Wood Frogs are fascinating, especially for biologists who had been researching their freeze tolerance for decades. In September, the wood frogs of Alaska freeze. What does this mean? Well, they don’t freeze completely but mostly solid. This notion implies that in total, two-thirds of their body water will turn to ice. So, what happens if you were to pick one up? They would not move at all, and you would have to be very gentle. If you were to bend a limb, it would break. What is going on inside the bodies? Their hearts stop beating too, and their blood ceases to flow.
These resilient frogs also do long-distance migration, which is an essential part of their life history. They tend to travel from their breeding pools to freshwater swamps or any cool, moist place they can find for survival. To preserve their species, they need to travel more than a kilometer away every time it’s breeding season. That means that to protect the species, it requires a landscape with multiple habitats at appropriate spatial scales. They spend the summer in the moist woodlands and leave in the fall and migrate in close by uplands until the winter.
They are mostly dead, but their cells continue to function, but they can no longer communicate with each other. Thanks to them being in this frozen state of hibernation, they can survive through the insanely low temperatures for up to seven months. When spring finally arrives, they start to thaw and eventually hop away as though nothing had ever happened. These creatures are of great interest to biologists and us ordinary people too – they take the concept of hibernation to a whole new level that is of interest to the science community to understand how nature works in different weather conditions.
This time of year is also their breeding season, so as soon as they thaw, they look for an ephemeral pool where they can reproduce. They prefer pools rather than permanent water bodies like ponds and lakes because it brings them protection from predators. Sometimes they have to travel long distances to find the perfect pool, and when they do, the male starts emitting duck-like quacking sounds to find a mate and keep the species alive. Even if they are not on the endangered or threatened species list because of forest loss, studies have shown that wood frogs and other amphibians are beginning to drop out of their occupied habitats.
The Columbia Spotted Frogs have a distinct bumpy-skin and have relatively short hind legs. They vary in color from light brown to dark brown and have large black spots with light centers. They also have a bright red on their lower abdomen. It is larger than the wood frog, and the females are larger than the males. These frogs are generally found in the coastal forests of Southeast Alaska because they need to be close to permanent water supplies with little variation between seasons. Even if they are not a threatened or even endangered species, biologists are studying them as a model species for the effects of habitat fragmentation.
These frogs spend most of their time in the water, so they have webbing on their feet that goes all the way to the end of their longest toe with short hind legs. Since many animals have spotted frogs in their diets, they tend to live in areas with an abundant source of low-growing vegetation that works as a hiding spot. They tend to stay in those safe aquatic areas. However, sometimes when it’s time to breed, they have been known to move to other regions to reproduce cautiously.
If frogs aren’t your thing, what about some turtles instead? Alaska has two species of turtles that have made their home in the waters. There is the green sea turtle and the leatherback sea turtle. You’ll find them in the coastal waters of Alaska. Leatherback sea turtles are mostly found in open waters, but they tend to be a migratory species. Being the largest turtle globally, weighing over two thousand pounds, they can grow up to six and a half feet by their adult years. They are also the only sea turtle to have a soft and almost leather-like shell.
The green sea turtle got its name from its color of body fat. Even if some think the name comes from their shell’s color, it comes from their skin color. These Alaskan animals have black and olive-colored shells. They are listed as an endangered species, but they are still being killed, and their eggs are taken for food. There is a community of people trying to preserve these species by creating sanctuaries and protecting their eggs from humans so that they are around for generations to appreciate the beauty of these sea turtles.
These sea turtles are slightly different from others because they are herbivorous. They eat the seagrasses as well as the algae. However, when they are young, they eat meats such as crabs, jellyfish, fish eggs, and even sponges. Because their diet has a low nutritional value, they tend to grow relatively slow. Because when they reach adulthood, they tend to turn herbivorous, their body fat turns green, giving it their iconic color. It is unknown the lifespan of the green sea turtle, but it is believed to be around 60 to 70 years, with some still reproducing at the age of 40.
These sea turtles will take a long migration from where they feed to where they want to nest. Their mating takes place in shallow waters and beaches. They lay a massive 100 to 200 eggs each mating season and hatch after two months. Their nest can be found worldwide, with some islands being called Turtle islands because of sea turtles coming to their beaches to lay their eggs. They make it to the beach at night, where they dig a hole in the sand and start putting their eggs in to bury them later. Since they are endangered, many countries and states like Alaska have laws to protect the exploitation and the collection of their eggs.
The leatherback sea turtle is the fourth-largest living reptile and is the largest of all turtle species. They have also been classified as vulnerable by the IUCN. What makes this sea turtle so interesting is the lack of bony plates on its shell. Instead, its carapace is a leathery, oily, and connective tissue covering its interlocking dermal bones. It’s the only sea turtle with a softshell instead of a bony shell. These sea turtles can be found in many different types of conditions, from Alaska to tropical waters, making it one of the sea turtles with the widest distribution.
