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The Gap Year Blog

Weirdest Winter Wildlife You Didn’t Know About

11 Dec 2018 15:30 PM

Photo Credit: Pixabay

Edited with Permission by Frontier

If you love summer sunshine, frosty snow and cold winds that breeze through winter might sound like hell, yet for some arctic animals the winter is their blossoming season. Of course, we all know that penguins thrive in the ice of the Arctic, but did you know you can find an otter digging around in the snow as well? Here’s our list of the most unusual animals you didn’t know about. 

Arctic Hare

We’ve all heard of an arctic fox before, but also Arctic Hares linger in the icy weather and able to survive through physiological, behavioural and anatomical characteristics. Hibernation isn’t a factor where they can last the cold through bodies of fat and thick white fur. Paws are padded with fur, gripping the snowy ground. In winter, they huddle together in shelters dug in the ground to keep warm. 

As the food in the Arctic tends to be thin, hares live by eating grass and mosses, and when the blossom happens in spring and summer, they tend to lean on berries and leaves from plants which they can sniff out from a strong sense of smell. They are much like regular hares, running and bouncing fast, although they have a shorter build and smaller limbs. You can find these animals in northern Canada and Newfoundland; it’s uncertain how many exist but they’re considered a ‘Least Concern’ in terms of conservation and extinction. 

Photo Credit: Flickr │ Charles Anderson

Japanese Macaque

Literally known as the “snow monkey”, the Japanese Macaque are obviously native in Japan. It is said that no other primate other than humans choose to live in colder climates and as north as they do (even temperatures as low as -20°C!). Despite this, they are commonly found in the Japanese hot springs in alpines like Jigokudani where they fall asleep due to the warmth of the baths. They are wild animals but easy to spot in tourist places to watch them in action.

As well as partially terrestrial, leaping from tree tops and strolling the grounds, they are also very comfortable in water and can swim over half a kilometre at one time. They can stand the coldness because of their long winter coats which can range between brown to transparent.

Photo Credit: Flickr │ David McKelvey

Arctic Cookie Star

A species of starfish, the Ceramaster Arcticus (or arctic cookie star, for short) is a rare species among the coast of North America. It has no arms but a pentagonal body which is covered with flat-topped plates of tiny legs. They are known to eat lots of marine life such as shellfish, mussels and even species of sponges.

Sea stars are primarily found in the Arctic – over 30 species! Many have a variety of arms, even up to a dozen. There are many types of starfish in the Arctic, but a recent study found one species that even glowed in the dark as a reflection of its sight.

Photo Credit: Flickr │ Pegah R.

Wood Frogs

Although they don’t technically live in winter, a Wood Frog is able to freeze itself into hibernation and thaw itself back out when the spring comes around. In most animals, when the heart starts beating there’s no way of being alive, but for wood frogs, they can shut down their bodies and then bring it back when they need to come back to consciousness as long as no more than 65% of their body freezes. 

They are mainly found in Alaska and above the Arctic Circle. Where it spends two or three months a year frozen, the frog lives a fast life; it grows from tadpole to frog and then spends most of its summers looking for a mate. The species can range a lot of different shades, from brown to red, green and even grey. 

Photo Credit: Flickr │ Ken-ichi Udea

Arctic Tern

Known for being one of the biggest migratory species spanning a distance of over 30,000 kilometers a year, the Arctic Tern breeds in the Arctic region and then flies to the Antarctic coast for the next winter season. In 2016, one of the species was reported taking the longest ever migration lengthening twice around the planet; the bird was recorded flying almost 60,000 miles. 

The length of their wings enables them to make these such long flights, having a “high aspect-ratio” where the wings are long and narrow to glide across the wind. They only ever make nests in the Arctic region to breed and in winter season they migrate to the Antarctic. The conservation status is amber for the bird, slightly concerned with their sustainability. 

Photo Credit: Flickr │ Budgora

By Caitlin Casey - Online Journalism Intern

Frontier runs terrestrial & marine conservation, community, teaching and adventure projects in over 50 countries - join us and explore the world!