Arctic Wildlife

arctic wildlife photos

Arctic wildlife photo gallery

All Arctic widlife pictures on this site are available for purchase as commercial stock photography or fine art display prints for home or office. The Arctic is a region in the far north defined by temperature, latitude and tree line. The wildlife that inhabit its harsh and rugged conditions are tough creatures indeed. I’ve photographed many of the species in Alaska’s Arctic, and they exhibit some truly wonderful adaptations and abilities.Survival in the Arctic is demanding and risky. Over the years, animals and birds have developed sophisticated means for dealing with the extremes intrinsic to the arctic climate.

There are three basic ways that homeotherms (animals that create heat internally) handle the arctic cold weather:

  • Migration (get out of here)
  • Hibernation (extreme conservation)
  • Resistance (block out the cold)

All require a great deal of sophisticated and efficient natural adaptations. For the non migrators and non hibernators, heat management becomes the critical factor. In order to maintain a certain body temperature, heat is either contained by a well insulated coat or feathers, or, generated internally through energy created by the breakdown of food.

Allen’s rule

Adult bull muskox walks along the snowy tundra of Alaska's arctic north slope. (Patrick J. Endres / AlaskaPhotoGraphics.com)

Adult bull muskox walks along the snowy tundra of Alaska’s arctic north slope. (Patrick J. Endres / AlaskaPhotoGraphics.com)

Allen’s rule suggests that species in the far North have a greater body mass per surface area ratio. In other words, There is less total body surface area to loose heat through in proportion to their overall size. Small ears, shortened noses, etc. are such adaptations.

The adaptations spin off these two fundamental principles. Predators and prey have both developed efficient means of travel and transport through the snowy and icy environs. The Ptarmigan for example has feathery feet that serve as snowshoes, enabling them to move more easily across the snow. Other animals like the snowshoe hare, lynx, and caribou, have enlarged feet that aide in their travels on the snow. Moose have long thin legs that help them walk through tundra and snow.

Willow ptarmigan on the snowy tundra of the Alaska arctic. (Patrick J Endres / AlaskaPhotoGraphics.com)

Willow ptarmigan on the snowy tundra of the Alaska arctic. (Patrick J Endres / AlaskaPhotoGraphics.com)

Cryptic coloration

Cryptic coloration (camouflage) serves both the hunter and the hunted. Arctic hares are completely white in winter except for a slight black tip on the ears and they are well camouflaged from their predators. Polar bears on the other hand, benefit by their white color to help disguise them when stalking seals on the ice.

Snowshoe hare in white winter fur, Brooks Range, Alaska. (Patrick J Endres / AlaskaPhotoGraphics.com)

Snowshoe hare in white winter fur, Brooks Range, Alaska. (Patrick J Endres / AlaskaPhotoGraphics.com)

Insulation

Thick blubber and fur insulate the polar bear against the cold, and its translucent fur, which appears white or cream-colored, camouflages it from its prey. In accordance with Allen’s rule, The bear has a short tail and small ears that help reduce heat loss, as well as a relatively small head and long, tapered body to streamline it for swimming. Stiff hairs on the soles of its paws provide insulation and traction on ice.

Polar bear shakes off water while swimming in the Beaufort Sea, Arctic, Alaska. (Patrick J Endres / AlaskaPhotoGraphics.com)

Polar bear shakes off water while swimming in the Beaufort Sea, Arctic, Alaska. (Patrick J Endres / AlaskaPhotoGraphics.com)

Travel

Lynx have very broad feet and long slender legs that aid them when traveling through deep snow. In Alaska’s arctic, the lynx relies heavily on the Snowshoe Hare as a prey species. The Lynx population tends to follow the approximately 10 year long rise and decline of Snowshoe Hare numbers.

Lynx tucked away in the winter, snow covered boreal forest of the Brooks Range, Arctic, Alaska (Patrick J. Endres / AlaskaPhotoGraphics.com)

Lynx tucked away in the winter, snow covered boreal forest of the Brooks Range, Arctic, Alaska (Patrick J. Endres / AlaskaPhotoGraphics.com)

Land Mammals of the Arctic

  • Polar bear
  • Barren ground caribou
  • Arctic fox
  • Lemmings
  • Short-tailed weasel
  • Lynx
  • Wolf
  • Musk Oxen
  • Arctic ground squirrel
  • Grizzly bear
  • Wolverine
  • Arctic hare
  • Snowshoe hare
  • Dall sheep
  • Red Fox

Whales of the Arctic

  • Beluga whale
  • Bowhead whale
  • Narwhale
  • Killer whale

Marine Mammals of the Arctic

  • Polar Bear
  • Walrus
  • Ringed Seal
  • Ribbon Seal
  • Harbor Seal

Birds that live in the arctic year round:

  • Snowy owl
  • Willow Ptarmigan
  • Rock Ptarmigan
  • Eider
  • Hoary and Common Redpoll
  • Gray Jay
  • Great Horned Owl
  • Boreal Owl
  • Pine Grosbeak
  • Snow bunting
  • Common Raven
  • Boreal Chickadee
  • Gyr Falcon