Leatherbacks have the most hydrodynamic body design with a sizeable teardrop-shaped body with a pair of large front flippers that give it some speed underwater. Its flattened forelimbs are made for swimming in open oceans, with their flippers being the largest in proportion to its body. An adult leatherback sea turtle’s average weight is almost 900 pounds and around 5 feet long. The largest ever found was nearly 7 feet long and weighing 1,433 pounds, and they believed they could get up to 2,200! They are an endangered species, and it is believed to be around 34,000 to 94,000 left in the wild.
These turtles can withstand colder temperatures because of the counter-current exchange and their large body size. Leatherbacks don’t have many natural predators in adulthood, but they are very vulnerable in their early life stages, where birds, small mammals, and even big fishes prey on them. Birds would dig up turtle nests and eat the eggs. Once they hatch, the run to the ocean commences with many shorebirds and crustaceans trying to get them before touching the water. Currently, these sea turtles are very rare in Alaska, and only 19 have been seen as of late.
Before 1993, they were considered to be the most common sea turtle in Alaska. Human activity is a danger for leatherbacks, both directly or indirectly. Humans raid their nests in places like Southeast Asia for consumption. There are also strandings due to vessel-strike injuries. However, the worst for leatherbacks is light pollution because sea turtles have a strong attraction to light, and when beaches are closed to streetlights and buildings, it can disorient the hatchings and crawl away from the beach. Hatching’s instinct is to follow the light because the lightest area on a natural coast is the horizon over the ocean, while the darkest place is the dunes or forest.
What else is found in the Alaskan waters? Fish, of course! Alaskan waters are incredible and have so many fish species that live below the surface. You’ll find trout, halibut, whitefish, salmon, white sturgeon, and walleye pollock. People worldwide visit Alaska to catch some of these species in the wild and have the freshest fish you could even have on a plate. Fish is also crucial for the locals, especially Alaska natives, who sometimes trade it with neighbors for other goods. The fish many people and animals enjoy in Alaska come from many different places.
Not all of these fish are found in the ocean, however. They are found in rivers, lakes, and ponds as well. Since they are so many species that end up in their lakes and oceans, it is fascinating to see how nature works. Nevertheless, with all the choices to choose from, there is one that gets the most attention from the public. That goes double from bears and other animals alike. Something incredible to see is the migration of the salmon that takes place every year in Alaska, which people from different parts of the country come to witness for themselves.
It is incredible to watch the salmon each year as large flocks of the fish move from the sea to the rivers. They do this for spawning purposes, and it is done by pushing against the river currents and going upstream. You’ll see the salmon leaping out of the water as they try to conquer the forceful river currents. The brown bears of Alaska are pleased when this happens because it means feast time for them. It is also a feast for bald eagles and sport fishers that come every year to get a great catch.
This salmon run happens around September through November. It is the final stop for a salmon’s life to spawn and create more life and continue the cycle again. What’s interesting is that salmon live in rivers or lakes for a while until they grow enough to swim to the ocean to then swim once again to the natal river. It is believed they used what’s called a magnetoreception in the ocean to locate the general position of the natal river where they were born. Their deaths impact the lives of other animals that live close to the river, providing nutrients not only for the next generation of salmon but also to every living species of the area.
The salmon may be magnificent in their numbers jumping out of the water, but have you ever seen an orca jumping from the ocean in Alaska? Orcas are members of the oceanic dolphin family and are also known as killer whales. They are also the largest member of the oceanic dolphin family. What is so fascinating about these creatures is that they have no predators considered to be above them in the ocean’s food chain. This notion classifies them as apex predators. They are found all over the seas and oceans, including the Gulf of Alaska.
These beautiful creatures are highly social, moving in what is known as pods, a population of matrilineal family groups. Generations have passed around their vocal behaviors and hunting techniques. It is almost like a cultural tradition between pods and has been described as manifestations of animal culture. Even if they are called “killer whales,” they are not a threat to humans, and there are no cases of wild orcas attacking humans. Their diets are fascinating and diverse, and up next, we’re going to talk about what they like to eat in the wild.
What do these incredible creatures of the sea eat? Their diet mainly consists of fish, but they have been known to eat mammals such as dolphins, seals, and smaller whales. They like hunting in packs, so they are sometimes compared to wolves because of the particular way of hunting for food. It all depends on the area that they live; whales in tropical regions can eat whatever they can find, like sea turtles and even birds when they have the chance. Apart from their diets – there are some amazing things you probably never knew about them.
They have been reports of a pod of killer whales hunting down sperm whales in packs and even another Apex Predator- the Great White Shark! A study found Great White Sharks leaving an area for up to a year if they see Orcas around hunting other animals. Interestingly enough, when orcas attack the ocean’s now-former Apex, they only eat their livers and leave the rest as a warning to any other shark trying to get in the area. Orcas do know how to show who’s the boss of the sea.
The orcas are divided into different pods that are based on language. A clan of orcas will be made up of several pods. All pods of orcas speak the same language, but each pod will have its own type of accent that makes them different. When you look at different clans, though, they all speak other languages. It would be like an English speaker having a conversation with a Greek speaker. Wow — it is interesting to see how amazing the lives are of these creatures of the deep blue sea.
