28 Tundra Animals List With Pictures & Interesting Facts

Featuring fascinating data and images, we offer a comprehensive list of creatures native to the tundra, supplemented by captivating insights about the tundra biome.

You can navigate through the roster of fauna below, or employ the provided index to leap straight to a specific species while gaining knowledge about the tundra environment.

The Nature of the Tundra

The tundra signifies a biome recognized for its freezing, severe weather, minimal biodiversity, and brief vegetation phase. Generally flat, treeless expanses describe tundra landscapes, often with an underlayer perpetually frozen in a state known as permafrost.

Summer, though brief, sees cooler temperatures in the tundra, seldom surpassing 50 degrees Fahrenheit (10 degrees Celsius), while the long, dark, and bitterly cold winters hold average temperatures below freezing for a significant part of the year.

The harshness of the tundra biome restrains the variety of organisms capable of survival. Primarily, plant life consists of grasses, mosses, lichens, and small shrubs.

Despite its harsh environment, the tundra is the habitat for numerous animal species, each adapted for survival in such extreme conditions.

The Locations of Tundra

Three main types of tundra exist: Arctic, Antarctic, and Alpine tundra. Arctic tundra stretches across the northernmost parts of North America, Europe, and Asia; conditions akin to this can be seen in Antarctica (Antarctic tundra) and some mountainous regions (Alpine tundra).

To expand your knowledge on tundra, refer to this page: The Tundra Biome Facts

Tundra’s Inhabitants

Arctic tundra is home to mammals like the caribou, arctic fox, polar bear, lemmings, ringed seal, harp seal, and the Arctic wolf; alongside avian species like the Arctic skua, snow goose, and snowy owl.

(Refer to the list below for images and facts about these and other Arctic tundra animals.)

The Antarctic tundra accommodates penguins such as the Adélie penguin, emperor penguin, and gentoo penguin; many other seabirds; and seals including the crabeater seal and leopard seal. Alpine tundra houses creatures like marmots, pikas, yak, snow leopard, and mountain goat.

The Significance of the Tundra

The tundra biome plays a crucial role in regulating the Earth’s climate. Despite its rough conditions, it’s a fragile ecosystem, highly susceptible to environmental alterations and human activities.

Arctic Tundra Animals

Below are some of the creatures residing in the Arctic tundra across North America and Eurasia.

1. Arctic Fox

  • Scientific name: Vulpes lagopus
  • Family: Canidae
  • Location: Northern Hemisphere’s Arctic regions
  • Conservation status: Least Concern

Arctic Foxes, small members of the Canidae family, have adapted to the harsh Arctic conditions. Their thick fur changes seasonally—white in winter for blending with the snow, and brown or gray during the summer.

Omnivorous and opportunistic, they consume rodents, birds, eggs, and plant matter. Interestingly, these adaptable creatures often trail polar bears to feast on their leftover prey.

2. Arctic Ground Squirrel

  • Scientific Alias: Urocitellus parryii
  • Kin: Sciuridae
  • Habitat: Eastern Siberia and Arctic regions of North America
  • Endangerment Status: Least Concern

Arctic Ground Squirrels are mid-sized rodents, designed to thrive in chilly settings, featuring a plush fur coat ranging from reddish-gray to brown hues. They mainly feed on seeds, fruits, leaves, and tiny invertebrates. This creature holds the record for the longest hibernation duration among all animals, with a capacity to hibernate for up to 8 months in its most frigid habitats.

3. Arctic Hare

  • Scientific Alias: Lepus arcticus
  • Kin: Leporidae
  • Habitat: Greenland and Arctic regions of North America
  • Endangerment Status: Least Concern

The Arctic hare, an oversized hare species, is acclimatized to the severe Arctic tundra climate. It boasts a dense coat that morphs from brown or gray in the summer to white in the winter for disguising purposes. It’s an exceptionally speedy runner, capable of attaining speeds as high as 40 mph. While it primarily feeds on Arctic willow, it also munches on the leaves, twigs, and bark of other plants, occasionally indulging in meat as well.

