Living on the ground of the Antarctic Peninsula presents some extreme challenges to organisms, including:
- Highly variable, extreme temperatures, from -30°F to 50°F air temperature, with summer surface temperatures of rocks and moss reaching 70°F.
- Extremely high winds.
- A very short growing season (period when temperatures allow plant growth).
- Wide swings in pH, from 3 (very acidic) to 12 (very basic), partly caused by...
- Immersion in penguin guano (waste) from nesting Adélie penguin colonies in the summer.
- Immersion in both freshwater (from melting glaciers and snow and rain) and saltwater (from waves splashing on the land).
- Dehydration from exposure to very dry air in the winter.
- Exposure to intense UV rays. The protective ozone layer is naturally thinner here, and there is a hole in it (probably caused by human pollution) that opens up in the winter.
- Lack of oxygen, due to being encased in ice for long periods, as well as being immersed in penguin guano filled with oxygen-using microbes.
Visit our Study Sites page to learn more about the terrestrial habitats of the Antarctic Peninsula.
Here are some of the terrestrial animals we’ve encountered on the Antarctic Peninsula:
The focus of most of our research here, this wingless midge (a type of fly) is the only true insect found on Antarctica, and is considered the continent’s largest terrestrial animal (it’s only 2-6 mm long!). Belgica undergoes complete metamorphosis (like many insects), meaning it has a larval and an adult form that are quite different. This insect is amazingly resistant to all kinds of stresses in both its life stages. Among its adaptations:
Cryptopygus antarcticus —
A species of Collembola, or springtail (closely related to, but not quite considered a true insect). They do not change much as they develop (unlike Belgica’s metamorphosis from larva to adult), and are also well adapted to their environment. Some adaptations:
A parasitic tick (an Arachnid, in the same class as spiders and mites). It feeds on the blood of Antarctic and Arctic seabirds, including penguins, petrels, and Arctic and Antarctic terns. These ticks are found at high latitudes in both hemispheres. Adaptations:
Alaskozetes antarcticus —
A species of non-parasitic mite, which lives under the rocks found all over the Antarctic Peninsula. Adaptations: