Exploring the Arctic for Kids: Arctic Animals and Climates for Children – FreeSchool

You’re watching FreeSchool! At the northernmost point of our world lies
a land of ice and snow – a land of darkness and light – where strange creatures have made
peculiar adaptations to the harsh conditions. Despite the bitterly cold winters, life flourishes
in the short, cool summers, making this fragile ecosystem a remarkable one. Come explore the Arctic, one of the most remote
and beautiful places on earth. Because of the tilt of Earth’s axis, the Arctic
gets a great deal of sunlight in the summer, and very little in the winter. As spring turns to summer, the days become
longer and longer, until finally there comes a day when the sun does not set at all. When daylight lingers all through the night,
it is called the Midnight Sun, something which occurs in the days surrounding the summer
solstice. As fall turns into winter the days get shorter
and shorter, until finally there comes a day when the sun does not rise and darkness lasts
a full 24 hours. This is called Polar Night. The polar night may be long, but there is
a light in the darkness, and its name is aurora. The aurora borealis, also known as the Northern
Lights, is a display of lights in the night sky that is only visible near the north pole. Although they may occur at any time, they
can only be seen at night, as they are too faint to be seen in the light of the sun. The Northern Lights have fascinated people
for thousands of years! Some people once thought they were spirits
dancing in the sky; others thought they were the flames of dragons. Today’s scientists have learned that the auroras
are caused by charged particles from the sun that interact with Earth’s magnetosphere,
exciting the gases of the atmosphere until it glows. Auroras will also occur in the skies surrounding
the South Pole, where they are called the Southern Lights. Any place on earth far enough north that it
has at least one night where the sun does not set and one day where the sun does not
rise is considered to be inside the Arctic Circle. The Arctic Circle is an imaginary line that
encircles the North Pole at about 66 degrees North Latitude. The Arctic is mostly ocean, but it also includes
parts of Greenland, Canada, the United States, Russia, Norway, Finland, Sweden, and Iceland. Lands at the southern edges of the Arctic
Circle are generally covered by tundra. The tundra is vast, and for the most part,
treeless. The short Arctic summers are too cool and
too brief to allow trees to flourish here, but there is another barrier as well: permafrost. Beneath a thin active layer of soil that thaws
and re-freezes every year, the ground is permanently frozen. The plants that survive – mostly grass, moss, and shrubs, grow close to the ground and have shallow
roots. Although there is little rain on the tundra,
summer is very wet. The frozen upper layer of soil thaws out,
but water cannot sink into the ground past the frozen barrier of the permafrost. Since temperatures there rarely climb higher
than 54 degrees fahrenheit or 12 degrees celsius, very little of the water evaporates. Instead, it sits on top of the permafrost
layer, forming lakes and marshes that will turn to ice as soon as temperatures sink below
freezing once more. Many birds, especially waterfowl, will migrate
north to these cool summer wetlands to breed. One bird that does this is the trumpeter swan,
with some flying from wintering grounds as far south as Texas or Mexico. With adults frequently reaching weights of
30 lbs or 13.6 kg, it is the heaviest bird living that is native to North America. It is also the largest species of waterfowl
in the world, with a wingspan that can surpass 10 feet or 3 meters. The Arctic wetlands provide an important habitat
for the trumpeter swan – a refuge from hunters that decimated populations in Canada and the
northern United States near the beginning of the 20th century. By 1933, only a few dozen wild trumpeters
could be found in these southern areas, and people feared they would become extinct. Then, a second population of trumpeter swans
was discovered up in Alaska: thousands of them. Some of the Alaskan swans were carefully introduced
to the areas where trumpeters had been overhunted, allowing the populations to recover. Waterfowl are not the only animals to make
their home on the tundra. Fish like salmon and cod migrate to the waterways
there each year. The fish, in turn, attract predators like
bear and eagles. Wolverine and fox live here, too, as well
as musk ox and caribou. Caribou, or reindeer, are one of the world’s
great migrators. In the winter, they travel south to snowy
pine forests. They cannot survive farther north, where the
snow is too deep, because they must dig through the snow to eat the moss and lichens beneath
it. In the spring, they migrate north again to
take advantage of the plants growing on the tundra and birth their calves. Some North American caribou have the longest
migration of any land mammal in the world, up to 3,000 miles or 5,000 kilometers. Animals attempting to survive in the Arctic
need every advantage they can get, and some have found it by changing their appearance. In a land of ice and snow, it is sometimes
helpful to be white yourself. Some animals, like the snowy owl, keep white
feathers year round. Others, like the arctic fox, wear brown or
gray fur in the summer and only turn white in the winter. Another color changer is the ptarmigan. Covered in patchy brown and white feathers
in the summer, they begin to change their plumage as the days shorten. Both male and female ptarmigans will go through
the winter in a coat of nearly pure white feathers. Once the snow begins to melt, bright white
birds can easily be spotted by predators, and so they change back. The female regains her brown camouflage first,
when spring comes, which offers her some protection from predators while she sits on her eggs. The males, on the other hand, keep their white
