Surviving harsh long winters is a must for many species. Slippery conditions, dense snow, freezing temperatures and scarce food problems need to be navigated until ice and snow thaw with the coming of spring. Notwithstanding these tough conditions for many there’s there’s the continued threat of predators whom use the winterly terrain to their benefit.
For sea life that dwell in icy waters all year, they are masters of that place and clever adaptions allow them to hunt and tolerate temperatures that are truly cruel conditions for the many. ’25 Winter Animals with Special Survival Features’ takes a look at creatures whom can winter out the cold due to clever physical traits.
Table of Contents
1) Snowshoe Hare – Lepus Americanus
Snowshoe hares are native to North America, spanning across Canada and Alaska. To differentiate them from rabbits, they typically have longer ears and longer back legs. One form of survival for them is shedding their coat: in the summer they have almost all brown coats and in the winter it’s white so that they can blend in with the snow. This keeps them warm while hiding them from predators. Their feet are bigger than a regular hare’s, (hence the name Snowshoe!) which give them the ability to run quickly on the snow.
2) Polar Bear – Ursus Maritimus
Polar bears, also known as white bears or ice bears, are usually found on ice floes around the Arctic region. White fur and large black claws help them catch prey. These white giants can run fast, they’re excellent swimmers, and they have no natural known enemies. Polar bears mostly eat ringed seals and have a strong sense of smell in order to hunt them. To survive the cold weather, they have a thick layer of fat beneath their skin which helps them stay insulated. With large claws and webbing between their toes walking on ice and swimming in icy waters is easy, while maintaining a normal body temperature.
3) Arctic Fox – Vulpus Lagopus
Similar to arctic hares, the arctic fox’s fur becomes gray in the summer and long and white in the winter to adapt to the cold and allow for camouflage. These animals have short legs and stout bodies with small, curled ears which collect heat.
Another interesting way that they can stay warm in the winter is using their long fluffy tails like blankets which can snuggly wrap around themselves. The rest of the body helps with surviving; their mitten-like feet and white coats do wonders for walking on the ice and not being detected by predators, respectively.
4. Sika Deer – Cervus Nippon
Sika deer are typically found in East Asia, but have been moved to other countries and continents. These elegant spotted deer live, largely in forests and change color depending on the season. In the summer, they are reddish-brown and as winter dawns their coats become thicker and a dark brown or black for a better chance of survival. Winter may be tough for these deer with snow and lurking, natural predators, but they can adapt by growing a thicker coat with a soft undercoat and finding unique ways to eat. They’re able to dig in the snow and even eat nutritious tree bark.
5) Harp Seal – Pagophilus Groenlandicus
One can find harp seals in the North Atlantic and Arctic Oceans, except for when they’re giving birth on floating ice. The babies aren’t born with protective fat, but their critical body temperature is still -10C and they keep warm by shivering until a layer of blubber forms to help them survive the cold waters. Once they’re old enough, they can hunt for fish and crustaceans, staying underwater for about 15 minutes.
The young seals are popularly known for their white fur, which sheds as they get older and turns darker. They no longer need it because they are miraculously known for conserving body heat. Adults often dive to 140 m/450 feet.
6) Walrus – Odobenus Rosmarus
Walruses are famous for their large, flabby bodies with brown or pink skin. They have large tusks sticking out of their mouths, but are naturally more calm and peaceful than one may think. They are found in the Arctic seas usually eating clams or mussels and occasionally fish. These blubbery giants live in large groups and sometimes have to protect each other from polar bears or killer whales when in the water.
Walruses, can defend themselves using their tusks or use them for other survival skills. Tusks are helpful in pulling themselves out of the water and breaking holes in the ice while underwater in order to breathe.
7) Reindeer – Rangifer Tarandus
Reindeer are hoofed mammals that come in a variety of colors. One staple of this animal is the antlers, which become larger and heavier as they get older. They are generally found in forests across the globe, either in a more tundra area or forests filled with snow. Since they have to survive the cold weather, they have a double coat that keeps them warm. The famous Rudolph may have his red nose because of another survival adaptation! Reindeer have a dense network of blood vessels in their noses, designed to keep them warm in the winter.
8) Wolf – Canis Lupus
The gray wolf is a carnivore that lives in a pack and hunts deer, moose, and small mammals such as beavers or rodents. They are the largest members of the dog family and reside in the Northern Hemisphere of the world. Wolves have large canine teeth and powerful jaws they use to hunt their prey.
Their fur coats can vary in color, while the animal itself can usually grow from about three to five feet long. The gray, brown, or white fur keeps the wolf warm in extremely cold temperatures using a second layer called guard hairs on the outside.
9) Lemming – Lemmini
A lemming is a small rodent that is typically found inhabiting the Arctic tundra. They have very short legs, tail, and ears. Fur on their little bodies is soft and usually brown and black. When these diminutive fur balls dig in snow, they dig complex tunnels to hide from predators and eat whatever plants they can find (grass and willow buds are popular). When the snow melts, they scatter to shelter giving forests and mountains.
10) Arctic Tern – Sterna Paradisaea
Arctic terns are slender birds with short legs and narrow wings. They live on shorelines in North America (spanning Canada and Alaska) and are well known to be birds with a very long-distance migration. Their colors can change based on age and whether or not it’s breeding season. In order to survive the cold, they eat food that gives them a lot of energy, such as a large supply of mollusks and sea life.
The bird’s high metabolic rate helps in surviving the cold, which means they consume a lot and burn high amounts of energy.