4. Arctic Skua

  • Scientific Alias: Stercorarius parasiticus
  • Kin: Stercorariidae
  • Habitat: Arctic regions of Europe, Asia, and North America
  • Endangerment Status: Least Concern

The Arctic Skua, also referred to as the parasitic jaeger, is an aggressive, medium-sized seabird with plumage that varies from dark to light brown, complemented by a dark cap and identifiable tail streamer. These birds are notorious for their kleptoparasitic feeding tendencies, forcing other birds to relinquish their food. They mainly feast on fish and tiny mammals, and are also known to eat the eggs and chicks of other birds. They migrate to the Southern Hemisphere after breeding on the Arctic tundra.

5. Arctic Tern

  • Scientific Alias: Sterna paradisaea
  • Kin: Laridae
  • Habitat: Migrates to the Antarctic coast for the Southern Hemisphere’s summer, but is found in Arctic and sub-Arctic regions during the breeding season.
  • Endangerment Status: Least Concern

The Arctic Tern, a petite seabird, is renowned for its extraordinary long-distance migration, clocking between 24,840 and 43,470 miles annually. Its slender form is adorned with light grey and white plumage, a red beak, and a black cap. Arctic Terns predominantly eat fish and invertebrates and are notorious for fiercely protecting their nests and offspring.

6. Arctic Wolf

  • Scientific Alias: Canis lupus arctos
  • Kin: Canidae
  • Habitat: Greenland and Arctic regions of North America
  • Endangerment Status: Least Concern

The Arctic Wolf, a subspecies of the gray wolf, is crafted to withstand the stringent Arctic climate, sporting a dense, white fur coat for insulation and camouflage in the snow. Its diet mostly consists of muskoxen and Arctic hares, and they demonstrate exceptional stamina when hunting prey. Due to their remote tundra habitat, Arctic Wolves aren’t as threatened by hunting or persecution compared to other wolf subspecies. The tundra wolf, Canis lupus albus, is another wolf subspecies found in the tundra regions of Europe and Asia.

7. Beluga Whale

  • Scientific Alias: Delphinapterus leucas
  • Kin: Monodontidae
  • Habitat: Arctic and sub-Arctic waters
  • Endangerment Status: Near Threatened

The Beluga Whale is a small cetacean renowned for its white complexion, distinctive “melon” forehead and lack of a dorsal fin. They are sociable creatures that tend to form large groups, sometimes reaching several hundred individuals. Their diet comprises fish, crustaceans, and worms, and they’re celebrated for their diverse vocalizations, earning them the moniker “canaries of the sea.”

8. Bowhead Whale

Bowhead whale (Balaena Mysticetus) just under ice, Arctic
  • Scientific Alias: Balaena mysticetus
  • Kin: Balaenidae
  • Habitat: Arctic and sub-Arctic waters
  • Endangerment Status: Least Concern

The Bowhead Whale, a baleen species, is notable for its enormous, bow-like skull which it uses to breach through Arctic ice. It flaunts a dark body, white chin, and a substantial layer of blubber for insulation in cold waters. Bowhead Whales predominantly consume zooplankton and are one of the longest-living mammals, with some individuals living over 200 years.

9. Caribou / Reindeer

  • Scientific Alias: Rangifer tarandus
  • Kin: Cervidae
  • Habitat: Arctic and sub-Arctic regions of North America, Europe, Asia, and Greenland
  • Endangerment Status: Vulnerable

The Caribou, or Reindeer as it’s known in Europe, is a large mammal recognized for its large, branch-like antlers, which can be found in both males and females. (This makes the caribou unique among the deer family, Cervidae, as the only species where females also bear antlers.) The caribou has a thick coat that varies from white to brown and mainly feeds on lichens during winter and leaves, stems, and flowers in the summer. It’s known for its extensive migrations, among the longest of any land mammal. Some Canadian populations are known to travel up to 3,000 miles annually.