The way orcas communicate depends on sounds divided into three categories: pulsed calls, clicks, and whistles. The clicking sounds are mostly used to navigate and finding prey, but it’s also used to communicate with other orcas. They have found that groups of Orcas living in the Northeast Pacific tend to be more vocal, and they call have different vocalizations between them. Their dialects can contain seven to seventeen different call types normally, but they had found that a population in Antarctica has around 28 whistle calls and complex burst-pulse to communicate. They are brilliant, fascinating animals, what’s not to love?
Orcas are not the only whales found in Alaska, and some are even as amazing as killer whales. If you visit the state, you might have the chance to see some of the most majestic creatures that roam the ocean. You can see any of them all year round, but they are the most active during the summer, especially around May, and they are more chances to see them close to the coast. If you are a fan of whales and you want to see them in action, this is the best place to see them in all their splendor.
Alaskan whales include humpback whales, fin whales, blue whales, bowhead whales, North Pacific right whales, and the sei whales. Sadly, most of these species are considered a threatened species and fall on the Red List, but there is still some hope that you can see them. One of the best places for whale watching is Resurrection Bay, in Kenai Fjords National Park. The marine exosystems of the area makes it a popular spot for whales to be around. You can even see harbor seals, sea lions, otters, puffins, and bald eagles.
Best you get to Alaska soon to see them or start helping to make positive changes worldwide to preserve these incredible animals of Alaska, like the largest of the baleen whales, the humpback whale. It would be much more amazing to watch them in nature than only reading about them on the internet. Humpback whales can be seen in the western portion of Alaska in certain months, namely May through to September. There are also two populations of beluga whales that live in Alaska – one in Cook Inlet and another in Port of Anchorage.
You can also find the breathtaking humpback whales in the Barren Islands between Homer and Kodiak, mostly in the summer. Around June and July, you can see them feed by bubble-netting, which is when a group of whales blows a net of bubbles to confuse their prey and scoop them with their mouths wide in the middle of the very impressive bubble net. There is also a significant concentration of whales, around 500, mostly around Passage, and you can get a watching tour to see the splendor of these amazing gentle giants.
One of the most popular whales to see in Alaska are the bowhead whale. Their name is because of their arched lower jaw that looks like an archer’s bow. They used their triangular heads to break up to two feet of ice to breathe easily. Their favorite way to catch prey is to swim with their mouths open to let the water in, trapping zooplankton, copepods, and krill, then they close their mouths to swallow. If they want to eat enough calories to survive, they will need to eat up to two tons of food each day, so swimming with their mouths open is the easiest way to go.
The bowhead whales are known to come close to the shore in Barrow in April or May. You might also spot them later in the year as they migrate past the area, which happens between August and October. If you want to get up close and personal to Alaska’s whales, make sure to book yourself a boat tour as this is your best chance to spot them. However, some species do tend to give the onlookers a shore show. They tend to be loners, but if you are lucky enough, you might see a pod of bowheads
For one of the most incredible species of the Arctic region – this has to be the polar bear. It’s the largest living bear species and land carnivore. An adult male can weigh-in from 800 to 1,500 pounds! It is a distant relative to the brown bear that has adapted to the region’s cold temperature, and its white fur can help it camouflage in the snow to hunt down its prey. This bear species is adapted to living in this frigid environment and spend quite a good portion of its lifetime in the sea ice. The Alaskan animal hunts for seals, which is also the primary source of food.
What’s very interesting about polar bears is that even if they are born on land, they spend most of their lives on sea ice, hunting for seals, and because of it, they’ve been classified as marine mammals. Because of climate change making their habitat smaller, sadly, this beautiful species is classified as vulnerable. Learning from them and helping lower the effects of climate change have been a mission for researchers to save them from extinction. If you want to see this remarkable bear, you will have to head up to the northernmost permafrost Alaskan territory – you won’t be disappointed.
Polar bears have seasonal movements in Alaska, and this is all because of the regional ice dynamics. The polar bears tend to remain with the pack ice as it moves north in the summertime, which means they spend many months of the year at sea. That is when the ice will melt. You could also see some polar bears along the Beaufort Sea coast in Alaska as they have been known to rest here on land until the shore-fast ice develops along the coast. This action happens in late fall, and they move on when they have platforms for seal hunting.
Because there’s very limited freshwater since it’s frozen, polar bears can produce their water by metabolizing the fat from seal blubber, so they don’t need to worry about also finding water. In areas where the ice completely melts in the summer, polar bears need to move to land and wait until the sea freezes again, or they look for a place farther north where the water froze all year-round and is easier to hunt for seals. Adapting so easy to temperatures helps it survive in hotter months, although it’s harder for them to track when there’s no snow to hide in.
Polar bears aren’t the only bears who live in Alaska. In fact, you will find all three North American bears in one place. That also means that you might stumble upon a black bear. Luckily, the black bear will be sticking around because they are considered the least threatened of the world’s bear species. However, they are still quite large (even though they are the smallest of the three main species found in North America), and they can weigh around 200 pounds in the spring, so it’s better to keep your distance and respect their habitat.
