The Tundra

Come join us on a vacation to the Canadian Tundra!

The Meteorology of the Tundra

The Tundra is very cold being one of the harshest biomes on Earth. The Tundra biome is among the coldest regions on Earth. The Tundra ecosystem is a treeless region found on the tops of mountains and in the Arctic, where the climate is windy and cold while the rainfall is scarce. The lands in the Tundra are snow-covered for most of the year, until summer arrives which causes wildflowers to start rising. The tundra biome will be okay for people that are on vacation there for only a few seasons since it's the coldest biome on Earth. You might want to bring a lot of warm clothing when arriving here since the temperature is usually cold such as boots, light pants, 3 jackets, a scarf, a pair of goggles, a hat that is very thick and made of wool, and a pair of ear muffs. The Tundra can have warm temperatures for only a very few days an year. The annual precipitation in the biome of the Tundra is often less than 10 inches an year. Surprisingly, the desert and the Tundra have the same annual precipitation so water is unavailable for most of the year. Temperatures in the arctic winter can just dip down to -60 degrees Fahrenheit or -51 degrees Celsius! The warmest month's average temperature is between 50 degrees Fahrenheit or 10 degrees Celsius and 32 degrees Fahrenheit or 0 degrees Celsius. A mean temperature that is higher than 32 degrees Fahrenheit or 0 degrees Celsius exists for only as few as 55 days an year. The average annual temperature is only 10 to 20 degrees Fahrenheit or -12 degrees Celsius to -6 degrees Celsius. Often existing within a meter below the surface is permafrost which means that the the soil is usually frozen so plants don't grow very easily. A few weeks between July and August is the best time to visit this biome because the highest temperature there would be 50 degrees Fahrenheit.

The Botany of the Tundra

Lichen

Many plants that grow low blossom in the Tundra during the season of short-growing in the summer. A barren and stark place describes the tundra landscape perfectly. The plants growing in the tundra are often small and grow close to the ground. Where soil accumulates in pockets or cracks in rocks, small shrubs may grow. The tundra landscape is often covered with rock. The constant freezing and thawing in the tundra helps to break the rocks into smaller pieces. Growing on the surface of this rock is a lichen. Lichens are unusual organisms that often grow on exposed rock surfaces. They are composed of a fungus and an algae living and growing together. There are several varieties of lichen, and in the autumn lichen turn various colors. Lichen is the favorite food of caribou and musk oxygen.

Dark Red Leaves

Many plants, such as this one, have leaves that are dark red. Dark leaves allow the plant to absorb more heat from the sun in the cold tundra climate.

Cushion Plants

Many tundra plants, such as this one, are called cushion plants. That means they grow in a low, tight clump and look like a little cushion. Cushion plants are more common in the tundra where their growth habit helps protect them from the cold.
A variety of cushion plants

Seeds

Tundra birds help distribute seeds. When they eat brightly colored berries, the birds carry seeds to other places and leave the seeds to grow.
Brightly colored berries containing seeds

Cotton Grass

Cotton grass has seeds that are dispersed across the tundra when they are caught by the wind.


The Geography of the Tundra

Tundras are among Earth's coldest, harshest biomes. Tundra ecosystems are treeless regions found in the Arctic and on the tops of mountains, where the climate is cold and windy and rainfall is scarce. Tundra lands are snow-covered for much of the year, until summer brings a burst of wildflowers. The few plants and animals that live in the harsh conditions of the tundra are essentially clinging to life. They are highly vulnerable to environmental stresses like reduced snow cover and warmer temperatures brought on by global warming. The Arctic tundra is changing dramatically because of global warming. Already, more southern animals like the red fox have moved onto the tundra. The red fox is now competing with the Arctic fox for food and territory, and the long-term impact on the sensitive Arctic fox is unknown. It is the Arctic's permafrost that is the foundation for much of the region's unique ecosystem, and it is the permafrost that is deteriorating with the warmer global climate. Permafrost is a layer of frozen soil and dead plants that extends some 1,476 feet (450 meters) under the surface. In much of the Arctic it is frozen year round. In the southern regions of the Arctic, the surface layer above the permafrost melts during the summer and this forms bogs and shallow lakes that invite an explosion of animal life. Insects swarm around the bogs, and millions of migrating birds come to feed on them. In summer, many companies organize canoe tours of the many rouged rivers and canyons in the area, while in winter visitors can head into the wild for a quick look at the big animals roaming the tundra in search of food. The population of caribou is especially important here, but other magnificent animals, including musk, oxen, wolverines, foxes and large flocks of geese, also make the area an excellent choice for those looking to observe wildlife at its best.
The location of the area of the tundras across the world

The Zoology of the Tundra

What animals can you expect to see on your vacation at the Northern Canadian Tundra?