10. Short-Tailed Weasel

  • Scientific Alias: Mustela erminea
  • Kin: Mustelidae
  • Habitat: Northern regions across North America, Europe, and Asia
  • Endangerment Status: Least Concern

The short-tailed weasel, also referred to as the stoat or ermine, is a small mammal characterized by its slender body and brief legs. Its coat color adapts with the seasons, turning brown in the summer and white in the winter for snow camouflage. As a carnivore, it primarily hunts rodents, utilizing its agility and speed to catch its prey. The short-tailed weasel inhabits a variety of environments and has several subspecies, with the tundra stoat subspecies, Mustela erminea arctica, being especially associated with the Arctic tundra.

11. Greenland Shark

  • Also Known As: Somniosus microcephalus
  • Family Tree: Somniosidae
  • Habitat: North Atlantic and Arctic waters
  • Conservation Rank: Near Threatened

With its unique combination of slow motion and extraordinary longevity, the Greenland Shark stands out among shark species. Being able to live for more than four centuries, it is the vertebrate with the longest known lifespan.

Its dark and coarse skin coupled with small eyes give it a distinctive look. Despite moving at a leisurely pace, it is a formidable predator, employing stealth and ambush techniques to secure its meals. Its menu includes an array of other creatures like seals, caribou, and even polar bears, apart from fish, which form its main diet.

12. Gyrfalcon

  • Scientific Classification: Falco rusticolus
  • Family: Falconidae
  • Native To: Arctic regions of the Northern Hemisphere
  • Conservation Outlook: Least Concern

As the largest among falcon species, the Gyrfalcon bears a thick coat of feathers, which can be gray, white, or dark brown. It is a meat-eating bird that can capture and devour mammals up to the size of a hare. It’s admired for its swift flight and the precision with which it hunts, often securing its prey while airborne.

During winter, it either sticks to the chilly north or migrates to the south. It establishes its nest on the tundra.

13. Harp Seal

  • Biological Name: Pagophilus groenlandicus
  • Family: Phocidae
  • Located In: North Atlantic and Arctic waters
  • Conservation Position: Least Concern

Recognizable by its black eyes and a unique, harp-shaped pattern on its back, the Harp Seal is a mid-sized seal. It retains warmth in the icy waters by means of a thick layer of blubber.

Fish and crustaceans constitute the main diet of this seal. One of its common predators is the polar bear.

14. Ivory Gull

  • Scientific Appellation: Pagophila eburnea
  • Family: Laridae
  • Inhabitancy: High Arctic regions of Canada, Greenland, and Eurasia
  • Conservation Classification: Near Threatened

A small seabird, the Ivory Gull has a pure white plumage that allows it to blend with its snowy habitat. It possesses a stout, rounded body, a small black eye, and a yellow beak with a red tip.

Its food sources include fish, invertebrates, and carrion. It is noteworthy for choosing remote, hard-to-reach places like rocky cliffs and ice floes for nesting.

15. Lemmings

  • Scientific nomenclature: Lemmus and Dicrostonyx genera
  • Belongs to: Cricetidae family
  • Habitat: Mainly in the Arctic and Subarctic zones of the Northern Hemisphere
  • Conservation assessment: Depending on the species, but generally classified as Least Concern

Lemmings, tiny rodents by nature, are native to the tundra and boreal forests, predominantly spotted in the Arctic zones of North America, Europe, and Asia. The Norway lemming, scientifically termed Lemmus lemmus, is among the most renowned of its kind.

These compact critters, measuring between 13 and 18 cm or 5 to 7 inches, are characterized by their short legs, a sturdy body, and a petite tail. Their soft and thick fur coat, color ranging from grey to brown or even reddish shades, morphs to white in winter for certain species. Their diet primarily consists of vegetation, like leaves, shoots, bark, roots, and berries.

Notably, lemmings are recognized for their cyclical population spurts and declines. These surges often lead to lemming dispersion in search of fresh habitats, which inadvertently has perpetuated the myth of mass suicides by cliff jumping, a misconception popularized by a contentious 1950s Disney documentary. The reality is that these large-scale migrations are an instinctive response to overcrowding and do not result in deliberate mass extermination.

Lemmings play a crucial role in the tundra ecosystem, serving as a critical food source for predators such as foxes, owls, and weasels. They also contribute significantly to soil aeration through their burrowing habits. Their population trends can have a substantial influence on the overall vitality and equilibrium of the tundra ecosystem.

