What do you do when Old Man Winter comes calling? If you're at home, you might turn up the heater or throw an extra blanket on your bed. If you have to go outside, you probably wear a thick sweater and throw on your heaviest jacket.
But what about all those animals that call the Arctic home? It's cold there pretty much the whole year, and during winter it gets especially cold. How do those animals survive the chilly temperatures? Do they turn up the heat or throw on extra blankets or heavy jackets? Not exactly!
Even though Arctic animals don't have all the ways we humans have to fight the cold, they have developed some really interesting ways of dealing with the cold. Let's take a look at a few Arctic animals and how they deal with those freezing temperatures.
Lemmings are small rodents that call the Arctic tundra home. Few trees can survive the vast expanses of exposed tundra, so lemmings burrow underneath the snow. Since they're also covered in thick, long fur, lemmings find their snow tunnels to be comfortable winter homes, because the snow traps the air and becomes a natural insulator.
Another Arctic animal that's really hairy is the Arctic hare. Get it? Hares are hairy? OK, so that's not a great joke, but they are! And they use that hair to great advantage. They don't only rely on their fur, though. They use a tried and true technique to survive the cold: they hang out in large groups. You might find hundreds of Arctic hares huddled together for warmth and protection.
Arctic ground squirrels spend up to seven months at a stretch hibernating inside their cozy dens. Before retiring for the winter, they line their dens with insulating materials, such as hair and leaves. During hibernation, their hearts slow down and their body temperature drops almost to freezing. They stay in this vegetative-like state until warmer temperatures return.
Some of the larger animals you'll find on the Arctic tundra are musk oxen. Their long, thick, dark hair surrounds them like a tent, keeping them warm. Their hairs are unique in that they're hollow. These hollow hairs help to trap air close to the body where it keeps the animals cozy. Like Arctic hares, musk oxen also tend to hang out in groups when it gets especially cold.
When it comes to surviving the Arctic cold, however, there's one undisputed champion with multiple ways of dealing with Mother Nature: the polar bear. The polar bear's thick fur insulates its body quite well, but it's also surprisingly oily. This oily coating helps keep moisture out and heat in.
One final defense that the polar bear uses to fight off hypothermia sits just beneath the skin: a thick layer of blubbery fat. When you combine the polar bear's layer of fat with its thick, oily fur, it's no WONDER that polar bears can frolic about in the cold waters of the Arctic and thrive.
Although the Arctic tundra doesn't seem appealing to us humans, many animals choose to call it home. They survive freezing temperatures for months at a time by developing some specialized features that help them stay warm, including insulating fur, layers of fat, and oily skin coatings.