Land Animals in and around Chesterfield Inlet

Polar BearThe world polar bear population is estimated to be between 21,000 and 28,000 individuals. Due to governmental regulations on hunting, the population has increased from an estimated 10,000 polar bears in 1968. The ratio of males to females is approximately one to one. A polar bear's stomach can hold an estimated 15 to 20 percent of its body weight and needs an average of 4.4 lbs. of fat per day to survive. Polar bears swallow most food in large chunks rather than chewing. They feed mainly on ringed seals and bearded seals. Depending upon their location, they also eat harp and hooded seals and scavenge on carcasses of beluga whales, walruses, narwhals and bowhead whales. When other food is unavailable, they'll eat reindeer, small rodents, seabirds, ducks, fish, eggs, vegetation (including kelp), berries and human garbage. Polar bears can live 20 to 30 years, but only a small proportion of polar bears live past 15 to 18 years.

Body temperature, which is normally 98.6 F, is maintained through a thick layer of fur, a tough hide, and an insulating layer of blubber. Polar bears are completely furred except for the nose and footpads, which are black. A polar bear's skin is black. Its coat is about 1.2 inches thick. A dense, woolly, insulating layer of underhair is covered by a relatively thin layer of stiff, shiny, clear guard hairs. The fur is oily and water repellent and can be white, creamy yellow or brown.

Polar bears' paws are huge compared to body size, reaching 12 inches in diameter. We're talking built-in snowshoes here. Each toe has a thick, curved, nonretractable claw that can be used for grasping prey and for traction when running or climbing on ice.

Polar bears are capable of traveling 19 miles or more per day for several days. The average walking speed is 3.4 mph, but when being chased or charging prey, their maximum speed is 25 mph for short distances. They are also strong swimmers, and can swim for several hours at a time over long distances; some have been tracked swimming continuously for 62 miles. Swimming speed can reach 6.2 miles per hour. Polar bears usually swim under water at depths of only about 10 to 15 feet. They can remain submerged for as long as two minutes.

On warm days polar bears sprawl out on the ground or ice, sometimes on their backs with their feet in the air. They may also make temporary snow or earthen pits to lie in. On cold days they curl up and often cover their muzzle area. During the winter, some polar bears excavate temporary dens or find natural shelters to stay warm. They may use these shelters for several months at a time. Polar bears are basically solitary. Usually, only two social units exist: adult females with cubs and breeding pairs, and the breeding pairs only remain together for about a week, mating several times.

Female polar bears reach sexual maturity at about four years; males at about six years. Most male polar bears don't successfully mate until eight to 10 years and older. There are about three adult males to every breeding female. Before mating, a female polar bear may be accompanied by several males. The males fight fiercely among themselves until the strongest or largest male succeeds in chasing the others away. Fights are rarely fatal, but do result in broken canines and scars on the head, neck, and shoulders.

Learn More about Polar Bears here

Grizzly  BearGrizzly bears, also known as the Arctic Grizzlies or barren-ground grizzlies, found throughout tree less land forms of Nunavut, both above the tree-line in the mountain ranges and on the tundra. They have a long snout, a prominent hump of muscle on their shoulders, and long shaggy coats. Their colour varies from light gold to nearly black. Pale bears are most common on the tundra and they are generally smaller than those elsewhere.

Grizzly bears are omnivorous. In spring they graze first on roots and then switch to new grasses and sedges as they emerge. Bears in mountainous areas move up and down slopes in response to available vegetation. On the barrens they move to areas of early snow melt in the spring to feed on new growth. During late summer and fall they feed primarily on berries. They also eat a great many lemmings and ground squirrels, which they excavate from burrows. With respect to large animals, bears are opportunistic predators and will kill caribou, moose, muskoxen and sheep if the occasion arises.

Source: Northwest Territories Resources, Wildlife and Economic Development

The muskox, or its ancestor, is believed to have migrated to North America between 200,000 and 90,000 years ago when it was a contemporary of the woolly mammoth. It is thought that the muskox was able to survive the last ice age and gradually moved across North America.

Muskoxen are more closely related to sheep and goats than to oxen. Muskoxen stand 4 to 5 ft high at the shoulder, with females measuring 4.4 to 6.6 ft in length. The small tail, often concealed under a layer of fur, measures only 3.9 inches long. Adults, on average, weigh 600 lb and range from 400 to 900 lb. Their life expectancy is 1220 years. The thick coat and large head often suggests a larger animal than the muskox truly is and, the bison, to which the muskox is regularly compared, can weigh up to twice as much. Their coat, a mix of black, gray, and brown, includes long guard hairs that almost reach the ground. Muskoxen are occasionally domesticated for wool, meat and milk. The wool, qiviut, is highly prized for its softness, length, and insulation value.

Muskoxen are native to the Arctic areas of Canada, Greenland, and the United States. The world population is estimated at between 80,000 and 125,000, with an estimated 68,788 living on Banks Island.

