outer hairs shed the snow and block the wind and keeps an under-layer short wool called “qiviut” dry. When Arctic storms hit, muskox huddle in groups and can become completely covered with blowing snow. They stay perfectly warm under the snow in their double-layered coats. When the storm is over, they simply stand up and shake off the snow.

The Peary Caribou have hollow hairs that trap their body heat and insulate them from the cold, much like a puffy coat traps your body heat, keeping you warm in the winter. Caribou and muskox are herbivores, meaning they have to be able to find plants and lichens to eat. In the winter this means using their sense of smell to find food under the snow and then digging with their hooves to reach the food. Climate change can make freezing rain and thaw-freeze events more common in the Arctic which can coat the ground in a layer of ice that makes it difficult for caribou and muskox to reach their food.

Polar bears have thick coats and a large nose for warming the air they breathe. A mother bear will den under the snow during the four coldest months of winter where she and her cubs will be out of the wind and warm. You might not think of a snow den as being warm, but because of the tiny air pockets trapped in snow, snow is a good insulator, just like the insulation in the walls of your house. The mother doesn’t eat during the four months she and her cubs are in their den, so when they emerge in the spring she must successfully hunt seals on the sea ice. A warming climate can reduce the amount of sea ice and make hunting difficult. It can also cause snow dens to collapse.

Questions:

  1. What special adaptations do animals in your area have to survive in the wild?
  2. How would the animals in your area and the animals in the Arctic be impacted if the climate changed?
  3. Arctic animals have special adaptations that allow them to live in harsh climates. As the climate warms and other animals expand their ranges northward, how do you think Arctic animals will compete with them for resources?
  4. The food web connects animals in an ecosystem. For example, in the High Arctic wolves eat caribou and muskox. How do you think changes to the population of one animal might affect other animals?

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