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

  • A squirrel eating a seed with its paws.
    Arctic Ground Squirrel

    As an adaptation to the Arctic winter, arctic ground squirrels hibernate for about eight months.

  • A white Arctic fox blends in with the snow.
    Arctic Fox

    Arctic foxes are nomadic and travel great distances across their range, usually in a family group.

  • A beaver in a pond.

    Beavers are becoming more common in the Arctic.

  • A polar bear and cub nuzzle.
    Polar Bears

    Polar bears are iconic wildlife of the Arctic.

  • A pair of cubs cuddle together on the coast.
    Brown Bears

    Alaska accounts for more than 50% of the remaining North American brown bears and has the second largest population worldwide.

  • A small herd of caribou on the winter tundra.

    Caribou herd sizes vary greatly over time. The Western Arctic Caribou Herd has hit as low as 75,000 and as high as 500,000 animals.

  • A Dall's sheep, close up.
    Dall's Sheep

    Dall’s sheep are an alpine-adapted species at their northernmost extent in the Brooks Range of Alaska.

  • A bull moose in winter, aerial survey

    Moose are an integral component of the boreal ecosystem in Arctic parklands.

  • A muskox at Cape Krusenstern.

    Muskoxen populations occur in four locations in Alaska, two of these ranges overlap Arctic parklands.

  • An Arctic tern in the air.
    Arctic Tern

    Arctic Terns may migrate farther than any other birds, going from the high Arctic to the Antarctic.

  • Bluethroat

    Most birds in the Arctic are migratory. Landbirds comprise more than 50% of the bird species in Arctic parklands.

  • A white ptarmigan sits on a branch with a bright blue sky behind.

    The Willow Ptarmigan is the largest of three “Arctic grouse” found in Alaska, which also include the rock and the White-tailed Ptarmigan.

  • A loon on an Arctic lake.
    Yellow-billed Loons

    In Alaska, Yellow-billed Loons are restricted to tundra landscapes on the Arctic Coastal Plain with large, deep, clear, freshwater lakes.

  • A pair of swans flush from a pond.
    Tundra Swan

    Native Tundra Swans nest on Arctic tundra and migrate long distances to favored wintering areas.

  • A group of black and white murres.
    Arctic Seabirds

    There are 64 species of seabirds that breed in the Arctic.

  • A snowy owl sits on a branch.
    Snowy Owl

    Snowy Owls are a large, powerful owl of the high Arctic tundra, colored for camouflage during northern winters.

  • A pod of three bowhead whales seen from the air.
    Bowhead Whale

    Bowhead whales are one of the few whale species that reside almost exclusively in Arctic and subarctic waters.

  • A seal floats on a chunk of ice.
    Ice Seals

    Four species of ice-associated seals inhabit the Bering, Chukchi, and Beaufort seas of the Alaskan Arctic.

  • Two walrus hauled out on snowy ice.

    Walrus live in the Bering and Chukchi seas where they haul out on sea ice and along the mainland coast and islands of Russia and Alaska.

  • A pod of white belugas seen from the air in deep blue water.
    Beluga Whale

    Beluga whales are known for their white color and range of vocal sounds. They are very social animals, forming groups to hunt migrate.

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    Last updated: July 15, 2019