Even places that seem brutally inhospitable to mankind are the perfect homes for certain members of the animal kingdom. The tundra across the northern part our world is a good example. Treeless and freezing, the Arctic region is the preferred adobe of a variety of creatures that are equipped to live there. Perhaps the most famous of these is the polar bear, the dominant land animal in the region. Blessed with a layer of blubber and an insulating fur, the body of the polar bear is geared to handle the low Arctic temperatures. The coat of the polar bear (which appears like that of a soft toy in popular representations) is oily in real life, which helps to keep moisture away even when the animal is in water. Tundra and Arctic wolves, too, have a fur coat and thick undercoat to battle the sub-zero winds. The Arctic hares, on the other hand, employ a different strategy. They huddle closely in groups to derive warmth and stay safe. The massive musk ox also believes in the value of staying warm and secure in groups. These distinctive animals protect their young by keeping them in the center, with the adults stationed around them in a circle.
Other creatures that can be found in the Arctic include the baby harp seal, Arctic fox, lemming, and snowy owl. Many animals are fortunate enough to have nature’s most marvelous way of dealing with the worst of the winter: hibernation. Hibernation is essentially a state of suspended animation (sometimes called deep sleep), in which the creature’s body processes, such as the heart rate and breathing, slow down. The body temperature also dips. Together, these developments allow for greater conservation of energy and protection against the chill. While the word “sleep” is often used to describe hibernation, the two states are actually vastly different. Hibernation is far more intense; in fact, many animals emerge from it feeling exhausted.
This smart process also means that many animals do not have to try and find food at the height of winter; instead, they eat more than usual at the beginning of the cold spell and then settle down for the long sleep. Of course, not all hibernation lasts for weeks or months on end. Some animals go into lighter hibernation for shorter spans, sometimes only a few hours in the day. This state is called torpor and is common among smaller animals. Deer mice, for instance, torpor from the morning to late afternoon and search for food in the evenings. Skunks torpor for a few months along with their close family members; during this period, they may occasionally wake up and eat something. Hamsters also go into torpor for a few days or weeks. Pet owners should remember this so as not to panic and wake up the hamster with a start (which can literally cause the creature to have a heart attack).
The common poorwill is the only bird that goes into deep hibernation, for up to 100 days, during which period its daily energy requirement declines by a whopping 93 percent. Alpine marmots are also true hibernators. In fact, they spend only four months awake, with the other eight months spent in suspended animation. In that state their heart only beats 3-4 times a minute. Other hibernating animals include bats, bears, prairie dogs, and hedgehogs. Among the many wonders of the natural world, hibernation is one of the most astounding – an intelligent and effective way for creatures to survive harsh winters in the wild.