Winter, for us, is the time for hot soups, warm mittens, and enjoying steaming cups of coffee beside a crackling fire. But for the animals out in the wild, it’s a struggle for survival. However many animals adapt to cold weather having developed multiple defenses against the biting cold and harshest winters. These ten animals have adapted themselves to the extreme conditions prevailing in their habitats over the centuries and can thrive and survive in extremely cold weather.
10. Snow Leopard
Found in the mountain ranges of Central Asia, Snow Leopard is a moderately large cat having a short muzzle and domed forehead. They have a spotted smoky gray to the yellowish coat of thick, long fur which helps them to stay warm in the biting cold of the alpine and semi-alpine regions of Central Asia. A long and flexible tail helps them maintain their balance on rocky terrain. Their thick tails, containing a large amount of fat, are covered with lush fur and act as cozy blankets which protect their faces during sleep. They have small, rounded ears and stocky bodies covered with thick fur, all of which minimize heat loss. Wide furry paws, powerful legs and fur on their undersides help them walk long distances in the thick snow besides improving their grip on steep and unstable surfaces. Snow leopards are an endangered species due to hunting, poaching and the continued destruction of threatened mountain ecosystems.
9. Arctic Hare
Arctic hare have a thick coat of fur and shorter ears than rabbits, which conserve body heat. It doesn’t hibernate but digs holes in the ground under the snow to keep warm. They are taller than rabbits and are found in the tundra regions of Greenland and northern parts of Canada. They survive in the extreme cold weather by eating willow twigs and woody plants after digging them out from under the snow. Their fur changes color according to seasons, becoming white in winter, thus providing them the advantage of camouflaging according to the weather. Arctic hares huddle in groups for warmth and protection.
8. Leopard Seal
Leopard seal or sea leopard are predators found commonly in the Antarctic. It is a fierce hunter with powerful jaws and a large, muscular body. They have patterned fur on their bodies which is dark on top and lighter on their underbellies. The fur acts as a camouflage in the water enabling them to hunt down fish, penguins, squid and smaller seals with ease. A thick layer of blubber provides them insulation and protection from the extreme cold.
7. Musk Ox
Musk ox is found primarily in Arctic Canada and Greenland. It derives its name from the strong odor emitted by males during mating season. Musk oxen feed on roots and mosses of the tundra and dig for food with their hooves when the ground is covered with snow and ice. Dark fur which is thick, long and shaggy covers its entire body providing insulation from the extreme cold. The hair on its body hangs almost to the ground forming a warm tent of sorts. The hollow hairs in the fur conserve body heat keeping them warm in the extreme cold. Long curved horns provide them defense against predators. Musk oxen are generally found in groups, huddling together for warmth and protection from predators.
Walrus is commonly found about the North Pole in the arctic seas. They live in shallow waters above continental shelves surviving on a diet of shrimps, crabs, mollusks and soft corals. Walruses have a massive blubbery body which keeps it warm and cozy in the frigid Arctic waters where temperatures go down below zero degree. The long tusks help them to form holes in the ice and climb out of water on to the ice. Walruses also use their tusks to form breathing holes from underwater into the ice. Their distinctive whiskers are highly sensitive organs attached to muscles and consisting of blood and nerves. Walruses can conserve oxygen while diving by slowing down their heart rate.
Narwhals are medium sized whales commonly found in the Arctic. Male narwhals are distinguished by a single, elongated, straight ivory tusk. Narwhals have short snouts and a forehead melon which facilitates echolocation. The absence of a dorsal fin helps them to preserve body heat and swim with ease under ice sheets while hunting for flatfish. The blubber layer on their bodies helps them to keep warm in the frigid Arctic waters. Their bodies are exceptionally adapted for deep sea diving and narwhals can dive nearly 1,000 feet down. Narwhals have a flexible rib cage which can withstand the extreme pressure of the deep sea waters. Narwhals can also minimize oxygen consumption and store oxygen for long periods.
Caribous are known popularly in common folklore as Santa Claus’s reindeers. Caribous live in Arctic, Subarctic, mountainous and tundra regions of North America, Europe, Asia and Greenland. Caribou herds make one of the longest migrations, travelling more than 600 miles at the onset of summer, to feed on the abundant foliage of the tundra. These elk-like animals are distinguished by the presence of large antlers in both males and females. They have large hollowed out hooves which help them to walk on the icy terrain, paddle in water with ease and dig for lichens under the snow. The sharp edges of the hooves facilitate an easy grip on rocks and ice. Caribous have a furry coat with two layers. One is a dense, woolly undercoat and the outer layer consists of long, hollow air-filled hairs.
3. Beluga Whale
Beluga whales are stocky cetaceans found in the Arctic and Subarctic seas. They are also known as white whales due to their all white color which help them to blend in their icy habitats. Like narwhals, the dorsal fin is absent on their bodies, reducing body surface area and thus preserving body heat. Beluga whales have a substantial amount of blubber which helps them to survive in the freezing waters. They Beluga whales have an echolocation organ, known as melon, at the front of their heads which help them find blowholes under sheet ice while hunting and swimming under extensive ice sheets. Beluga whales can dive down to 700 meters below the sea surface despite being slow swimmers. They survive on a diet of fish, crustaceans and invertebrates. They are also called sea canaries due to their high pitched twitter.
2. Polar Bear
The polar bear is fully equipped for Arctic life having multiple defenses against the ravages of its harsh, icy habitat. A thick coat of long, heavy, white fur helps them to blend into their surroundings besides keeping them warm by trapping a layer of insulating air. Their oily fur keeps moisture at bay and protects it from frigid waters. A layer of blubber directly below the skin provides insulation from the biting cold. Polar bears have large paws with furry soles to help them walk easily on snow and ice, though these massive creatures prefer to spend most of their lives in the sea. It has been classified as a vulnerable species due to global warming. The melting of sea ice and threats to its fragile habitat has made hunting for food, challenging for the polar bear.
1. Arctic Fox
Also known as polar fox, the arctic fox is found throughout the Arctic regions in the Northern Hemisphere. It can survive at temperatures as low as -58F by burrowing into the ground or snow. Their round body, short muzzle and small ears reduce body surface area and consequently exposure to extreme cold. It has an insulating layer of thick fur coat which traps a layer of air and preserves body heat. Furry paws and a keen sense of hearing help them to walk easily on the snow and hunt for prey. Arctic foxes have white fur that helps them camouflage in the ice and snow. Their fur changes color to brown or gray in summer to help them blend in with their surroundings.