By Sara Thompson
Special to the Enterprise
The northernmost part of our planet is the Arctic and includes parts of Canada, Russia, Greenland, and Alaska. It is a place of extreme weather and almost perpetual winter. Even in the summer, the temperature usually peaks at 50 degrees Fahrenheit. In the winter the wind is constantly howling and the temperatures plummet to averages of –40 degrees Fahrenheit. The ground is made up of permafrost and no trees grow. Despite all these extremes, the Arctic is teeming with life. All the animals living in the Arctic either part or full time have amazing adaptations that help them to survive and thrive in the frozen lands up north.
Migration is one way that some of the animals that call the Arctic home have survived. Several species of birds fly north to breed and nest in the tundra during the warmer summer months. When the weather begins to turn, they begin to fly south to warmer climates where food is more abundant. Caribou will also migrate in search of food. Some caribou can travel as many as 3000 miles in a single year. Even though they are constantly moving around, caribou do not leave the Arctic and have adaptations that help them deal with the cold and ice. They have multiple layers of fur to help insulate them against the cold. They also have wide set hooves that help distribute their weight over the icy ground and keep their footing.
Many of the land animals in the Arctic have hollow hair that helps to trap warm air closer to their bodies. They also have thicker layers of skin and fat to aid in insulation. Polar bears’ skin has dark pigmentation to absorb as much solar energy as possible. Their hair is also covered in a thick oil that helps with waterproofing while they go in and out of the water in search of prey.
The animals that live primarily in the water rather than the land have a thick layer of fat, called blubber, under their skin. The blubber protects their organs and keeps them warm from the frigid, icy waters they spend much of their time in. Seals, walruses, and whales all live in the waters around the Arctic. These animals have adapted the ability to hold their breath for extended periods of time so they can stay under the water for hunting and for finding the occasional hole in the ice for breathing. The fish that the seals hunt also have agents in their blood to prevent freezing, so they also are able to survive in the cold waters.
Even in one of the most inhospitable places on Earth, there are animals that have evolved amazing adaptations in order to survive. Ranging from specialized hairs, thick skin, layers of fat, and even the stamina for migration, there are no limits to where animals will call home and adapt for survival.
Keep your family busy during winter by visiting Explorit during our public hours. Visitors welcome Fridays from 1-4pm, Saturdays and Sundays from 10am-2pm. Admission is $5 per person. Explorit Members, ASTC, and those ages 2 and under free.
Explorit's coming events:
• A Membership to Explorit not only supports us but grants the recipient free visits to Explorit’s regular public hours, discounts on events, summer camps and workshops, and gives you ASTC benefits to visit other museums throughout the world. To purchase or for more information visit https://www.explorit.org/membership or call Explorit at 530-756-0191.
• Like many small businesses the closures have had a significant impact on our income and sustainability. Now is a great time to donate and help Explorit continue to educate and inspire the scientists of tomorrow: https://www.explorit.org/donate.