Make your own free website on Tripod.com
Antarctica - Plants and Animals Back to Session Topic 2

Antarctica has an interesting and extremely adaptable array of flora and fauna that either lives there permanently or migrates there for the Summer months. This page will provide you with information on each of the headings below. Click on the headings (links) to take you to that part of the page or simply scroll down. Use this information to answer the quiz questions at the bottom of this page. Make sure you read this page carefully and underline the important parts.



Plants in Antarctica:
There are only a few plants that can survive the harsh climate of Antarctica, with it's extreme temperatures, fierce winds and lack of rain. Simple plants like algae, mosses, liverworts, lichens and microscopic fungi can survive and grow in Antarctica. Some algae lives in the snow, while other plants grow on the 2% of coastal rocky land that is ice free. There are only 2 species of flowering plants found in Antarctica. A few species of plants, such as plankton, algae and mosses, live in and around Antarctica's fresh and saltwater lakes.

Back to the TOP


Antarctic Land Animals:
Although birds and seals are often seen in the Antarctic, the only land animals that live there all year round are tiny. These animals are called invertebrates which means they don't have a backbone. About 200 species have been discovered. These include midges, mites and tardigrades. Midges are the largest. They are wingless and only grow to a length of 12 mm. They are found on the northern part of the Antarctica Peninsula. Mites are the most common. They mainly live in the soil and vegetation and are so small that human eyes can hardly see them. Many of Antarctica's invertebrates avoid freezing by super cooling, or keeping their body temperatures below their normal freezing point.

Back to the TOP



Antarctic Food Webs:
Food webs are part of every natural habitat and show what each animal eats. The oceans around Antarctica provide food that supports a huge number of birds, fish, mammals and other animals. Phytoplankton are the primary producers in Antarctic waters. They are the first link in the chain. They are tiny, simple plants that bloom in spring. Phytoplankton are eaten by zooplankton and krill. Many larger animals and birds rely on the krill for their food, from whales to birds to fish. Some of these smaller animals and birds become prey for the larger seals and toothed whales.

Back to the TOP



Leopard Seals:
There are 6 main species of seals that live in Antarctica. Leopard seals are strong, fast swimmers and ferocious hunters. They have powerful jaws and are often seen around penguin rookeries hunting for prey. They also eat young crabeater seals and krill. They weigh 350 kilograms and are 3 meters in length.

Back to the TOP



Weddell Seals:
Weddell seals are often seen in large groups on the 'fast ice' along the coast. They are the best swimmers and can dive deeply. They can stay underwater for over an hour. During the long, dark winters they can survive under the ice where they scrape breathing holes with their teeth. They eat fish, squid and some crustaceans. They weigh 400 kilograms and are 3 meters in length.

Back to the TOP



Southern Elephant Seals:
Southern elephant seals are the largest Antarctic seal, and one of the largest of all mammals. Their name comes from the wrinkled sack of skin (called a proboscis) on top of the adult male's nose. It is used to make a deafening roar. Dominant males (bulls) have a harem of up to 70 females (cows). They eat fish, squid and crustaceans. The bulls weigh up to 4 tonnes and are 6-7 meters long. The cows are 3.5 meters long and weigh up to 1 tonne. Elephant seal pups weigh 50 kilograms when they are born and double their weight in the first 2 weeks of life.

Back to the TOP



Adelie Penguins:
Adelie penguins live on Antarctica and some of the sub-antarctic islands. They make up approximately 50% of the total penguin population on Antarctica. When it is time to breed the males arrive on the shores of Antarctica and begin to build a nest. A few days later the females arrive. The female usually lays 2 eggs. The male penguin incubates the eggs for the 35 days that they take to hatch. He goes without food for all 35 days, while the female returns to the sea to feed. When the chicks are about 3 weeks old the adults leave them alone for the first time. The parents feed the chicks krill, small fish, squid and crustaceans.
Back to the TOP


Emperor Penguins:
Emperor penguins are the tallest and heaviest penguins, with an average weight of 32 kilograms and an average height of 1.2 meters. They live in colonies ranging in size from 300 to 100,000 birds. They breed on the pack ice during the freezing winters, which takes about 9 months to complete. they begin breeding in March. After mating, the female lays 1 egg in mid-May and then leaves to spend the rest of the winter feeding at sea. The male keeps the egg warm, for 2 months, by holding it on his feet and covering it with a fold of skin. The females return from the sea, nice and fat, just as the chicks are hatching. She regurgitates fish to feed the chick, while the male makes the long journey, up to 2 days, to the sea to feed himself. By mid-December the chicks have reached 60% of their adult weight.
Back to the TOP


Chinstrap Penguins:
Chinstrap penguins are very similar to adelie penguins. They received their name because of the small black line that runs under their beaks. They are very easy to recognise and remember. The chinstrap penguins build small nest on the steep, rocky slopes of Antarctica and the surrounding islands. Sometimes you can see penguins standing with their flippers out. They do this to help cool off, if they feel to hot in the sunshine.

Back to the TOP



Toothed Whales:
Whales are mammals. They live in the ocean, but must surface to breathe air. Toothed whales have sharp teeth to help them catch large prey and 1 blowhole. They feed mostly on fish, squid and sometimes eat sea birds, penguins and seals. Sperm whales and killer whales are types of toothed whales found in Antarctica. Sperm whales have massive square shaped heads. They weigh up to 30 tonnes. Killer whales ( or Orca whales) spend their lives in small family groups called pods. They are fierce hunters and work together to 'trap' their prey. They weigh up to 8 tonnes.

Back to the TOP



Baleen Whales:
Baleen whales do not have teeth. They are filter feeders. They feed by straining plankton through the comb-like fingers of baleen, which hang down from their upper jaw. Baleen whales have 2 blowholes next to each other. Blue whales and humpback whales are found in Antarctica. Humpbacks live in small groups, up to 25 whales, and eat krill. They weigh up to 31 tonnes. Blue whales are the largest animals in the world. There aren't many of these amazing creatures left because man hunted them until they were nearly extinct. They eat mainly krill and weigh up to 136 tonnes.

Back to the TOP



Antarctic Fish and Crustaceans:
There are many different kinds of sea life in Antarctic waters, but only 200 fish varieties can be found out of 20,000 species all together. Krill, a type of crustacean, is a very important species in the food web of Antarctica. It is the most abundant animal in the world. They are found in huge swarms which cover hundreds of kilometers in the waters around Antarctica. Many of the fish that live in Antarctica have 'antifreeze' in their bodies to stop their body fluids from freezing. Seaweeds, sponges, corals, worms, sea anemones and sea spiders are just some of the creatures to be found on the bottom of the Antarctic oceans.

Back to the TOP


Comprehension Questions:
1. What is a pod?
Answer:
2. Who incubates an Emperor penguin egg, where is it kept, and for how long?
Answer:
3. What is a proboscis and what is it used for?
Answer:
4. Why don't fish freeze in Antarctic waters?
Answer:
5. How do Blue whales, the largest animal in the world, eat tiny plankton?
Answer:
6. Why aren't there many plants in Antarctica?
Answer:
7. What is the most common land animal in Antarctica, and where do they live?
Answer:
8. Where would the Orca be in the Antarctic food web and why?
Answer:
9. What is the most common crustacean in Antarctica and why is it so important?
Answer:
10. How does a weddell seal survive the long dark winters?
Answer:

Back to the TOP

Created By AJM NETWorks
1 October 1999