The main animal to view would be the polar bear with many adventures hosting this animal. However, the population of caribou and other magnificent animals including musk, oxen, wolverines, foxes, and large flocks of geese also make the area an excellent choice for those looking to observe wildlife at its best.

Gyrfalcon

The frigid cold and deep snow makes life in the tundra very difficult. Every animal must adapt in order to survive. Some have grown thick fur which turns white in the winter. Others find a place to hibernate during the winter months. The gyrfalcon is an impressive bird and the largest of the falcons having a stockier build than the peregrine. Plumage can be dark, white or gray. Most breed north of the timberline and remain in the Arctic all year, but some populations migrate south for the winter. When hunting, the gyrfalcon flies swiftly near the ground. It can make rapid dives on prey, like the peregrine, but this is less characteristic. Birds are its main prey, although it feeds on some mammals, particularly in winter. Rock ptarmigan and willow grouse make up the bulk of the gyrfalcons diet, and their numbers can affect its breeding rate. In years when these birds are abundant, gyrfalcons produce large clutches, but in years of scarcity they lay only a couple of eggs or do not breed at all. Gyrfalcons perform display flights when courting. When the young hatch, both parents bring food to them. Its diet is birds while its size is from 51 to 63 centimeters or 20 to 25 inches. It is a non-threatened species while its scientific name is Falco rusticolus. Its habitat is in the mountains or the tundra. The gyrfalcons range is in the Arctic Europe, Asia, North America, Greenland, & Iceland.

Rock Ptarmigan

The Rock Ptarmigan is ground-dwelling and depends on camouflage for defense, and to achieve this in the changing background of its northerly range, it adopts different plumages. The summer plumage is mottled to blend with the forest, while during the winter snows ptarmigans have white plumage, only the tail feathers remaining dark. Rock ptarmigans feed on leaves, buds, fruits and seeds and on some insects in the summer. They are monogamous birds; the male defends a small territory at the breeding grounds. The female lays 6 to 9 eggs in a leaf-lined hollow on the ground and incubates them for 24 to 26 days. The cygnets must make the long migration south when only 80 to 90 days old. Its diet is leaves while its size is from 33 to 39 centimeters or 13 to 15 and a half inches. It’s a non-threatened species and its scientific name is Lagopus muta. Its habitat is in the forest and the tundra while its range is in the Holarctic.

Ruddy Turnstone

The Ruddy Turnstone has bold black, white, and reddish-brown markings in the breeding season, which become duller in winter. Insects, particularly midges, and some plant material are its main food in summer, but in winter it forages on seashores, turning over stones and other debris with its bill to find mollusks, crustaceans, and even carrion. Breeding birds arrive from wintering areas in late May or early June. The 4 eggs are laid in a grass-lined hollow on the ground and incubated by both parents for 21 to 23 days. Its diet is insects, plants, crustaceans, & mollusks while its size is from 18 to 23 centimeters or 7 to 9 inches. It’s a non-threatened species and its scientific name is Arenaria interpres. Its habitat is the tundra and its range is in the breeds in arctic coast marshes; winters on rocky shores south of breeding range.

Snow Bunting

The male Snow Bunting, in breeding plumage, is almost pure white, except for his black back, central tail and primary wing feathers. In winter, his white plumage becomes mottled with rusty brown. The female has a gray-brown head and back in summer and is simply paler and duller in winter. The snow bunting spends much of its time feeding on seeds and insects on the ground, where it can run quickly and hop. The nest is made from dead grass, moss and lichen and is concealed among stones. The female lays 4 to 6 eggs, which she incubates for 10 to 15 days. The male bird feeds his mate during the incubation period and helps to feed the young. Its diet is seeds and its size is 16 centimeters or 6 and a fourth inches. It’s a non-threatened species and its scientific name is Plectrophenax nivalis. Its habitat is open stone country, tundra, mountains; winters also on coasts and open country while its range is the Breeds in Iceland, Scandinavia, Northern Scotland, Arctic, and subarctic Asia, North America; winters south of breeding range.

