There is very little plant life on
Antarctica. It consists of small amounts of lichen and moss, and some floating
plants in the inland seas. Apart from a few insects, all of the animal life
feeds from the ocean. The largest animal living entirely on the land of
Antarctica is a mite. It is just big enough to be seen without a microscope. It
manages to stay alive by producing chemicals very similar to the anti-freeze
that we put in our cars in winter! The ocean is full of nutrients. Warm water
rising brings the nutrients up to the surface. Those nutrients along with krill,
a small shrimp-like animal are the keys to the food chain in Antarctica.
Although there are many types of fish
in Antarctica, there are not that many and they are small. However, there are
plenty of cephalopods (octopus and squid). These play an important role in the
diet of some whales, seals, fish, penguins and other sea birds.
More than 80% of birds in the
Antarctic region are penguins. Some live on ice floes, while others live on
land. The Emperor penguin never steps foot on land. It spends almost its entire
life in the ocean. The female lays her egg on an ice floe, and the male
incubates the egg on his feet. The male has a special flap of skin to protect
the egg, and an indentation in his lower body. He lowers the indentation over
the egg, so the egg is well protected from the cold. The flying birds are mainly
petrels and albatrosses. They make their nests on offshore islands and rocky
areas of coastline. The Arctic Tern flies between the North and South Poles. It
spends from September to March in the Southern hemisphere, enjoying the summer
there, and from April to August in the summer of the Northern Hemisphere. Each
year it flies about 18, 500 miles!
The marine mammals in the Antarctic
are mostly whales and seals. There are two main types of whale in Antarctica,
the baleen and the tooth whales. The baleens feed on plankton, and include
humpback whales, blue whales and sometimes minke whales. The tooth whales
include the killer whale and the sperm whale. They feed on other mammals, such
as seals and on fish and even birds when they can catch them.
The seals are mainly four types: Rosss seal, which is
less than 1% of the population, leopard seals, crabeater seal and Weddell seals.
There are probably about 20 million crabeater seals in Antarctica. They have
specially adapted teeth for sieving krill from the water. The leopard seals are
hunters. They are known to eat penguins, other seals and fish.
The Weather and Climate in Antarctica
Early Explorers in Antarctica