5 Fun Facts About Animals That Inhabit Antarctica
Antarctica is one of the coldest, most unexplored and diverse continents that has managed to remain a mystery until now. This region is capable of harboring a diversity of fauna that fights every day for their survival: due to the environment they face, these animals had to develop various capacities and adaptations to survive.
Nature always finds a way to survive despite having everything against it. Join us on the following lines to discover 5 interesting facts about animals that inhabit Antarctica that will surprise you.
1. The most important animal in Antarctica is the smallest
Antarctic krill ( Euphausia superba ) is a small crustacean only 6 centimeters long. Its appearance is similar to that of the common shrimp and it usually feeds on phytoplankton that develop on the surface of the sea. Due to its size, it is the perfect feast for many species of animals, such as seals, penguins and whales.
Despite being so small, this invertebrate provides many nutrients and proteins that allow other animals to survive in difficult environments. In Antarctica, the animal diet is made up of some proteins and fats. Therefore, the ecosystem could not support the krill’s disappearance as it would severely affect other species.
2. In the cold, sizes matter
Extreme climates cause profound changes in the biology of living things, and Antarctica is no exception. To resist the cold, many species need to have large, robust bodies, with the sole purpose of storing fat.
In these species, fat serves as an insulator, so the more adipose tissue, the better. For this reason, a large food intake is also essential in the lives of most living beings in Antarctica.
Anyway, it is surprising to find small animals in this environment. For example, Emperor Penguins (Aptenodytes forsteri ) are only 1.20 meters tall. Compared to a human, it’s a very small animal. However, it is still the largest species of penguins.
Compared to tropical penguins – which measure between 35 and 76 centimeters – the Emperor Penguin is almost twice as large. In summary, living beings grow more generally in cold environments, but their biological constraints and their genetic heritage must also be taken into account.
3. Cute but dangerous
Despite looking quite friendly, the leopard seal ( Hydrurga leptonyx ) is one of the most dangerous species in Antarctica. It is so ferocious that it can devour up to 20 penguins in a single day.
Its diet is so varied that it can consume krill, small seals, birds, penguins and various types of fish. All this is possible thanks to its large size, as this mammal measures between 3 and 3.6 meters. With these measurements, it is listed as the second largest seal in Antarctica.
This seal tends to be quite aggressive and attacks with its sharp canines, so its behavior is solitary. The only way this seal has found to survive was by consuming everything it can, but who can judge? In Antarctica, food is the most important.
4. The Olympic seal
The endurance gold medal this time goes to the Wendell seal ( Leptonychotes weddellii ). It can last up to 80 minutes in water.
Although it’s hard to believe, many of the species that inhabit Antarctica are mammals, which means they have lungs. That is, every time they enter the water to swim, hunt or move, they really need to hold their breath.
Just for comparison, emperor penguins can last – on average – up to 20 minutes underwater, while the Wendell seal can last up to 4 times longer. Compared to the Guinness World Record for humans, of just 11 minutes and 54 seconds, it’s clear that this seal beats any opponent.
And there’s more: in addition, the Wendell seal has the ability to go down to 600 meters deep. However, in this regard it is no match for whales, sperm whales or cuvier’s beaked whales, which exceed 1000 meters in depth, but don’t forget that the seal measures much less.
5. Appearance matters too
You’ve probably wondered why penguins walk so strangely or why seals look more like a barrel. The answer is simple: the physical characteristics of Antarctic animals are directly related to the climate itself.
If these living things had more surface area at their extremities – such as longer feet or thicker fins – the ease with which they would lose heat would be greater. The greater the area of the body exposed to cold, the faster body heat is lost.
The cold of Antarctica was so demanding that it caused species to change and adapt to the climate. In this way, these living beings are physically barrels of heat, while we still need clothes or a good hug in cold climates.
As you have seen, inclement weather causes very characteristic evolutionary pressures on animals in Antarctica. It is vitally important to know them to preserve them, as they are some of the living beings most threatened by climate change.