16. Muskox

  • Scientific nomenclature: Ovibos moschatus
  • Belongs to: Bovidae family
  • Habitat: Arctic regions of North America and Greenland
  • Conservation assessment: Least Concern

The Muskox, a large mammal endemic to the tundra region, is distinguishable by its bushy coat and curved horns. The strong musky scent emitted by males during mating season has given this species its name.

Suited for severe Arctic climates, the Muskox possesses a sturdy physique. It survives on a diet primarily consisting of grasses, mosses, and lichens.

When faced with threats, Muskoxen group together to form a defensive ring, protecting their young. Their primary predator is the Arctic wolf.

17. Narwhal

  • Scientific nomenclature: Monodon monoceros
  • Belongs to: Monodontidae family
  • Habitat: Arctic waters around Greenland, Canada, and Russia
  • Conservation assessment: Near Threatened

The Narwhal is a mid-sized whale, easily identifiable by the elongated, spiraled tusk emerging from the male’s head. This unique tusk is, in fact, a modified tooth.

Narwhals are characterized by their sturdy bodies, rounded heads, and speckled gray skin. Their diet is primarily based on fish, shrimp, squid, and other aquatic beings. They are also renowned for their deep-diving prowess, capable of reaching depths exceeding 1,500 meters or 4,921 feet.

18. Northern Pintail

  • Scientific nomenclature: Anas acuta
  • Belongs to: Anatidae family
  • Habitat: Wetlands across the Northern Hemisphere
  • Conservation assessment: Least Concern

The Northern Pintail is a medium-sized duck, characterized by its slender frame, long neck, and pointed tail, which is more pronounced in males. Males have a distinctive brown head, white breast, and gray body, while females possess more muted coloring.

Feeding mainly on seeds and aquatic invertebrates, the Northern Pintail breeds in various regions in the Northern Hemisphere, including the tundra. They typically migrate south during the winter months.

19. Northern Red-Backed Vole

  • Scientific nomenclature: Myodes rutilus
  • Belongs to: Cricetidae family
  • Habitat: Northern and eastern parts of Europe, Siberia, and North America
  • Conservation assessment: Least Concern

The Northern Red-backed Vole, a diminutive rodent, has a reddish-brown coat covering the upper part of its body, earning it its name, and a gray or white underbelly. It possesses a compact body structure, a short tail, and petite ears.

These voles can be found in both taiga forests and tundra environments. Their diet consists primarily of seeds, fruits, and insects.

20. Polar Bear

  • Scientific nomenclature: Ursus maritimus
  • Belongs to: Ursidae family
  • Habitat: Throughout the Arctic Circle
  • Conservation assessment: Vulnerable

The iconic Polar Bear, a symbol of the tundra, is typically the largest among the eight extant bear species. It is instantly recognizable with its white fur, offering perfect camouflage in its icy, snow-clad surroundings.

Exceptionally adapted for survival in the Arctic, the Polar Bear sports a hefty body, a small head, and large feet resembling paddles, useful for swimming.

As the most carnivorous among the bear family, the Polar Bear predominantly feeds on seals and is an adept swimmer, often hunting in water.

21. Ringed Seal

ECKBHE United States, Alaska, Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, Kaktovik, Ringed seal (Pusa hispida), on the ice floe
  • Scientific name: Pusa hispida
  • Family: Phocidae
  • Habitat: Across the Arctic Ocean
  • Conservation ranking: Least Concern

The Ringed Seal is the most frequently seen and petite seal species in the Arctic. Its naming stems from the unique circular patterns seen on its gray or silver coat. With its small cranium, stout flippers, and sturdy body, the Ringed Seal is easily identifiable.

Its diet consists mostly of fish and invertebrates, and on average, it lives up to 40 years. Predators of this species include the polar bear and the killer whale.

22. Rock Ptarmigan

  • Scientific name: Lagopus muta
  • Family: Phasianidae
  • Habitat: Across the Arctic and alpine regions of the Northern Hemisphere
  • Conservation ranking: Least Concern

The Rock Ptarmigan, a member of the Phasianidae family, shares its family tree with birds such as pheasants, grouse, chickens, and turkeys. It sports a compact body, a small black bill, and feathered feet, and is known for its ability to change color with the season—donning a white coat in winter and turning brown in summer.

