Clever creatures in the mountains

12 May 2017 | 0 comments

In the harsh alpine climate, animals have to be super adapted. Here are just a few of my favourites:

Alpine Ibex can balance on an 80 degree slope – imagine the side of a dam. And they are not small creatures. They have cloven hooves, where the two sides are not connected, so they can move each side like fingers, independently (a lot better than my toes, which don’t wiggle very independently at all). And much more highly developed inner ears for balance.

The chamois has a white tail, as do many deer, rabbits and the like. It actually confuses their predators in the chase. The predator cannot help but focus on the white tail, but when the prey changes direction at speed, it takes several seconds for the predator to locate and refocus, and these seconds may be life or death for the chamois.

Marmots take the easy way out and sleep through the whole winter without food or water. Granted, they lose half their body weight, but that doesn’t matter to them. Their heartbeat slows from 100 to 3-10 per minute, no wonder the french have an expression ‘sleep like a marmot’  rather than sleep like a log. The force is strong in the mountains.

The apollo butterfly is cleverly adapted to alpine conditions; it can vary in colour and form significantly based on altitude. Their dark bodies and darkened coloration at the wing base helps them warm faster using the sun.

The magnificent mountain hare, the ptarmigan and the stoat all turn white in winter. A group of Ptarmigan have many collective nouns, including a “congregation”, “covey”, and “invisibleness” of ptarmigan. It’s always a special moment to see them.

Whilst not only in the alps by any means, Nuthatches are pretty clever too. They store food, especially seeds, in tree crevices, in the ground, under small stones, or behind bark flakes, and these caches are remembered for as long as 30 days. One last one: the yellow-billed chough, of the crow family, may nest at a higher altitude than any other bird. The eggs have adaptations to the thin atmosphere – they have fewer pores and so lose less water at the lower atmospheric pressure, and the embryos have lots more red blood cells per cubic mm than their lowland counterparts.  Clever, clever.




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