With snow covered land stretching for hundreds of miles
with no vegetations or apparent sign of life, save a few stray patches of thorny plants,
the cold deserts are very hostile to any animal for making a living.
Cold, frozen deserts experience severe lack of vegetation and adequate sunlight. No vegetation
can grow here because of the snow. Thus animals find it very difficult to survive here.
Some of the few found ones include the goat-antelopes like ibex, gorals and serows, the yaks,
and the central Asian snow leopards with broad feet that serve as snow shoes.
Both the ice capped poles of Earth has vast ice sheets and the glaciers flowing down the
sea. Huge ice shelves jut far out into the waters. Fierce, bitter winds whirl snow about
in blizzards. No place on earth is more forbidding.
Harsh though they are, Arctic lands are mild compared with the Antarctic continent. Thus
the northern tip is inhabited by a shade greater variety of animals. Actually no reptiles,
amphibians, or land mammals live in Antarctica. Apparently th eonly living creatutes there
are a bunch of human visitors! Yet millions of birds and big sea mammals breed the coastal
lines of this continent.
Seals in Antarctica are of five kinds. Torpedo-like bodies and limbs designed as flippers
make them all fine swimmers. But each lives somewhat differently. The Weddell seal lives
just off Antarctica, sometimes diving an unbelievable 550 meters(1800 ft) to the seabed in
search of fish and squid. The Ross seal hunts fish and cuttlefish in the gloom beneath
floating ice and the streamlined leopard seal often attacks penguins. It chases them under
water with great speed. Crabeater seals swallow krill caught near the surface. Largest of
all seals is the elephant seal. Bulls can be half as heavy as an elephant. This giant
breeds on islands around Antarctica.
Among animals in the Arctic musk oxen are relatives of sheep and goats both look more like
small, shaggy cattle. No mammal is better fitted for a year round life upon the tundra. In
winter its dense inner fleece and long coarse, outer hairs trap body warmth. Stubby limbs,
short tail and ears help to reduce body area and thus the surface from which heat can be
lost. So they can stand up to -70 C. In winter they feed by moonlight, pawing snow away
from sparse vegetation like grasses and lichens.
Arctic hares and lemmings are among the smaller plant-eating mammals of the tundra.
Camouflaged white in winter, arctic hares can winter on windswept hills where gales keep
vegetation largely free from snow. Lemmings, are burrowing, hamster like-rodents. They dig
up the snow to feed on buried stems and roots.
These lemmings are the chief food for the Arctic fox and snowy owl. Foxes hunt hares too
and eat fishes and plants if food is scarce.
The polar bear is a real killer. All white and heavily furred these bears are the
largest of all land based Arctic hunters. They roam shores and swim far out to pack ice.
This agile animal can kill a seal with just one swipe of its paw.