In Alaska, you will find the Black Bear subspecies: the Eastern black bear, Haida Gwaii black bear, Kenai black bear, all black bear, and the glacier bear. These bears are mostly omnivores and live in the forests. Their diet also depends on the season. For example, when they come back from hibernation, they will seek carrion from winter-killed animals to recover some of the fat lost while in hibernation. However, most of the year, their diet consists of nuts, fruits, veggies, roots, corns, and yes, they also love to eat lots of honey from apiaries. Picnic baskets might also be on the menu.
Speaking of stolen picnic baskets, these bears seem to live by the idea of “work smart, not hard.” For that reason, they often make their way out of the forest and move towards human communities because they want easy access to food. This concept is why there are frequent reports of people encountering black bears. They just want some easy food instead of forage in the forest for their dinner, but also, sometimes they are just curious and want to figure out human items. Make sure to be aware of this when you get the chance to travel to Alaska.
You need to remember some tips to be safe while in the wilderness in Alaska, especially because bears are the leaders in this state, which is why it is called Bear Country. It is essential always to keep your distance. If you get too close to a bear’s “personal space,” they might feel threatened. Also, if you see a female bear with its cub, keep yourself even more away from them because Mama Bear will do anything to keep Baby Bear safe. Finally, if you are camping, do not set your camping grounds close to a trail since they tend to use those, and you might get a surprise visit in the night.
Aside from polar bears and black bears, Alaska is home to many brown bear species. They are omnivorous and carnivorous – it depends on the species. The grizzly bears are known for their aggressive tendencies and tend to live along the southern coast of the state to catch salmon easily. They are known for their size and tend to be the largest of most bears. You’ll find the Alaska brown bear, the Dall Island brown bear, the Kodiak bear, and the grizzly bear in Alaska. Their population is stable, and they are not a threatened species.
Brown bears are not only aggressive, but they can also be fast, to speeds up to 40 miles per hour which is great for capturing moose or caribou. They have longer claws than black bears, which are very useful for digging roots and excavating small mammals. However, because of their size and weight, they are not suitable for climbing trees. Just like their distant relative, the polar bear, brown bears are very adaptive. They can consume various foods, including salmon, berries, caribou, moose, cow parsnip, squirrels, roots, grass, and carrion. They tend to be solitary animals, although sometimes they like to be in large groups in feeding areas like salmon spawning streams.
The Alaskan Grizzly bears can be found in the southern area of Alaska. You’ll notice that this particular species of bear has a concave-shaped face and a very distinctive hump found between their shoulders. They also have noticeably long front claws. You might not know about these bears because their size will vary, depending on their food supply. The bears in the Alaska interior are about two-thirds the size of the coastal and island bears. They are around 30,000 grizzly bears in Alaska, and the numbers are very steady.
Brown and Grizzly bears are basically the same species. The only difference is the location. While Brown bears are mostly around Kodiak Island and coastal areas, Grizzlies are found in northern habitats. These bear’s name came from Meriwether Lewis and William Clark, who first described it as “grisly,” which comes from either word “grisly,” as in “gruesome” and fear-inducing, or “grizzly” from its grey-tipped hair. Their weight depends on the season. They weigh less in the spring and early summer, and during the late summer and fall are the heaviest, with some males weighing between 500 and 900 pounds.
These Alaskan bears will hibernate from October until April or May. The females may emerge from their hibernation state even later and might appear as late as June with their cubs. They give birth to between one to four cubs. The cubs will remain in the care of their mothers for about two years. Another fascinating fact about this type of brown bear is that around 25% of adult males won’t hibernate and remain active during the harsh winter. When bears hibernate during winter, they aren’t sleeping the whole time. Hibernation only means that they will get into a state where they don’t need to eat or drink, and they also barely urinate or defecate.
However, sometimes bears leave their dens, mostly because their dens get flooded or are damaged and need to find a new one. Depending on the area and weather, some bears need to hibernate more than others. In the colder regions, they hibernate for 6 to 7 months, while in the warmer habitats, they only do it for 2 to 5 months, so weather does play a role. Thanks to their adaptive capabilities for survival, they can survive for longer periods without food and water by lowering their body temperature to 8-13 degrees. Their fat stores will supply them with energy.
From the sea to the land and now to the sky – what birds await for Alaska’s visitors? Birds are a vital part of the Alaskan ecosystem, so that we couldn’t leave them behind. There are plenty of birds to enjoy in Alaska. However, they go and migrate in winter and head to sunnier and warmer locations. They will be back in the summer, though. You’ll observe things like the taiga bean goose, the tundra swan, the long-tailed duck, and the Canada goose. Not only those, but you will also see the grouse, quails, albatrosses, pelicans, and more.
Alaska is the best place for bird watchers to see a diversity of habitats, with many species having different migration routes and many wildlands to choose from. From rainforests of the Southeast to the Arctic, there are many habitats filled with surprises and almost 500 bird species. Before taking the adventure of a lifetime, it’s good to make a list of all the birds you want to see and enjoy to the fullest, and choosing a season to visit is also very important. Just sitting in a backyard is sometimes more than enough to find the aviary rockstars of the Alaskan sky.
