Animals of the Arctic

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The Wild Arctic


The Arctic is a region that encircles the north pole and extends southward over the Arctic Ocean, Alaska, Canada, Greenland, Iceland, Scandinavia, and Russia.

The Arctic has a climate characterized by long, cold winters and short, cool summers. Little rain falls in the Arctic, most precipitation falls as snow. Many parts of the Arctic are arid, receiving less than 20 inches of precipitation each year.

The plants and animals that inhabit the Arctic are well adapted to its harsh environment. Arctic vegetation is hardy and compact—most species of vegetation are short, ground-hugging organisms such as lichens and mosses, dwarf shrubs and herbs. Animals such as the Arctic hare, muskox, and pikas graze on these plants. Other animals—such as Arctic foxes and wolves—hunt the herbivores.

In this slideshow, we'll explore the various animals that inhabit the Arctic and learn more about the adaptations they have developed that enable them to live in one of the most harsh environments on our planet.

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Arctic Fox

Arctic fox - Alopex lagopus. Photo © D. Robert Franz / Getty Images.

The Arctic fox (Vulpes lagopus) is a small species of fox that inhabits the Arctic. Arctic foxes feed on a variety of small prey including rabbits, lemmings, voles, birds, and carrion. Arctic foxes have thick fur that enables them to stay warm in the extreme cold environments in which they live.

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Arctic Tern

Arctic tern - Sterna paradisaea. Photo © Mike Powles / Getty Images.

The Arctic tern (Sterna paradise) is a species of tern known for its long migration. It spends the breeding season in the Arctic and migrates to the Antarctic during the Northern Hemisphere's winter season. For this reason, the Arctic tern enjoys two seasons of summer back-to-back. The average annual migration of Arctic terns can be as much as 56,000 miles.

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Polar Bear

Photo © Lars Hallström / Getty Images.

The polar bear (Ursus maritimus) is the world's largest land carnivore. Polar bears feed on a diet that consists almost entirely of ringed seals and bearded seals. They also occasionally eat whale carcasses, walrus, and birds' eggs. The range of polar bears is restricted to the Arctic where pack ice forms and remelts forming a matrix habitat where seals are most plentiful.

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Photo © Anna Henly / Getty Images.

The walrus (Odobenus rosmarus) is a large marine mammal that inhabits the Arctic Ocean, the coast of eastern Siberia, Wrangel Island, the Beaufort Sea, and the coast of northern Alaska. Walruses feed on a variety of animals including mollusks, sea cucumbers, shrimp, crabs, tube worms, and other marine invertebrates. Walrus are threatened by few predators, among which are the killer whale and the polar bear. Humans also pose a threat to walrus.

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Rock Ptarmigan

Photo © Andrew Parkinson / Getty Images.

The rock ptarmigan (Lagopus muta) is a medium sized gamebird that inhabits the tundra. In winter, rock ptarmigans have a plumage that is entirely white, in summer, their plumage is a mottled gray-brown. Rock ptarmigans are ground foraging birds that feed on the buds of willows and birches. They also eat berries, seeds, leaves, and flowers.

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Musk-oxen are large even-toed hoofed mammals that belong to the same family as bison, antelopes, goats, and domestic cattle. Musk-oxen live in the tundra of the Arctic where they feed on plant matter such as lichens, mosses, flowers, grasses, and roots. Musk-oxen have long shaggy hair that helps to keep them warm in their extreme cold environment. An outer layer of long, coarse guard hairs provides protection from the wind while an inner layer of shorter hair that provides insulation. Musk-oxen form large herds of two to three dozen individuals. By congregating in herds, they are better protected from predators such as wolves.

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Arctic Hare


The arctic hare (Lepus arcticus) is a species of lagomorph that inhabits the tundra of the North American arctic. Arctic hares have a thick coat of fur that enables them to withstand the frigid temperatures of their environment. They also have a low surface area to volume ration which enables them to better conserve their body heat. This is important since Arctic hares do not hibernate and must endure the coldest periods of the Arctic winger.

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Harp Seal


The harp seal (Pagophilus groenlandicus) is a species of true seal that has a large, robust body and a small, flat head. Their snout is narrow and they have front flippers with thick claws. Their hind flippers have smaller claws. Baby harp seals have a yellowish-white coat and adults have a silver-gray coat. Their eyes are a deep black color. Harp seals spend most of their time swimming in the ocean and relatively little time on land. Their range extends where pack ice is throughout the North Atlantic and Arctic Oceans, from Newfoundland to northern Russia.

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Your Citation
Klappenbach, Laura. "Animals of the Arctic." ThoughtCo, Feb. 22, 2016, Klappenbach, Laura. (2016, February 22). Animals of the Arctic. Retrieved from Klappenbach, Laura. "Animals of the Arctic." ThoughtCo. (accessed October 18, 2017).