Wildlife of the Arctic

A snowshoe hare blends into the snow.
Snowshoe hares are adapted to blend in with their surroundings.

Wildlife in the Arctic are particularly adapted for the climate and environment. Some adaptations include extra insulation to stay warm (such as the muskox), white coloring to blend in (like Arctic fox, Dall’s sheep, and polar bears), and feet that are adept at walking on the spongy tundra, across slippery ice, and swimming, as conditions require (such as caribou or reindeer).

Sometimes, migration is the best strategy. For example, caribou migrate across the Arctic tundra to make use of different resources according to the seasons. Marine mammals, such as whales, migrate north when the ice clears to feed on the rich plankton of the cold Arctic waters. Many birds migrate enormous distances from all major continents, to reach the abundant food sources of the Arctic. The many lakes, expansive coastline and vast alpine areas provide breeding habitat for birds, but when the temperatures and sunlight decrease, they return to warmer, more hospitable climates.

Hibernation is another adaptation, used by grizzly bears and ground squirrels. Female polar bears hibernate when they are pregnant in order to conserve energy and give birth in a protected environment. They come out of hibernation when their cubs are old enough to follow them while they hunt for food. When Arctic ground squirrels hibernate, their body temperatures can even dip below freezing, a condition called supercooling. Explore more about how wildlife adapt to Arctic conditions.

Learn More About Arctic Wildlife

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    Last updated: July 15, 2019