feathers for a while to stand out and attract a female – and to prove that they are smart
and quick enough to avoid being eaten in showy feathers. The puffin is another Arctic bird – with a
very different tactic for camouflaging itself. Puffins are seabirds. They only return to land to breed, nesting
in burrows dug in clifftops. They prefer to breed on islands, where
risk from land predators is much lower. Puffins spend months at a time out on the
open ocean, and it is out at sea that their coloring comes in handy. They have black feathers on their backs, and
white feathers on their stomachs. This color pattern is called countershading,
and it helps them blend in to the dark ocean water when seen from above, or the bright
sky when seen from below. Although they can fly, puffins are awkward
in the air and typically move around by paddling their webbed feet as they sit on the water’s
surface. To catch fish, they dive, moving along by
flapping their wings underwater, much as penguins do. The rich feeding grounds of the northern oceans
attract larger animals than puffins – much larger. Humpback whales travel north in the spring
to feed on the krill and small fish abundant in the frigid waters. Although humpbacks are often solitary, they
sometimes form small groups – especially when hunting. A group of humpback whales together can use
a special method called bubble netting to trap fish and krill. The whales will surround and circle a school
of fish. Then, other whales begin blowing a ring of
bubbles to trap them. Once the fish are trapped close together,
the whales will come up from beneath them, mouths wide open, scooping up huge quantities
of fish like a net. Their baleen plates allow them to strain the
tiny creatures from the seawater. The humpbacks must eat massive amounts of
food in the spring and summer months to build up their fat stores. When the weather turns cold, they will migrate
to warmer tropical waters, and they will not eat again until the spring. It is in these warmer waters that they mate
and give birth: newborn calves could not survive the freezing temperatures near the poles. It is important for the adults to have successful
summer hunts, so that they can survive their yearly migration. As we travel farther north, we come to areas
where the snow and ice never completely melt, in a place called the High Arctic. Even here, there is life. Instead of tundra, the high arctic has polar
barrens. Far fewer plants survive here, mainly moss
and lichens. As a result, most food chains do not rely
on land-growing plants. Instead, they begin in the sea. The walrus is at home on the land, in the
water, or on the ice. They sleep and rest on beaches or on ice shelves. They prefer to live near shallow waters. Walrus cannot dive as deeply as their relatives,
the harp seals, and must be able to reach the sea floor to find their favorite foods:
clams, mollusks, and oysters. They may look peculiar, but walruses are well-adapted
to their icy habitat. Their wrinkled skin is nearly 4 inches or
10 cm thick in places, and the layer of fatty blubber beneath it is even thicker: nearly
6 inches or 15 cm. The purpose of both is the same – to allow
walruses to stay warm in freezing Arctic waters. Thick skin and thick blubber contribute to
the walrus’s massive size: adult males often weigh more than 2000 lbs or 900 kg, and some
even weigh double that. By far their most recognizable trait, however,
is their tusks. Both male and female walruses grow tusks. Tusks are enlarged teeth that can grow about
3 feet or a meter in length. Walruses use their tusks like ice picks, to
help pull themselves out of the water onto sheets of ice. They also use their tusks to clear breathing
holes when ice covers too much of the water’s surface. Finally, tusks provide some defense against
the only animals that prey on walruses: killer whales, and polar bears. Because of their harsh Arctic habitat, polar
bears rely more on meat than any other bear. They eat mostly seals, waiting at breathing
holes in the ice for them to pop their noses through the surface of the water and then
dragging them up onto the ice. Sometimes they will catch beluga, narwhal,
or young walruses this way, but larger prey of this kind is much more difficult to manage. Polar bears are the largest land predators
in the world, but they are also excellent swimmers, sometimes swimming for days at a
time to move between hunting grounds. Like the walrus, polar bears are well adapted
to their harsh Arctic habitat. Thick white fur serves as camouflage as well
as insulation, and a layer of blubber underneath provides extra warmth. Their paws are extra wide, to help them distribute
their weight and allow them to walk on top of snow or thin ice without breaking through,
and their thick, strong claws help polar bears grab onto slippery prey as well as better
grip the slippery ice. The Arctic is a harsh, forbidding land, but
it is far from lifeless. Plants and animals live and grow and flourish
in the conditions they are adapted for. Many species depend on the cold and the ice
and would not be able to survive if it was gone. Because the Arctic climate is so unwelcoming
to humans, much of it has gone untouched and undeveloped, but we can still disturb the
delicate balance these creatures depend on. Hunting… pollution…and gathering natural
resources may cause changes that upset the network supporting life in the northernmost
reaches of our planet. I hope you learned a lot today about the Arctic,
the land of the midnight sun. Goodbye till next time!

22 thoughts on “Exploring the Arctic for Kids: Arctic Animals and Climates for Children – FreeSchool

  1. Nice video! Thanks so much for uploading, added to the playlist. Read up on the Arctic just yesterday, now Andy can watch this:-)

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