Alaska is home to the largest population of bald eagles in the United States. They have around 30,000 of this type of bird. You’ll see bald eagles most commonly along the coast and near the interior lakes and the rivers. These beautiful creatures are Alaska’s largest bird of prey that you will see, with a wingspan of approximately 7.5 feet and weighing between 8 to 14 pounds. Most of these bald eagles will remain in Alaska during the winter, but they will move down south. Some of them will altogether leave Alaska, though. If you’re looking for a high density, you’ll find their nests on the islands of Southeast Alaska.
There are interesting things about those nests, they have to rebuild the same one every year, and they do it in the same place. This massive bird of prey’s diet consists mostly of fish, like salmon, flounder, and pollock, and feed on small mammals, sea urchins, and crabs. Sometimes while hunting off the coast for some fish, you can see them using their wings to row when swimming and giving it more control. Sometimes when they catch a fish that is too big to fly with, they just swim to shore and have a feast!
They have chosen this area because they nest in the old-growth timber found lining the saltwater shorelines. They also love to nest in the old cottonwood trees, which are located near water sources. The bald eagle is known for its white head, which takes about five years to develop. This bird is Alaska’s most giant bird of prey, with an impressive wingspan of 7.5 feet. However, their colors were not always like that. Younger bald eagles are entirely different, their head and tail are mostly dark, and their bodies and wings are mottled white with brownish colors.
It takes them about five years to get their signature white head and tail and darker body and wings. Something very interesting is that they are not bald in any way, not even when they were younger. The name comes from an older meaning of the word “bald,” which meant “white-headed.” These beautiful creatures were almost at the brink of extinction. However, decades of preserving their habitat and protection came into fruition when taking out the list of endangered species in 2007. You’ll only find these birds in North America, so make sure you keep an eye out.
From the sky and back to Earth, it’s time to meet the Alaska moose. You will find these creatures all over Alaska as they inhabit many different places. They are also the largest of the North American moose subspecies, with an adult male weighing around 1,600 pounds, and they can be up to over 6 feet tall. Their iconic antlers are only carried by the males and are produced every summer after the first pair of antlers have grown when they are between 10 to 13 years old. When it’s mating season, the males sometimes get into a fight where it ends in one dying and the other getting the female.
The Alaska moose is also a solitary creature in nature. They only tend to come into contact with each other when it is time for the mating season. This action happens during autumn and winter. They are usually very gentle animals and are not aggressive to humans. However, while in mating season, they can attack with no warning to any animal like wolves, deer or bears, or even humans that come too close. So next time you go to Alaska’s wilderness, always remember to keep your distance if you see one of these amazing creatures.
Since this species is the largest moose, you won’t be surprised to hear that they eat more food than black bears to maintain their bodies. They are herbivores, but they eat a tremendous amount of food each day. It sometimes adds up to 73 pounds each day. In winter, this goes down to about 34 pounds, which is still a considerable amount. Ecologists call them “browsers,” which means that they just eat the leaves and the fruits from tall and woody plants. They also love aquatic plants as a snack.
However, the moose’s favorite food is mostly terrestrial vegetation. Some of their favorites are tree shoots from willow and birch, and sometimes they incorporate berries for a sweet touch. Since they don’t have upper teeth, they need to use their eight sharp incisors and tough tongue to chew their food. With all the food they need every day to maintain a healthy weight, these moose are almost the forest rulers, and they need to be protected at all cost since they have a low risk of being threatened for extinction.
They also love to eat garden shrubs and completely devour everything from the apple trees found in town. Black bears only eat 18 pounds of food each day, which means that a moose eats more than four times, so they have to spend most of the day finding food to keep themselves in shape. Sometimes they use the antlers during mating season to get the female’s attention by rubbing their antlers on trees which sometimes can end with the tree falling. Those beautiful horns are extremely practical and are the most important tool the moose has to survive.
The males will shed their antlers every winter and grow a new and impressive pair in the spring to be ready for the mating season. Each time the antlers get bigger and better. They grow from being spikes into what has become the famous paddles that make this moose so notable. The locals tend to go hiking to find these antlers to sell or make beautiful jewelry and even hunt weapons like knives and bowheads. Depending on the antlers’ size, they can cost big bucks if you want to have them as decorations and even more if you find the pair from the same moose.
For a creature that is not as impressive as the Alaskan moose, it is just as unique to Alaska’s mountain ranges. It is the Dall Sheep. These animals are found in the subarctic mountain ranges in the state. The Dall sheep are distinctively different from other sheep because of their massive yellow and brown colored horns. Even the females have horns, but not as big as males, and they are slender and less curved. This Alaskan animal also has a dark brown or white coat. They fill themselves with all the food they can find in summer, and what is left for them in winter?
When rams reach three years, they start looking like ewes until their horns keep growing, and they are easier to recognize. What’s interesting is that their horns keep growing during spring, summer, and early fall. However, they stop growing in the late fall, or winter which gives the horns a very cool pattern of rings called annuli spaced along the length of the horn, and researchers use them to determine the animal’s age. Their lifespan is around 16 years for the dall rams and 19 years for the ewes.