11) Snowy Owl – Strix Scandiaca
The snowy owl is larger than warm weather owls and lives in the Arctic Tundra. The snowy owl is white with black speckles and a round head. They typically eat voles and lemmings, and will travel far to search for more food if needed. This owl is able to survive harsh weather because of its thick plumage and their round bodies that help them maintain heat. Plus these beautiful owls will hide from icy wind behind tree trunks.
12. Ptarmigans – Lagopus Muta
This type of bird also lives in the Arctic Tundra, and looks somewhat like both a chicken and a pigeon. They can range in color from brown, black, to white. Ptarmigans can survive in the arctic based on their white coat blending in with the snow. They also have feathers on their feet and noses to help repel the cold. They’ll do their best to hide from predators whether in forests or camouflaging in the tundra.
13. Dall Sheep – Ovis Dalli
Dall Sheep have thick white fur to protect them from the cold and live in the mountains of Alaska and Western Canada. They have curled horns that are larger in size on males. Dall sheep can have a hard time in harsh winter weather because they find it difficult to uncover plants in the snow. They can at least typically escape predators since they are adapted to climb mountains where predators cannot follow.
14) Snow Goose – Anser Caerulescens
The snow goose is a white goose that migrates through North America and breeds in Arctic regions. They’re fast flyers but also fast when running on land – they’re often able to outrun their predators. Their survival in the cold depends on migration; this is why they migrate south into parts of the United States when the cold becomes unbearable.
15) Atlantic Puffin – Fratercula Arctica
Atlantic puffins are small sea birds that reside either in the sea or on sea cliffs for parts of the year. They’re plumage is white on their chests and bellies. Otherwise they are donned in black feathers, except for their bright orange beaks and feet. These famously cute birds live on the Northern Atlantic Coast and adapt to the cold water with their adapted strong wings to help them swim and dive for fish.
16) Musk Ox – Ovibos Moschatus
The musk ox lives in the Arctic, meaning they can be found in Alaska, Canada, Russia and Norway, territories. They’re stocky and long-haired (which provides enormous protection) and well known for appearing as if they’re living brown, beards. They live in wetlands in the summer, but during the winter those areas are commonly covered with snow. The way that they adapt to this weather is to move to higher ground.
17) Narwhals – Monodon Monoceros
The “Unicorn of the Sea” is another name for the famous narwhal, known for its long tusk protruding from its head (which is infract a tooth used for sexual displays). They are arctic whales that find food in deep bays and inlets. Since these waters are so cold, they possess a few special features to help with survival. Compared to some other sea creatures, they don’t have any fins, which makes swimming under ice easier. They also have thick blubber that helps retain heat.
18) Arctic Shrews – Sorex Arcticus
Arctic shrews are tri-colored shrews with long pointed noses and long tails, and they can be found mostly in Canada and some parts of the United States. They have to survive in both summer and winter in many of these regions. Some animals hibernate, but these shrews have a special survival secret: they have a higher metabolism than most animals, during all seasons.
During summer the diminutive shrews grow rapidly and in winter their body masses and internal organs shrink. Fat and even brain matter loses up to 20% in size. This rare trait is called: Dehnel’s phenomenon. Shrews do not consume more energy per gram of body weight during winter despite losing body size.
19) Little Auk – Alle Alle
Lttle auk is a type of arctic seabird that is very small with black wings and beak. They can be found around Scotland and England when observed by humans, and otherwise will inhabit islands in the Arctic Sea. They mate on land and hunt for fish in the sea, as their bodies are adapted for diving deep in the cold water for survival. Migrating south in the winter may also help with the cold weather conditions. They feed on Arctic algae: Calanus copepods.
20) Beluga Whale – Delphinapterus leucas
Belugas are small compared with typical whales. Muscular, beluga, whales are born gray but turn white as they get older. They live in the arctic oceans prevalent in North America, Europe, and Russia. Belugas can survive in frigid waters with a few special features. They don’t have dorsal fins which allows them to swim underneath ice. Belugas also have a thick layer of blubber to keep them warm.
21) Arctic Woolly Bear Moth – Gynaephora groenlandica
This small, ancient insect lives in the Arctic of Northern Canada, Greenland, and North Russia. Because it’s so cold in the winter, this caterpillar takes its time to grow. They can take several years to become an adult moth. When it isn’t able to grow, it simply stays frozen until the warmer months.
22) Orca – Orcinus Orca
Orcas, also known as killer whales, are large dolphins that have no natural enemies and are typically spotted based on their black and white color. They also have a dorsal fin on their back and breathe through a blow hole. Orcas can be found in all oceans around the world, but mostly stay in the Arctic and Atlantic Oceans. Like similar animals, they keep warm using their thick layer of blubber.
23) Ermine – Mustela Erminea
Emines are a type of weasel that live in the Arctic parts of North America and Eurasia. They enjoy living in wooded areas and have fur that adjusts its color in order to survive either the winter or summer climates. Their fur is a light brown on top in the summer and fully white in the winter to blend into the snow. They can also keep themselves warm by curling up into a ball.
24) Sea Otter – Enhydra Lutris
Sea otters have legs to walk on land and a tail to swim. They spend much of their lives in the water, which is usually the cold water of the Pacific Ocean. They typically eat shellfish and mussels, breaking them open using a rock on their chests. Otters stay warm with their dense fur coats, which is so thick that they don’t need blubber like many other arctic animals!
25) Tundra Swan – Cygnus columbianus
As the name implies, Tundra Swans are found in the Arctic Tundra. They have white bodies and long necks with black beaks. These swans live in North America and migrate in groups. In order to avoid areas that are too cold, they have changed their feeding patterns to eating waste products in agricultural fields.
Many animals are better suited to freezing cold weather, and even thrive there. Each species of ’25 Winter Animals with Special Survival Features,’ has a part to play on the food ladder and has made a home in their own corner of the icy world.