Life in the Arctic has been preserved for the strong - winters which are relentlessly unforgiving and summers which are short, leaving very few species to thrive in this environment. Over time many species have either adapted to them or succumbed to it.
Polar Bears – Contrary to popular belief, the iconic Polar Bears were not distant cousins of some prehistoric gigantic bears but evolved from the brown grizzly bears. According to the scientists the grizzly bears started to move north thousands of years ago looking for food and safety. Their genes kept adapting to attune them with the cold environment and the white fur we see is a result of multiple adaptations. In fact, under the thick white fur lies a black skin which helps them preserve the heat and reuse the energy which otherwise would be lost. The Polar Bears also have two layers of fur with a greasy outer layer which helps them shed water quickly. Interestingly, Polar Bears webbed feet help them swim as fast as 10 km/h and they can swim for hours at a stretch.
The Muskox - From a family of Bovidae, Muskox are found in the High Arctic. These grazing animals are closer to sheep and goats than to the oxen family. Their thick coat called qiviut, insulates from the inside while their outer guard hair protects them from wind, precipitation, and insects. Unlike many animals where the young ones develop the safety nets over time, young muskox are born with this fat layer. We can imagine being born straight into this frigid environment. They need this protection to survive the cold. Another dominating feature of these muskox are their reinforced skull with horns protruding from either side of it to protect from predators. Check out a video of them in action here .
Arctic Fox - Similar to Polar Bears, the arctic fox is nicely camouflaged to protect itself from the hunters while allowing them the opportunity to find their prey without being noticed. Well adapted to the Arctic cold, these foxes move around in search of Lemmings, rodents, fish or left over from Polar Bears for their food. Interestingly, when the season’s change, the fur adapts to it as well and change to grey or brown fur helping them keep their appearance in line with the surroundings. Female Fox gives birth to a large litter of up to 14 pups in a go.
Caribou - Members of the deer family, the Caribous unlike their deer or moose cousins develop antlers. However, these antlers are developed systematically by both the species to nourish their lives in different ways. While the males develop to fight off other males and get their right to mate while the females develop to get feeding rights. As quoted by National Geographic - ‘Caribou trek north in the summer in one of the largest animal migrations on Earth. They travel more than 600 miles (965 kilometers) along well-travelled routes. They spend the summer feeding on grasses, mushrooms, and plants in the tundra. They begin to move south in the winter and over one year they will have migrated over 1,600 miles (2,574 kilometers). One adult caribou eats about 12 pounds (5 kilograms) of food each day.
Our trip in the Arctic is set along the Qamanirjuaq caribou herd's migration route and the dates are strategically timed to align with their return journey in the fall. You can learn more about the trip here.