They can still sustain themselves in winter, but it is on different foods to their summer diet. Since they have more food choices during the summer seasons, with lots of plants around, they tend to consider their habitat their own salad bar. Nevertheless, during the winter, the story is quite different but enough to adapt and survive the cold weather. Their winter diet includes mosses, lichens, dry and frozen grass, and even some frozen plants. Each animal has learned to adapt according to the season they are living in.
Unfortunately, these sheep fall victim to predators in the area, such as coyotes, wolf packs, black bears, and grizzly bears liking to snack on young sheep. It’s all part of the circle of life, and they are not high up on the food chain in Alaska, but they’re a sight to see regardless. Fortunately, because of their habitat’s remoteness, it’s not easy for predators to get in. Thus, they are at least a bit protected from them, and it’s an advantage when they want to protect themselves. The increase in human population in the area may also cause some problems for the Dall Sheep, and the Alaska Department of Fish and Game is working hard to protect this species.
Another unassuming animal that you may stumble upon in your trip to Alaska is the Porcupine caribou. This Alaskan animal is a caribou subspecies that lives among the animals in Alaska. They have these massive concave hoofs necessary to support the animal in the snow and soft tundra and work as paddles for when they need to swim. They tend to live in large herds of about 169,000 animals. The porcupine caribou even embarks on a migration. It’s not just a small migration, but an extremely long one. It is approximately 2,400km from where their wintering area is to their calving grounds.
This type of caribou is the only member of the deer family that both sexes grow antlers, but they are easy to identify because of their sizes. An adult bull is large and bulkier, and the adult cows are shorter and usually irregular and thinner. Their size and weight are different depending on the area they live in. The ones in northern and southwestern Alaska tend to be smaller than those that live in the state’s interior and southern parts. However, their average weight is still big, with an adult bull weighing from 350 and 400 pounds while the females can average around 175 to 225 pounds.
Their calving grounds are near the Beaufort Sea, but they make this journey each time they need to. The migration of the Porcupine caribou is considered to be the longest land migration of terrestrial mammals. They prefer places where there are not trees and in open spaces like the coastal tundra. Every year they move around the same area, but sometimes they change their route after having the same one for many years to places where they can find more food. It can bring a problem for the Native people who has caribou as part of their diet.
Depending on what time of year it is, you will see them in different locations according to their migration pattern. They are herbivores and feed on insects, flowers from the tundra, and when this declines, they move out and continue to feed on willow leaves and mushrooms. They are always in constant movement looking for better food places, and sometimes they travel up to 400 miles between summer and winter looking, especially if it’s a bigger herd. It’s all about adapting to their environment to survive, and these beautiful creatures know well how to do it.
What else will you find in Alaska in terms of wildlife? You will see the mountain goats withstand extreme weather conditions thanks to their very thick woolly and white coat. They also have long black horns and beards. Mountain goats live in the mountain ranges of southeastern Alaska and live an insane 13,000 feet above sea level and sometimes higher. They don’t often migrate to lower levels and tend to feed on grasses and plant matter that they find. What’s interesting is that they remain one of the least- studied large mammals in North America.
Sometimes they might get confused with Dall goats, but very rarely, you’ll see both goats and sheep in the same mountain area. The best way to distinguish them is by their horns. Dall sheep have black horns while mountain goats have smaller ones. The goats begin shedding their winter coat in June, and by July, their new coat is ready to show off, and their winter coat grows back as soon as the first winter snowfalls around mid-October. Both males and females have horns, but they are slightly different, and also male goats are 40% larger than females.
Although there are more majestic animals to discover in Alaska, one of our favorites is the wood bison. This Alaskan animal is one of the two subspecies of the American bison, and it’s the largest of the two. An adult male bison stands at about 6 feet tall and weighs a mammoth 2000 pounds or more. The females are smaller than the males, but they even weigh about 1200 pounds. The wood bison has curving horns that grow to point upwards and beard-like hair growth on their chin. They are also very social, and they tend to be together in groups of 20 to 60 cows and bulls.
When the bulls grow, they move to a smaller group or stay separated from the rest of the big group until the late summer when the breeding season starts. Speaking of that, a female bison sexually matures around two years old, and they can give birth to their first calf by year three, and generally, they have a single calf twice every three years. Just like humans, they are pregnant for nine months. Those newborns are ready to walk 30 minutes after being born and are ready to kick any predator that wants to attack it within a few hours.
Their heads and shoulders are relatively large, especially when you compare them to the rest of their bodies. It gives them quite an intimidating appearance. They also have a hump that rises from the neck and slopes down to their hips. The wood bison have evolved to use their head to sweep through the snows so that they can still have access to grasses in the wintertime. It’s also interesting that their hair is quite like that of a human and is soft and durable. Researchers have found that wood bison is more primitive in the phenotype than the common plains bison. However, it’s unknown if they preserve the original phenotypes from the 1920s.
Comparing the evolution of both wood and plains bison, even if wood bison is heavier and bigger, the plains bison can run faster and reach up to 40 miles per hour. Sadly, wood bison are a threatened species, mostly because of hunting, and in the early 1900s almost went extinct. Today they are still fighting to preserve the species with many programs that so far have been successful. They are about seven thousand wood bison in the wild, and there’s a team of Russian and Korean scientist working on a potential de-extinction of steppe bison and wood bison using cloning techniques.
