Exploring the Species of the Arctic
The cold weather and harsh conditions of the polar north mean only the most adapted creatures can survive. Over 5,500 species of animals live in the Arctic, with many in danger of extinction due to climate change.
Whilst I could try and list all these Arctic animals, including the much-loved polar bears and Whales; in this blog post I aim to wow you with 3 different Arctic animals that you may not have heard of.
No, I am not talking about the superhero film starring Hugh Jackman — the wolverine is an actual animal that lives in the Arctic. The wolverine is the largest terrestrial member of the Mustelidae family, which is a family consisting of weasels, otters, and ferrets (National Geographic Society, n.d).
Though don’t be mistaken by their cute face, these wolverines are capable of fending off bears and are able to overpower deer and lynxes (Encyclopædia Britannica, n.d). They are adapted in many ways, with one way being their thick frost-resistant fur. Though, sadly, this fur is what makes it popular among hunters with the fur often being used as a lining for coats (Encyclopædia Britannica, n.d).
Moreover, climate change is a threat to wolverines. A study by the National Center for Atmospheric Research (2011), found that a reduction in snow cover (associated with global warming) will reduce the ability of wolverines to protect and shelter newborns, threatening the ability of the species to survive.
Conservation Status: Least Concern though the population is decreasing
Photo by Hans Veth (2019)
The lemming is a small rodent in the Muroidea family which includes rats and mice. There are 20 different species of lemming, all of which occur in the Northern Hemisphere (Encyclopedia Britannica, n.d).
Lemmings are particularly feisty animals, with the confidence to confront animals much larger than themselves, often through high-pitched squeals and the exposing of its front teeth (Crew, 2015), as can be seen in the image on the left.
Павел Гавриков (2021)
They are also able to adapt to the environment by being able to burrow through tunnels underneath the snow, allowing them to escape predators and be insulated from the cold temperatures (Animals Network Editors, 2019).
Due to a warming climate, rain is becoming more common in the Arctic. This causes the snow to turn icy and dense. Lemmings, therefore, have to use more energy to dig deeper, meaning they have to work even harder to hide from predators (Government of Canada, 2017).
Conservation Status: Stable – Threatened
Though you may have heard about the walrus, did you know that the walrus is a keystone species? This means that walruses are critical in maintaining the structure of the ecological community (National Geographic Society, n.d).
But how does this occur?
Walruses feed from the seafloor, and this activity tends to kick up a lot of nutrients that otherwise would have been buried, feeding primary producers and having subsequent impacts along the food chain (Ray et al., 2006). As a result, walrus are critical to the nutrient cycle in the Arctic.
Walruses are adapted to the Arctic with their thick blubber insulating them from the cold environment and having strong tusks to haul themselves onto the ice (National Geographic, n,d.)
Climate change impacts walruses in a similar way to polar bears. Polar bears rely on sea ice to rest when hunting, giving birth and traveling from one place to another. It’s similar to walruses as they also rest on the ice, give birth there and hide from predators on sea ice. In addition, there has been some concern that the Arctic ice decline will reduce the clams on the sea floor, reducing the food available for the walrus (Kovacs et al., 2015).
Conservation status: Vulnerable
Photo by Jay Ruzesky, 2016
Ruzesky, J. (2016) Walrus haulout.
Veth, H. (2019) Shallow focus photo of brown animal photo.
Гавриков, П. (2020) A close-up shot of a Wood Lemming.
Animals Network Editors (2019) Lemming – description, habitat, image, diet, and interesting facts, Animals Network. Available at: https://animals.net/lemming/
Crew, B. (2015) When lemmings attack: Why carrying on like a deranged squeaky toy totally works, Scientific American Blog Network. Scientific American. Available at: https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/running-ponies/when-lemmings-attack-why-carrying-on-like-a-deranged-squeaky-toy-totally-works/
Encyclopædia Britannica (n.d.). Wolverine. Available at: https://www.britannica.com/animal/wolverine
Encyclopædia Britannica (n.d). Lemming. Available at:https://www.britannica.com/animal/lemming
Government of Canada (2021) How is climate change affecting the Arctic’s smallest mammal, the lemming?. Available at: https://www.canada.ca/en/polar-knowledge/polar-blog-articles/how-is-climate-change-affecting-lemming.html
Kovacs, K. et al. (2015) Walruses in a time of climate change, Arctic Program. Arctic Program. Available at: https://www.arctic.noaa.gov/Report-Card/Report-Card-2015/ArtMID/5037/ArticleID/226/Walruses-in-a-Time-of-Climate-Change
National Centre for Atmospheric Research (n.d ) Wolverine population threatened by climate change. Available at: https://news.ucar.edu/3783/wolverine-population-threatened-climate-change
National Geographic Society (n.d.) Keystone Species. Available at: https://education.nationalgeographic.org/resource/keystone-species
National Geographic Society (n.d.) Walrus. Available at: https://www.nationalgeographic.com/animals/mammals/facts/walrus
National Geographic Society (n.d.) Wolverine. Available at: https://www.nationalgeographic.com/animals/mammals/facts/wolverine
Ray, G.C. et al. (2006) “Pacific Walrus: Benthic bioturbator of Beringia,” Journal of Experimental Marine Biology and Ecology, 330(1), pp. 403–419. Available at: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jembe.2005.12.043.