Feeding primarily on leaves, flowers, berries, and insects, this bird is notable for its incredible capacity to merge with its surroundings, making it difficult for predators to spot.

23. Snow Bunting

  • Scientific name: Plectrophenax nivalis
  • Family: Calcariidae
  • Habitat: Across the Arctic regions of the Northern Hemisphere
  • Conservation ranking: Least Concern

The Snow Bunting, a small perching bird, is recognizable by its white-gray breast and black and brown streaks across the back and wings. Seeds and insects make up the bulk of the Snow Bunting’s diet. This resilient bird nests in the Arctic tundra and migrates to warmer regions in winter.

24. Snow Goose

  • Scientific name: Anser caerulescens
  • Family: Anatidae
  • Habitat: North America, migrating between Arctic Canada and the Southern United States/Mexico
  • Conservation ranking: Least Concern

The medium-sized Snow Goose breeds in the Arctic tundra during summer and winters in the United States, with some individuals migrating as far south as Central America. The species is known for forming large, boisterous migratory groups that can number in the thousands.

The most common variety of the Snow Goose showcases white feathers and black-tipped wings. However, a “blue morph” exists with a white head and gray-brown body, often referred to as the “blue goose”.

25. Snowy Owl

  • Scientific name: Bubo scandiacus
  • Family: Strigidae
  • Habitat: Arctic regions of North America, Europe, and Asia
  • Conservation ranking: Vulnerable

The Snowy Owl is a large owl species notable for its white plumage, which aids in its camouflage in the snow-covered Arctic tundra. It features a bulky body, a rounded head devoid of ear tufts, and large yellow eyes.

Distributed across the Arctic regions of North America, Europe, and Asia, the Snowy Owl mainly preys on small mammals and birds, with lemmings as one of its primary food sources.

When food is scarce, these owls migrate south in large numbers, sometimes even reaching the southern United States.

26. Tundra Shrew

  • Scientific name: Sorex tundrensis
  • Family: Soricidae
  • Habitat: Tundra regions of Alaska, Canada, and Siberia
  • Conservation ranking: Least Concern

The Tundra Shrew, a mammal the size of a mouse, is recognized by its pointed snout, tiny eyes, and dense, dark brown coat. Despite their outward similarity to rodents, shrews are actually part of the Eulipotyphla order, which also includes creatures such as hedgehogs and moles.

Feeding chiefly on insects, spiders, and other small invertebrates, the Tundra Shrew employs its sensitive snout to find food. Like many of its kind, it has a high metabolic rate, necessitating frequent feeding.

Formerly, this shrew was considered a subspecies of the Arctic shrew, a species with a similar habitat range from the Arctic tundra to the northern United States.

27. Tundra Swan

  • Scientific name: Cygnus columbianus
  • Family: Anatidae
  • Habitat: North America and Eurasia, migrating between Arctic breeding grounds and warmer wintering grounds
  • Conservation ranking: Least Concern

The Tundra Swan, a relatively petite swan species, is characterized by white plumage and a bill with yellow and black features. The species is often divided into two separate species: Bewick’s swan (Cygnus bewickii) found in Eurasia, and the larger Whistling swan (Cygnus columbianus) native to North America.

The Tundra Swan’s diet is dominated by aquatic plants, but also includes grains and small invertebrates. Like many birds of the tundra, it migrates south during the colder months.

28. Walrus

  • Scientific name: Odobenus rosmarus
  • Family: Odobenidae
  • Habitat: Arctic regions of the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans
  • Conservation ranking: Vulnerable

Among the most iconic of the tundra inhabitants, the Walrus is a hefty marine mammal recognized for its elongated, sharp tusks, whiskered visage, and wrinkled, brown hide. It features a large body, a modest head, and flippers that aid in mobility.

The Walrus feeds on clams and other invertebrates dwelling on the sea floor, utilizing its sensitive whiskers to locate food. It is noted for its sociable disposition, often observed in large groups on sea ice or beaches.

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