Oct 21

With the spectacular new BBC series Frozen Planet beginning next week in the UK, ARKive is giving you the chance to explore the dramatic landscapes and fascinating wildlife at the extremes of our planet with our new eco-region pages.

The new Arctic and Antarctic pages showcase the habitats and species at the extreme north and south of the planet, and also demonstrate how different the two poles can be. While the Antarctic is a rocky continent surrounded by the Southern Ocean, the Arctic is not a continent but a region at the extreme north of the planet, largely consisting of the frozen Arctic Ocean and the tops of the countries surrounding it.

Arctic image

Frozen Arctic Ocean

Antarctic image

Aerial view of the mountains in the Antarctic










Poles apart

Due to the tilt of the planet, parts of both poles share the characteristic of having a period of 24 hour daylight during the summer months and perpetual darkness for a period during the winter. However, although both of these regions share an icy reputation, their climates can be quite different.

The Antarctic holds the record for the lowest temperature ever recorded on the Earth’s surface, at -89.2 degrees Celsius, with summer temperatures barely rising above freezing. While winter temperatures in the Arctic region can drop to around -60 degrees Celsius, summer temperatures are generally warmer than in the Antarctic, sometimes reaching up to 20 degrees Celsius.

Antarctic Peninsula image

Iceberg and mountains on the Antarctic Peninsula

Arctic tundra image

Arctic tundra in the Russian Arctic


Animals at the extremes

In spite of popular misconception, polar bears do not hunt penguins. They live at opposite poles, with polar bears hunting on the frozen sea ice of the Arctic, and penguins only being found in the southern hemisphere. All animals that inhabit the polar regions, however, are superbly adapted to survive the extreme conditions with insulating layers of fat and dense fur or feathers.

Polar bear image

Polar bears in the north.......

Emperor penguin image

…….penguins in the south!


Arctic mammals

Other land mammals that occur in the Arctic region include the Arctic fox (Vulpes lagopus), Arctic hare (Lepus arcticus), muskox (Ovibos moschatus) and reindeer (Rangifer tarandus). The Arctic is also home to a number of marine-dwelling mammal species, including the main prey of the polar bear, the ringed seal (Pusa hispida), as well as the walrus (Odobenus rosmarus) with its enormous tusks, the mysterious narwhal (Monodon monoceros) and the snow-white beluga whale (Delphinapterus leucas).

Arctic fox image

Arctic fox on tundra

Muskox image

Muskox on Arctic tundra

Ringed seal pup image

Ringed seal pup

Beluga whale image

Adult beluga whale


Antarctic mammals

There are no naturally occurring land mammals in the Antarctic, but the surrounding oceans are home to a rich diversity of marine mammals, including ice habitat specialists, the leopard seal (Hydrurga leptonyx), Weddell seal (Leptonychotes weddellii) and crabeater seal (Lobodon carcinophaga).

The Southern Ocean around Antarctica is also home to many species of cetacean, including the Antarctic minke whale (Balaenoptera bonaerensis), sperm whale (Physeter macrocephalus), humpback whale (Megaptera novaeangliae), and the largest animal in the world, the blue whale (Balaenoptera musculus).

Crabeater seal image

Crabeater seal group on ice

Antarctic fur seal image

Antarctic fur seals swimming underwater

Antarctic minke whale image

Antarctic minke whale surfacing amongst ice

Orca image

Orca female hunting king penguins




Extraordinary birds

Both the Arctic and Antarctic provide important breeding habitat for birds, with the brent goose (Branta bernicla) and the ivory gull (Pagophila eburnea) breeding exclusively in the Arctic, and species such as the wandering albatross (Diomedea exulans) and black-browed albatross (Thalassarche melanophrys) occurring in the Antarctic. 

Brent goose image

Brent goose in the Arctic

Adélie penguin image

Adélie penguins in the Antarctic



Polar plants

The Arctic region is home to some 3,000 species of flowering plant, which bloom during the brief Arctic summer. The Arctic tundra also supports small shrubs and trees, such as the Arctic willow (Salix arctica).

Due to the extreme conditions, the Antarctic mainland is relatively poor in plant life, with no species of tree or shrub, and only two flowering plant species, the Antarctic hair grass (Deschampsia antarctica) and the Antarctic pearlwort (Colobanthus quitensis). 

Arctic poppy image

Arctic poppy

Antarctic hair grass image

Antarctic hair grass


The future of the poles

Perhaps the greatest current threat to both the Arctic and Antarctic is climate change. Although the impact that changes in the global climate will have on the two poles is largely unknown, large scale melting of ice is a likely scenario. The future of these unique ecosystems, and the species that live in them, is very much reliant on international cooperation if they are to be conserved.
Learn more about the fascinating Arctic and Antarctic in our new eco-region pages.
Find out more about the new BBC series Frozen Planet.
Becky Moran, ARKive Species Text Author