Snowy Owl

The Snowy Owl is a large species with distinctive, mainly white plumage; females have more dark, barred markings than males. It usually hunts during the day and takes prey up to the size of arctic hares and lemmings, as well as smaller rodents and birds such as ducks and gulls. The snowy owl begins nesting in mid-May. It makes a shallow scrape in the ground or on a rock, lines it with moss and feathers, and lays 4 to 10 eggs. Up to 15 eggs may be laid if food supplies are particularly good. The male brings food to the female while she incubates the eggs for 32 or 33 days. Its diet is small animals and its size is 52 to 65 centimeters or 20 and a half to 25 and a half inches. It’s a non-threatened species while its scientific name is Nyctea scandiaca. Its habitat is the tundra, marshes, and coasts while its range is in the Circumpolar: arctic Canada, Greenland, and Northern Eurasia.

Tundra Swan

The tundra swan is actually 2 different species which are the Bewick’s swan and the whistling swan but since they’re so similar, they’re usually considered one species. Both breed in the far north of their range and migrate enormous distances to winter in Europe, China, Japan and the USA. Males and females look alike -- the female is sometimes slightly smaller -- and juveniles have mottled grayish plumage. The swans feed in shallow water on aquatic vegetation. The bonds between mates are strong and permanent and are formed and maintained by mutual displays. The female lays her clutch of 3 to 5 eggs in a nest of sedge and moss lined with down, usually near water. She incubates them for 35 to 40 days. The cygnets must make the long migration south when only 80 to 90 days old. Its diet is aquatic plants and its size is 114 to 140 centimeters or 45 to 55 inches. It’s a non-threatened species while its scientific name is Cygnus columbianus. Its habitat is the tundra, swamps, and marshes while its range is in the Holarctic.

Arctic Fox

The Arctic Fox, one of the few truly arctic mammals, has well-furred feet and small, rounded ears. It feeds on ground-dwelling birds, lemmings and other small rodents and also eats the leftovers from polar bear kills and carrion, such as stranded marine animals. Burrows, usually in the side of a hill or cliff, provide shelter, but arctic foxes do not hibernate and can withstand temperatures as low as -50 degrees C (-58 degrees F). A litter of 4 to 11 young is born in May or June after a gestation of 51 to 57 days. They are cared for by both parents. Its diet is birds and rodents and its size, in body, can be from 46 to 68 centimeters or 18 to 26 and three fourth inches while the tail is 35 centimeters or 13 and three fourth inches. It’s a non-threatened species and its scientific name is Alopex lagopus. The habitat, in which it lives in, is the tundra and the open woodland while its range is in the Arctic regions of Europe, Asia, and North America.

Caribou

All caribou and reindeer, once divided into several species, including the domesticated reindeer, are now considered races of a single species. The races vary in coloration from almost black to brown, gray and almost white. The caribou is the only deer in which both genders have antlers, although those of the female are smaller.The antlers are unique in that the lowest, forward-pointing tine is itself branched. Females are gregarious and gather in herds with their young, but adult males are often solitary. In autumn, males fight to gather harems of 5 to 40 or so females. The female produces 1, occasionally 2, young after a gestation of about 240 days. Young caribou are able to run with the herd within a few hours of birth. Some populations migrate hundreds of miles between their breeding grounds on the tundra and winter feeding grounds farther south. Grass and other tundra plants are their main food in summer, but in winter caribou feed mainly on lichens, scraping away the snow with their hoofs to expose the plants. Its diet is lichen and its size, in body, can be from 1.2 to 2.2 meters or 4 to 7 and a fourth feet while the tail can be from 10 to 21 centimeters or 4 to 8 and a fourth inches. It’s a non-threatened species and its scientific name is Rangifer tarandus. Its habitat is the tundra while its range is in Northern Europe and Asia, Scandinavia to Siberia, Alaska, Canada, and Greenland.

