The Plants and Animals of Northern Canada

Author: Jennifer Hamel Page 1 | Page 2 | Page 3

 

Fauna – Animals

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This arctic hare lives on Ellesmere Island, Nunavut

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A sled dog near Tuktoyaktuk, Northwest Territories

Arctic hares live beyond the tree line in the tundra. They are the largest type of Canadian hares and weigh 3.2 to 5.4 kilograms. They have big feet, which act like snowshoes to stop them from falling into the snow. Arctic hares like to eat willow leaves, willow shoots, willow bark, willow roots, grasses, herbs and flowers.

Many arctic hares can be found on Axel Heiberg Island, which is very near to the North Pole.

Hares change colour with the seasons: in the winter they are white and in the summer their brown coats help them to blend into their surroundings. When hares are being chased by wolves, they hide among muskoxen. Muskoxen are plant eaters, so the arctic hares are not afraid of being eaten by the them.

Sled dogs were and are a very important part of life in the north. Northern native people were the first to develop a way of travel that uses 2 to 12 dogs to pull a sled. Just like any team, dog teams have leaders, usually the front one or two dogs. Lead dogs respond to the voice command of the driver.

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This picture of sled dogs was taken in 1928 at Fort McMurray in Alberta. These dogs are using a towline to pull the sled.

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This dog team near Rankin Inlet, Nunavut is using a fan hitch to pull their sled. Can you pick out their leader?

There are two ways for the dogs to be hitched to the sled. The first method is the "towline" where all the dogs are attached to a single line. This method is good for traveling through new, soft, deep snow. The second method is the "fan" hitch. For this method each dog gets his or her own line. This method is best used on hard-packed snow.

In recent years, most dogsleds have been replaced by snowmobiles for everyday use. However, dog sledding is still a popular winter sport and there are many different dog-sled races during winter carnivals and celebrations.

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The skidoo (snowmobile), a modern dog sled.

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A herd of walrus in the water off of Devon Island, Nunavut

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A herd of walrus sunning themselves on the rocks on Devon Island, Nunavut

Walruses are immense sea mammals that live in Canada's north. They have large, powerful bodies and strong, short limbs. They also have very thick skin with a thick layer of fat underneath. Walruses also have two ivory tusks. While both males and females have ivory tusks, the males have an air sac in their neck, which produces a loud bellow that can be heard underneath the water and on the surface.

Walruses like to swim and play in the water. Although they are awkward on land, they do like to come up to sunbathe in large groups. Walruses use these large groups to keep warm and to protect their young from predators, such as polar bears. Walruses like to eat molluscs, which they find on the ocean floor using their large whiskers. Walruses also eat arctic cod, sea cucumbers, crabs, snails, and worms.

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Two muskoxen on Devon Island, Nunavut

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Here are some muskoxen on Devon Island. Can you see their horns?

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These muskoxen were photographed from a helicopter.

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A group of muskoxen face the camera on Axel Heiberg Island in Nunavut. Do you think they are starting to form a protective circle?

Muskoxen are plant-eating mammals that belong to the same family as goats and sheep. Muskoxen live on the tundra of the arctic mainland and the arctic islands. They have lived in North America for at least 100,000 years.

Muskoxen eat plants that grow along lakeshores and waterways. Every day they eat about 7 kg of vegetation -- that's the same weight as about 120 carrots per day! Muskoxen have sharp hooves which help them to cut through the ice to reach plants during the winter.

Muskoxen live in herds. The main enemy of muskoxen is the wolf. When a predator threatens these herds the adults form a circle around the young calves in order to defend their young. Male muskoxen also protect the herd from the cold winter winds by shielding them from the wind with their bodies. Adult muskoxen also shelter their young from the cold with their long hair, which can grow up to one metre long. Muskoxen loose their long hair in the summer.

When male muskoxen fight for control over a herd, they face each other, back up for about 50m, and then run towards each other and butt heads. The noise made by their heads can often be heard almost a kilometre away. The contest continues until one muskox gives up and backs away.

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Polar bears on the ice, Cape Churchill, Manitoba.

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Polar bear walking on the ice, Cape Churchill, Manitoba

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A polar bear resting on the ice near Cape Churchill, Manitoba

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Nanook, a polar bear, walks away from the camera through water and ice in Wager Bay, Nunavut

Polar bears are large bears that live on the arctic ice. They are very large, up to 3 metres long, and have white fur. The polar bear is a very good swimmer - he can dive three metres deep into the water and can stay under water for up to two minutes.

How do polar bears survive the arctic's cold weather? Well, they have a thick layer of fat under their skin. Their hair is very dense and air becomes trapped in between the hairs providing more insulation. Also, polar bears have hair on the soles of their feet to keep them from slipping on the ice.

Polar bears eat a lot of different things, including seals, fish, birds, eggs, seaweed, berries and garbage left lying near human settlements. They like to wait near air holes in the ice for seals to come and take a breath of air. The polar bears then kill the seals with a few swipes of their powerful paws. Polar bears use their amazing sense of smell to find the seals through the ice. They can smell a seal under one metre of snow and can smell a dead whale that is 30 kilometres away.

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A polar bear and its cubs, Cape Churchill, Manitoba

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A polar bear and its cubs huddled together on the ice, Cape Churchill, Manitoba

Polar bear cubs are born in a den that is dug out of a snowdrift by the female polar bear. The mother bear move into the den in October and the cubs are born in March. Polar bear cubs grow very quickly, and in the spring they come out of the den with their mother to learn how to survive in the open.

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Two polar bears playing in a camp near Cape Churchill, Manitoba. Can you see the overturned table and barrels in the background? Do you think these polar bears were invited?

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Polar bear sitting on the ice near Cape Churchill, Manitoba

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Two polar bears standing on the ice, Cape Churchill, Manitoba

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This polar bear is rolling on the ice, Cape Churchill, Manitoba

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Big bears cast long shadows, Cape Churchill, Manitoba

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Two polar bears play fighting on the ice, Cape Churchill, Manitoba

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The fight continues…

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The fight becomes very energetic!

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The polar bears rest, Cape Churchill, Manitoba

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Polar bear portrait, Cape Churchill, Manitoba

These pictures are from Churchill, Manitoba, which is known as the Polar Bear Capital of the World. During the fall, about 15,000 tourists come from all over the world to watch the polar bear migrations. They travel out on the ice in large ‘tundra buggies’, which are school buses on large wheels, to view the migrating bears.

In the past, polar bears that caused trouble in Churchill by threatening humans used to be shot and killed. Today, however, polar bears that get too close to humans are tranquilized, tagged for researchers, and put into a ‘polar bear jail’ until the ice freezes over and the polar bears can migrate.

There are many different animals in Canada’s north. Although we have not examined all of the fauna and flora of the arctic, you can see that the arctic is not a frozen wasteland, but a vibrant ecosystem filled with beautiful and interesting plants and animals.

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