Though the subzero temperatures and rugged boreal forests may seem bleak and unforgiving, many animals thrive in the frigid tundra of the Arctic Circle.
Some of these Arctic animals you will have seen before, like the polar bear and the snowy owl, while others might be new to you, like the “unicorn of the sea” and the Canada lynx.
What comes to mind when you think of a wolverine? A ferocious wolf-like animal? In reality, these creatures are members of the weasel family, more akin to the river otter.
Unlike the comic book superhero that bears the same name, the wolverine does not have retractable metal claws. It does, however, have semi-retractable claws, but these are most often used for digging and climbing.
The lynx is a lesser-known feline that is typically small in size. The Canada lynx has long legs and broad paws that make walking through thick snow easier. They primarily hunt snowshoe hares, a cousin of the Arctic hare.
The Canada lynx became extinct in Colorado in the 1970s, though the creatures were successfully reintroduced in the area.
The tundra swan also called the whistling swan due to the sound made by its wings, migrates to Alaska each spring to build its nest and lay eggs.
In the fall, this species migrates to the Northeast U.S., along the Atlantic Coast from North Carolina to Maryland. During migration and in the winter, the tundra swan feeds from open fields. The tundra swan tends to nest near open water on sites with good visibility.
These striking creatures can be found in the Arctic regions of Alaska, Canada, and Greenland. In the winter months, the Arctic hare’s coat turns white, allowing it to blend in with the snow, but in the summer, the coat is generally a gray-brown color. The largest hare in North America, the Arctic hare lives primarily in the tundra and in mountainous areas with plenty of covers.
The red fox is by no means unique to the Arctic Circle. In fact, it can be found on every continent on the globe except Antarctica. Unfortunately, it is considered a menace in many ecosystems. In Australia, for example, the red fox was introduced by humans for recreational hunting in 1855 and it quickly became established in the wild. About 150 years later, the Arctic fox threatens a number of bird and mammal populations native to Australia.
This celebrated white whale can be found in the icy waters of Alaska, Canada, Greenland, and Russia, and the IUCN Redlist status of the general beluga whale population is “least concern.”
In the U.S., beluga whales are only found in Alaska, where just five populations of these special whales still exist. Conservation of the Cook Inlet population, one of the few beluga populations that do not migrate, is listed as “endangered” and is protected by the U.S. Endangered Species Act.
The polar bear is known by several names, including “Nanook,” “nanuq,” “ice bear,” “sea bear” and “Isbjorn.”
These majestic white bears are listed as “vulnerable” and are protected by the U.S. Endangered Species Act. Their diet consists primarily of seals, as polar bears require large amounts of fat.
Snowy owls are the largest birds found in the Arctic. They have unpredictable migration patterns, and can occasionally be found in areas as far south as the northern U.S. As owlets (baby owls), the snowy owl’s feathers are gray. When fully grown, their feathers are pure white, offering camouflage in winter. The primary diet of these owls includes small mammals and lemmings. The snowy owl is also the same owl species as Harry Potter’s famous pet, Hedwig.
Called the “unicorn of the sea” because of the long (sometimes up to 10 feet) tusk protruding from its jaw, this unique Arctic creature can be found swimming in the waters of Norway, Russia, Greenland, and Canada.
The hunting and breeding patterns of narwhals are still a mystery to scientists, though we do know that they use their tusks to prepare their food and stun their prey.
The woodland caribou — also known as reindeer when domesticated — can be found in northern and southern Alaska, Canada, Russia, and Greenland. The caribou are the only deer species in which both the female and male have antlers.
The Arctic fox can be found in most Arctic ecosystems in the Northern Hemisphere, including Iceland where it is the only native land mammal. It arrived in Iceland during the last Ice Age, where it journeyed over the frozen water to the volcanic island.
The arctic wolf grows a second layer of fur for extra warmth in the wintertime. Arctic wolves can even survive in conditions that bring about five months of total darkness per year, as further noted by the World Wildlife Fund.