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Animals in Antarctica

There is very little plant life on Antarctica. It consists of small amounts of lichen and moss, and some floating plants in the inland seas. Apart from a few insects, all of the animal life feeds from the ocean. The largest animal living entirely on the land of Antarctica is a mite. It is just big enough to be seen without a microscope. It manages to stay alive by producing chemicals very similar to the anti-freeze that we put in our cars in winter! The ocean is full of nutrients. Warm water rising brings the nutrients up to the surface. Those nutrients along with krill, a small shrimp-like animal are the keys to the food chain in Antarctica.


Although there are many types of fish in Antarctica, there are not that many and they are small. However, there are plenty of cephalopods (octopus and squid). These play an important role in the diet of some whales, seals, fish, penguins and other sea birds.


More than 80% of birds in the Antarctic region are penguins. Some live on ice floes, while others live on land. The Emperor penguin never steps foot on land. It spends almost its entire life in the ocean. The female lays her egg on an ice floe, and the male incubates the egg on his feet. The male has a special flap of skin to protect the egg, and an indentation in his lower body. He lowers the indentation over the egg, so the egg is well protected from the cold. The flying birds are mainly petrels and albatrosses. They make their nests on offshore islands and rocky areas of coastline. The Arctic Tern flies between the North and South Poles. It spends from September to March in the Southern hemisphere, enjoying the summer there, and from April to August in the summer of the Northern Hemisphere. Each year it flies about 18, 500 miles!


The marine mammals in the Antarctic are mostly whales and seals. There are two main types of whale in Antarctica, the baleen and the tooth whales. The baleens feed on plankton, and include humpback whales, blue whales and sometimes minke whales. The tooth whales include the killer whale and the sperm whale. They feed on other mammals, such as seals and on fish and even birds when they can catch them.

The seals are mainly four types: Ross’s seal, which is less than 1% of the population, leopard seals, crabeater seal and Weddell seals. There are probably about 20 million crabeater seals in Antarctica. They have specially adapted teeth for sieving krill from the water. The leopard seals are hunters. They are known to eat penguins, other seals and fish.

Related articles:
The Weather and Climate in Antarctica

Early Explorers in Antarctica

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