When the cold of the winter is over, the wood bison is ready for a makeover! They will lose their winter coat when Alaska temperatures start to warm up in the early weeks of spring. When it is mid-summer, the wood bison will have a completely new coat that is better suited to the warmer weather. In fact, this bison has two coats in one, with one layer that is closer to their skin is used to trap hot air and keep it warm, while the thicker outer coat can shed water, and it works as a wind protector.
Some people describe the wood bison coat as strong but soft. It is very close to human hair, so it’s not like the moose, caribou, and sheep coats’ hollow-like feeling. When they’re shedding their outer coat, they look incredibly shaggy since they lose it very slow and it takes them a few weeks for their summer coat to show off and the old one to get rid of. It’s interesting that you can see both layers of fur. The outer layer is mostly on their face and hump, while the inner layer covers the rest of the body.
The Great Grey Owl is considered the largest owl species by length as well as its signature rounded head, fluffy feathers, and brilliant yellow eyes with dark circles around them make it one fantastic bird to see in the wild. They don’t have any ear tufts because they don’t need them; it has so much plumage covering its whole body that they can survive the winter very warmly. Below its beak, they have a white-collar that sometimes resembles a bow tie of plumage that makes it one sassy owl ready for any party. However, even their beautiful color won’t distract you by how massive this owl is.
If you take all the feathers out of this owl, they are not that impressive and relatively small, but if you measure it as it is, that’s another story. The length is around 24 to 33 inches long for a female and 26 inches for a male. However, they have a wingspan of 5 feet long for an adult male and 4 feet 8 inches for an adult female. Thus, like the rest of the owl species, the female is bigger than the male. They only weigh from 1.28 to 4.19 pounds, which is no surprise since their bodies are a bag of feathers.
We know that since you watched that movie about the kid wizard, you wanted a majestic snowy owl. The snowy owl, also known as the polar or arctic owl, are natives of the Arctic regions, and they are mostly on the tundra. It’s one of the largest owls, and it’s also the only owl with completely white plumage. Although the female tends to have some dark brown flecks, the males are as white as snow which is perfect for hunting. Speaking of hunting, like other species of owls, they tend to sleep all day and hunt during the night.
They will hunt small mammals and water birds, but their favorites to track are lemmings when they are in the breeding season. Their nest is set on a slight rise on the tundra’s ground because of their ability to camouflage in the snow. The development of the younglings takes a long time. If you want to see one of these in the wild, they like to wander almost anywhere close to the Arctic, but they are a bit unpredictable, and since they are on the vulnerable list of endangered species, it can be hard to find one. Nevertheless, if you do, count yourself lucky, especially if it has an acceptance letter with your name on its beak.
The beautiful Canada Lynx is a specialist predator found in the northern areas of Alaska and Canada, hence its name. Its long, dense fur, snowshoe-like paws, and triangular-shaped ears with black tufts make this cat a favorite to see in Alaska. They are excellent swimmers and very agile climbers, which makes them a fantastic hunter. Their favorite food is almost exclusively snowshoe hares, but when it’s harder to find them because their numbers are low, they like to hunt for ducks, ptarmigan, grouse, moles, and red squirrels, basically small mammals and easy to catch birds.
The Canada Lynx tends to hunt better at twilight or night when the hares tend to be more active and easier to catch. Their favorite way to track is to wait on specific trails or in ambush beds and then pounce on it and kill it quickly with a bite on its head or neck. They are loners and tend to hunt alone, and interesting enough, they tend to avoid each other if they are of the same sex. They only tend to meet other lynx during the mating season, which is a month-long in the spring.
Contrary to their name, the Bearded Seal doesn’t have a beard. Their name comes from two Greek words, “eri” and “gnathos,” which refers to their strong jaw. It does have very long whiskers that curl up when they are dry, giving it a very posh look that can compete with the walrus’ mustache. They are also the largest northern phocid family and are the only genus Erignathus members, making them very unique for the seal species. These beautiful creatures can weigh almost 1,000 pounds, so there’s no wonder they are a favorite of some predators.
Because of their high-fat content, bearded seals are a significant food source for polar bears. They are also a favorite for local natives like the Inuit, which not only are a substantial part of their diet but also use the blubber for burning it in their stone lamps called “kudlik.” Since their skins are very tough, they are also perfect for making shoes, whips, dog sled harnesses, and even to make summer tents. Overall, these precious seals are an essential part of the Alaskan wildlife and the people who live there.
This small fox is a native of the Arctic tundra biome, which has the most brutal cold temperatures of the area, and this cute white fox is very well adapted to this cold environment. The impressive thing about these foxes is their thick fur that keeps them warm during the winter, and it protects them from predators by camouflaging in the snow, making them invisible. On the coldest nights, to keep themselves warm, they curled up tightly, hiding their legs behind their very fluffy long tail. When they curled up like that, it gives them a smaller surface area to volume ratio and keeps them insulated.
