What are Tundra Animals and Plants?

Exploring the tundra

Deserts, grasslands, rainforests, reefs, and tundra seem very different, but they are all examples of biomes. Each has animal and plant life sets and particular weather and climate conditions. As a result, biomes have ecosystems (communities of organisms and their environment) that allow animals and plants to thrive.

What is it?

The tundra is a biome characterized by freezing weather, very little rain, and few nutrients for animals and plants. There is also an abridged growing season within the tundra biome. Even though the climate and lifestyle are very harsh, a selection of tundra animals and plants call this biome their home.

Where is it?

There are two types of tundra found worldwide: arctic and alpine.

  • Arctic tundra is located in the Northern Hemisphere, along the northern coasts of North American, Asia, Europe, and parts of Greenland. Often there is a divide between the Boreal forests and the tree-less biome of the tundra.
  • The alpine tundra is located at high, mountainous elevations worldwide.

Tundra animals and plants – What lives there?

Although the amount of biodiversity (different animal and plant species) in the tundra is very low, there is a selection of those who have made their home in this environment. They do so because they have developed adaptations to their bodies, diets, and methods of survival that allow them to continue thriving in a frigid climate.

Animal life


Several different mammals can survive in tundra habitats thanks to particular adaptations (e.g., insulating fur and fat). A prominent example of this adaptation is the musk ox. As one of the largest arctic tundra mammals, the musk ox uses a thick, dense coat to keep itself warm and combines it with lots of fat and short legs and tail to reduce the loss of body heat.

Other mammals, such as arctic hares, squirrels, and voles, also use dense fur to insulate themselves. Other herbivores, such as caribou, use hooves to support themselves in the thick, cold snow.


Unlike mammals, who live in the tundra all year round. Many tundra birds are migratory, which means they only travel to the tundra during the warmer summer period. These include:

  • Ravens,
  • Snow buntings,
  • Falcons,
  • Gulls,
  • Snowy owls.

Often these animals, such as the snowy owls, have developed entirely white feathers to make it difficult for predators to spot them against the snow.


Very few insects survive in the tundra; their small size means that heat escapes their bodies very quickly. The exception is the tundra bumblebee, which has very dense, thin hairs that guard against heat loss. The tundra bumblebee also uses its wings and legs to generate heat by vibrating and rubbing them very quickly.


A large part of the tundra food web is the fish family. Cod, flatfish, salmon, seals, and whales are just a few species in these waters. Unfortunately, many tundra fish lower their metabolism and the freezing temperature of their cells using chemicals. As a result, some fish, such as the tundra lake trout, grow much slower than fish in other biomes – taking up to 10 years to mature!

Plant life

Plants comprise the most significant section of the tundra ecosystem, with over 1700 species of plants. Many of these plants have developed furry or wax-like coatings to ward off the cold temperatures and use short, wide roots to catch as many nutrients as possible in the tundra soil.

The tundra food web

All biomes on earth include producers (plants and similar organisms) and consumers (organisms who eat producers or other consumers). The producers and consumers in a biome can be illustrated using a food chain, moving from the minor producer to the most significant consumer, or a food web, an interconnected map showing which animal consumes which others.

Food Chain or Food Web?

Often, a simple food chain does not capture how complex a biome or ecosystem can be. A food web (such as the tundra food web) illustrates the overlap between multiple different food chains and captures how each animal or plant interacts with every other.

Tundra food web

A tundra food web would begin with the various plant species (dry shrubs, mosses, grasses, and lichens) followed by the primary consumers (herbivores) such as caribou, hares, oxen, and lemmings. The next ring of the web would be the omnivores and carnivores (secondary consumers), such as foxes, bears, wolves, and whales.

Tundra Biome Facts

As we discussed earlier, the tundra is divided into arctic and alpine. When we combine arctic and alpine tundra biomes, the tundra makes up about 17-20% of the Earth’s land surface.

Tundra conditions are tough to live in permanently because of its low temperatures and treeless plains (the word ‘tundra’ originally comes from the Finnish word, ‘tunturi,’ which means “treeless place”). However, some plants and animals have adapted to survive here. Below, we’ll look at both arctic tundra biome facts and alpine tundra biome facts.

Arctic tundra biome facts

  • The arctic tundra covers approximately 11.5 million km2.
  • This biome is particularly interesting to humans and scientists as it provides a window into what Earth looked like when it was locked in ice.
  • Temperatures in the arctic tundra range from 15.5 °C in summer to -60 °C in winter.
  • Polar bears often travel from the arctic ice to the tundra during the summer to have their babies. They take advantage of the short growing season and increase the animal presence (food!)
  • The Inuit people of Alaska live on the tundra and have a long history of surviving in harsh climates.

Alpine tundra biome facts

  • Unlike the arctic tundra, the soil in the alpine tundra is well-drained.
  • Winter seasons in the Alpine tundra last from October to May, and summer seasons from June to September.
  • The average rainfall in an Alpine tundra biome is around 12 inches annually.
  • Alpine animals have adapted to Alpine climates by having shorter limbs (legs, ears, and tails).
  • Alpine animals have larger lung capacities, more blood cells, and hemoglobin because of increased pressure and lack of oxygen at higher altitudes.
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