Musk Ox

The musk ox was found throughout northern Europe, Siberia, and North America during the prehistoric times. It was largely exterminated, surviving only in northern Canada and Greenland; however, it has now been successfully reintroduced in Norway and Alaska. It is the only species in its genus. The musk ox is superbly equipped for life in harsh arctic conditions, for it has a dense undercoat which neither cold nor water can penetrate and an outer coat of long, coarse hair that reaches almost to the ground and protects it from snow and rain. The broad hoofs prevent it from sinking in soft snow. Both genders have heavy horns that almost meet at the base, forming a broad frontal plate. Facial glands in the bull emit a strong, musky odor in the rutting season, hence the animal's name. Musk oxen are gregarious, living in herds of as many as 100. In the mating season, young bulls are driven out by old, master bulls and form small bachelor groups or remain solitary. The female produces 1 young after a gestation of 8 months. When threatened, musk oxen form a circle, facing outward with horns lowered, with the young in the middle; this is an effective defense against wolves, their natural enemies, but not against humans with guns. Musk oxen feed mainly on grass, but they also eat mosses, lichens, and leaves and will dig through snow for food. Its diet is grass, moss, lichen, and leaves and its size, in body, can be from 1.9 to 2.3 meters or 6 and a fourth to 7 and a half feet while the tail can be from 9 to 10 centimeters or 3 and a half to 4 inches. It’s a non-threatened species and its scientific name is Ovibus moschatus. Its habitat is the tundra and its range is in Northern Canada and Greenland.
A group of musk oxen defending their young

Norway Lemming

The Norway Lemming is boldly patterned and active day and night, alternating periods of activity with short spells of rest. Grasses, shrubs and particularly mosses make up its diet; in winter it clears runways under the snow on the ground surface in its search for food. These lemmings start to breed in spring, under the snow, and may produce as many as eight litters of 6 young each throughout the summer. Lemmings are fabled for their dramatic population explosions, which occur approximately every three or four years. It is still not known what causes these, but a fine, warm spring following two or three years of low population usually triggers an explosion that year or the next. As local populations swell, lemmings are forced into surrounding areas. Gradually more and more are driven out, down the mountains and into the valleys. Many are eaten by predators, and more lose their lives crossing rivers and lakes. Lemmings do not deliberately commit suicide. Their diet is grass and the body size can be from 13 to 15 centimeters or 5 to 6 inches while the tail is 2 centimeters or three fourth inches. It’s a non-threatened species and its scientific name is Lemmus lemmus. Its habitat is in the tundra and grassland while its range is in Scandinavia.

Polar Bear

The polar bear is a huge bear with an unmistakable creamy-white coat that is surprisingly fast and can easily outrun a caribou over a short distance. It wanders over a larger area than any other bear and, of course, swims well. Seals, fish, seabirds, arctic hares, caribou, and muskoxen are the polar bear's main prey, and in the summer it also eats berries and leaves of tundra plants. Normally solitary animals outside the breeding season, polar bears mate in midsummer. A litter of 1 to 4 young is born after a gestation of about 9 months, and the young bears remain with their mother for about a year. Thus females breed only every other year. Its diet is large and small mammals, fish, birds, berries, and leaves and its body size can be from 12.2 to 12.5 meters or 7 and a fourth to 8 and a fourth feet while the tail can be from 7.5 to 12.5 centimeters or 3 to 5 inches. It’s a vulnerable species and its scientific name is Ursus maritimus. Its habitat is coasts and ice floes while its range is in the Arctic Ocean to the southern limits of the ice floes.

Sled Dogs

The Sled Dogs are a hearty breed of animals. They have very thick fur and amazing stamina. A team of dogs can pull a sled and a person for hundreds of miles. The Iditarod is the most popular sled dog race. Taking place in early spring, the Iditarod starts in downtown Anchorage, which is in the taiga. The race end and ends 1049 miles later in the tundra of Nome, Alaska. Can you imagine traveling 1049 miles powered only by dogs! The race takes one to two weeks to complete. These smart dogs know how to adapt to the frigid conditions in the taiga and tundra. Here the dogs curl themselves up to protect from the harsh wind. The dogs must mush and work as a team in order to survive.

Bibliography

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