Arctic foxes do not need to hibernate like other animals because of their fur’s thickness, but they preserve fat by being less active in the coldest winter. They start to build up the fat around the fall to the point of increasing their body weight up to 50%, giving them enough energy to survive the winter when food is harder to find. Their diet consists of hunting small animals like lemmings, ringed seal pups, voles, fish, seabirds, and waterfowls. They also love carrion, berries, some insects, and seaweed to have a more balanced diet.
I’m sure you have heard the stories of these beautiful creatures holding hands while they sleep so that they don’t float away from each other. These cute creatures are the heaviest members of the weasel family, but they are also one of the smallest marine mammals you’ll find. Sea otters also have the thickest and most dense coat of fur you will find in the Animal Kingdom, and it keeps them insulated from the cold temperatures of Alaska. Even if they can walk on land, their favorite way of transportation and their favorite habitat is the ocean, where they spend most of their lives.
Their favorite food to catch is sea urchins, crustaceans, mollusks, and fish. There are not too many mammals species that use tools to their advantage, these handy sea otters like using rocks to open shells and dislodge prey, making it easier to get their food. Because of their love of sea urchins, they are considered a keystone species to control the sea urchin population. Without them, this can inflict extensive damage to the kelp forest ecosystems. They are a threatened species, so they are banned from hunting to save this fascinating species from extinction, and so far, the sea otter conservation efforts are working with their numbers growing in the wild.
They’ve been the villains in a few fairy tale stories, but the Grey Wolf is not the big baddie that some people think they are. This wolf is the largest extant member of Canidae, with males weighing approximately 88 pounds and females around 82 pounds. The grey wolf is considered the most specialized for cooperative game hunting because of its capacity to take prey bigger than them in packs, be social, and have expressive behavior. They also are incredibly territorial and will fight anything that invades their habitat. However, the interesting thing is that they don’t need to be in packs to be a strong force in Alaska.
They can easily take down their big prey alone or with a partner, and their success rate is even higher than when they are in packs. That might be a reason why some cubs separate from their family when they grow up, and sometimes they end up establishing their own smaller packs. Even with their hunting skills and having a bad rap in society, Wolf attacks on humans are extremely rare, and when there are attacks, it’s because of rabies. They feared humans because of their experiences with hunters, ranchers, and shepherds. So who’s the bad wolf now?
Unicorns might not exist in real life, but the beautiful Narwhal does, and it’s a beauty to behold. They live in cold Arctic waters, and they are one of two living species of whale in the family Monodontidae with the beluga whale. People are mesmerized by their horns, making them look like a fantasy creature from a medieval book. However, that large tusk is just a protruding canine tooth that projects from the upper jaw’s left side and forms that helix spiral. What’s even more interesting is that its horn keeps growing throughout its life.
Their tusk can reach to be about 4.9 to 10 feet long! It’s completely hollow, but it’s still cumbersome, and it can weigh up to 22 pounds. What’s even more fascinating and rarer is that one in every 500 male narwhals has two tusks when the fight canine also grows through the lip. It is also sporadic to see a female with a tusk too, and only about 15% has it, and it’s smaller than the male one and with a less noticeable spiral. Since they don’t reside in just one place, it’s a bit rare to see them, but you might get lucky if you are in the far south of the Alaska Peninsula and the Commander Islands.
Speaking of interesting sea creatures, we want to talk about the Northern right whale dolphin. These include just one of a handful of dolphin species that do not have a fin on top and have a smooth curving back instead. Their skin is mostly black with some white markings. They have a shorter beak than the most common dolphins and have a straight mouth line. They are not much information on how they reproduce since they are harder to spot, but it is estimated that they reach sexual maturity for males to be around ten years and females around nine years.
Northern right whale dolphins tend to be in larger groups of between 100 to 200 individuals, but they have seen groups of 300. They are mostly in the Pacific Ocean, so the best place to catch them in action is around the Monterey Bay all year long, around the Monterey Submarine Canyon. If you want to get a glimpse of them, the best time of the year to see them is around the summer and fall, and you can catch a whale-watching excursion boat where you might get lucky enough to see them riding alongside the boat.
And finally, let’s talk about this common bird who is not an Apex predator, but like all the animals on this list, it is an integral part of Alaska’s Wildlife. The Willow Ptarmigan, a small bird that is the state bird of Alaska, can be found in many places like Siberia, Scandinavia, and Canada. Their plumage color depends on the season. In the summer, they are mostly brown, but their feathers turn entirely white when winter comes. Although, sometimes, they get some black feathers in their tails. They haven’t changed much since the Pleistocene era in the tundra, where it was also very common to come by.
The most exciting thing about the ptarmigan is their feet. They are covered in tiny white feathers, no matter the season. Nevertheless, they have a purpose, and they are not only for decoration. They serve as a type of snowshoe that helps them walk around the tundra without making much noise. Basically, they keep them protected from the environment. Sometimes they like to hide in burrows in the winter, where, thanks to their white feathers, they are great for camouflage from predators and humans. They are always in flocks, so that you might find them in big groups wandering in the tundra. However, don’t get too close because they are afraid of humans, and they can fly away fast. Do you want to see more majestic animals? Check out animals from Madagascar!