While glaciers and icebergs may seem like places where animals can't survive, many different kinds of wildlife live on and in ice. The animals that live on glaciers and icebergs near the North and South Poles have adapted to cold weather, and live on fish and algae from the frozen seas.
Ice worms are a rare species of insect that actually live inside glacier ice. These black, inch-long worms can only live around the freezing temperature of water, dying at warmer temperatures. They eat pollen, algae and other microscopic matter. Ice worms are the largest invertebrate that lives on glaciers. They are commonly found in Alaska.
Other insects that live in glaciers and icebergs are snow fleas, mites, sea ice nematodes and certain species of spiders. The smaller insects such as snow fleas and mites often live in the fur of penguins or in the feathers of arctic birds. Sea ice nematodes are round worms like earthworms that live in ice and eat microscopic decaying matter. Arctic spiders live on the ice and eat other insects.
Many species of birds live on ice in the frozen oceans near Antarctica and the North Pole, including terns and petrels. Two species that live in Antarctica are storm petrels and Antarctic terns. Usually, birds only live part of the year on glaciers, migrating to warmer climates during the winter months. The Arctic tern lives one part of the year in northern Arctic ice and the other part in Antarctic ice.
Penguins are one of the more famous animals that live on glaciers and icebergs. The Emperor penguin lives on the ice in Antarctica, even though it spends a lot of time in the water. Penguins mate and raise their young on land but hunt for fish in the cold Antarctic seas. Their sleek bodies are perfectly suited to swimming, and they have many adaptations such as a dense layer of feathers to conserve their body heat.
Seals are a sea mammal that lives on ice packs in the frozen seas in the Arctic. Like penguins, seals hunt in the cold seas but have their pups on top of the ice. Seals may gather on large icebergs or on the packed ice around land. Some species of seal such as the Weddell seal blows air under the ice to create air pockets to breathe from so that they can stay under the thick ice longer.
Polar bears are one of the few mammals that lives on glaciers and ice in arctic regions. The polar bear hunts seals, fish and other sea life. Their thick fur, fat deposits and wide paws make them ideally suited to living in ice and snow.
- Seattle Times; Ice Worms: They're Real and They're Hot; Sandi Doughton; Feb. 2006
- National Snow and Ice Data Center: All About the Cryosphere
- "Encyclopedia of Coastal Science"; Maurice L. Schwartz; 2005
- Glacier Bay National Park: Wildlife Guide
- Arctic Ocean Diversity; Sea Ice Nematodes; Bodil Bluhm; 2009
- Surviving Antarctica; David N. Thomas; 2007