Nature’s Sleepy Heads

Nature’s Sleepy Heads

The idea of spending one day in the freezing and windy northern tundra is enough to make any human nervous. Many animals, however, are especially adapted to tackle low temperatures and they thrive in the Arctic region. Each of these creatures has its own way of dealing with the inhospitable climate. Physical characteristics like insulating fat and small ears can make the difference between life and death for many animals. Creatures that are at home in the Arctic biome include the famous polar bear, the distinctive musk ox, the adorable lemming, and the graceful tundra wolf.

The musk ox has a thick and long insulating coat of fur, whose hollow hairs retain warm air thanks to the nearby body heat. The fact that its coat extends almost till the ground helps keep the area just under the ox cozy. In the extreme cold, musk oxen prefer to find warmth in groups. Arctic hares do the same, huddling together in large numbers to increase collective warmth. If a predator shows up, however, they scatter within seconds! The Arctic hare, the Arctic fox, and the snowy owl also have the ideal color for camouflage in the snowy white landscape of the tundra. This helps them to avoid becoming a hunting animal’s next meal. Lemmings, on the other hand, prefer to burrow into the snow where the trapped air acts as a great insulator.

Another animal whose body is beautifully adapted to deal with plummeting temperatures is the polar bear. With an oily coat, layer of blubber, and insulating fur, this iconic creature is perfectly suited to the Arctic region. Tundra and Arctic wolves also combat low temperatures with the advantages of a fur coat and thick undercoat. Additionally, their short muzzles, small ears, and short legs maximize body heat retention.

What about the harshest period of winter, when the temperatures become unbearably cold and food becomes dangerously scarce? Luckily, the natural world has wondrous mechanisms to ensure the survival of animals even in the most difficult conditions. One of the greatest miracles to be found within the animal kingdom is hibernation. Hibernating involves entering a deep, sleep-like state wherein heartbeat and breathing slow down and body temperature decreases. This state of suspended animation helps the animal preserve its energy and protect it from the harsh natural elements.

Numerous animals hibernate during the cold season – some enter deep hibernation and others enter the lighter state of torpor. Polar bears, which are frequently connected with hibernation, actually go into torpor, which means they can wake up quite easily. This state of torpor lasts approximately six months during which normal functions like eating and drinking are greatly reduced. In the case of other animals, torpor may last a couple of months or even just a few hours at a time. Deer mice, meanwhile, torpor in groups from morning to afternoon, and then head out to find food in the evening. Black-tailed prairie dogs usually torpor for a few days, while white-tailed prairie dogs hibernate through winter. The ground squirrel is another true hibernator and can be in deep sleep for a whole nine months. Alpine marmots and wood frogs hibernate so deeply that they may even appear dead. The alpine marmot’s heart rate slows down to 3-4 beats a minute, while a wood frog’s heart actually ceases to beat altogether. Other creatures that hibernate/torpor include the common poorwill, bats, hedgehogs, and hamsters.

Nature’s Sleepy Heads Credit Picture License: origine1 via photopin cc
 

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