Muskoxen will eat grasses, arctic willows, woody plants, lichens and mosses. When food is abundant, they prefer succulent and nutritious grasses in an area. Willows are the most commonly eaten plants in the winter. Muskoxen have a high threshold of fat reserves before conceiving which reflects their conservative breeding strategies. Winter ranges typically have shallow snow to reduce the energetic costs of digging through snow to reach forage. The primarily predators of muskoxen are Arctic wolves, which may account for up to half of all mortality for the species. Other predators, likely primarily of calves or infirm adults, can include grizzly bears and polar bears. Credit for this text and more informationcan be found on Wikipedia.

WolvesWolves are a member of the Canidae (dog) family and look like a large husky dog. Adult males average about 35- 40 kg, while females are smaller at about 30 -35 kg. Length of males from nose to the tip of the tail ranges from l.5 to 2.0 m, with females from 1.4 to 1.8m. The tail is nearly one quarter of the total length. Wolf colour varies from pure white to black, with accompanying shades of cream and brown. The most common colour is grey. Grey and other darker shades predominate on the mainland. The wolf's coat is thick composed of long coarse guard hairs and short soft underfur. Wolves that travel above and below the treeline depend largely on barren ground Caribou for food.

Tundra wolves are associated with migratory caribou and have a less developed territory than wolves that depend on non-migratory prey. This is because caribou migrate over long distances and there would be no advantage to protecting an area that may not have any caribou during part of the year. In central Nunavut, the wolf winter range may be defined by the distribution of caribou. In early spring, when caribou group together to begin their northward migration, the wolf density in those areas' may be as high as one wolf per 10km squared.

Arctic FoxThe arctic fox is a member of the canid family which includes wolves, dogs and other foxes. Its scientific name translates as "hare-footed fox", referring to the dense fur on its feet which is similar to the fur on the foot of a hare. This extra fur provides increased insulation against the cold. Other adaptations to its arctic environment are short legs, ears and nose, and a thick, winter coat. The arctic fox is a small animal, normally weighing between 2.5 and 5.0 kg. Its average body length is 65 to 85 cm. The female, or vixen, is slightly smaller than the male fox. There are two winter colour phases of the arctic fox: white and blue. The blue coat varies from grey to dark blue-black. The different colour phases may occur within the same litter and the proportion of each colour phase varies geographically. Nunavut, the white phase is much more prevalent. The dense underfur and long guard hairs provide ample protection against the most bitter winter weather. Arctic foxes are very mobile and can travel great distances over land or sea ice. Movement by individuals of over 2,000 km has been recorded.

The arctic fox is the only canid which changes the colour of its coat in the summer. The back, tail, legs and head are brown, and the sides and belly are blond. This two-tone brown pelage lasts only for July and August and enables the fox to blend into the summer tundra. This coat is much shorter than the winter coat.

Arctic foxes live primarily on lemmings and voles. In winter, the lemmings must first be located in their tunnels under the snow. Most hunting is done in darkness, so the fox relies heavily on its acute sense of smell and hearing to detect its prey. Winter in the Far North is harsh and limited food resources can have a profound effect on arctic fox numbers. Brown and collared lemmings undergo population peaks every three to five years followed by crashes caused by overcrowding and other factors, such as insufficient snow insulation in winter. In addition to lemmings, the winter food of arctic foxes consists of arctic hares, ptannigan and carrion. They will trail wolves to obtain scraps from abandoned carcasses, and follow polar bears across frozen seas to scavenge from leftover seals. They may also kill ringed seal pups in their birth dens. In areas of human development, arctic foxes may scrounge food handouts or garbage.

In late winter, arctic foxes seek dens in which to raise their young. The dens are usually dug in gently sloping, sandy soil near rivers or lakes or on elevated areas free of permafrost. They have complex underground tunnels with numerous entrances and several metres of interconnecting tunnels. Good den sites are not common so they are occupied in successive years, becoming more complex with use. Wolves may move into old fox dens to raise their own young, and grizzly bears can cause extensive damage by digging in search of arctic ground squirrels.

Arctic foxes are sexually mature by 10 months of age. They breed in March or April. If the preceding winter was severe and the foxes are malnourished, they may breed later than usual or not at all. One litter is produced each season after a gestation period of about 51 days. On average, six pups are born between mid-May and mid-June. Litter sizes vary widely, but are generally between 3 and 9 pups, fluctuating with food availability and geographic location. Foxes inhabiting coastal areas have smaller litters than foxes which occupy inland tundra.

CaribouAdult male barren-ground caribou are about 110 cm high at the shoulder. They weigh about 140 kg in the fall when they are in their prime, but only about 100 kg in November after a month of mating activity. Caribou have long legs ending in large, broad, sharp-edged hooves which give good support and traction when travelling over snow, ice or muskeg. In winter, the pads between the hooves shrink, and the hair between the toes forms tufts that cover the pads, so the animal walks on the horny rims of its hooves and the hair protects the fleshy pads from contact with the frozen ground.

The colour of a caribou's coat varies seasonally. The adult males are the first to begin moulting in late June. Cows that are nursing have the greatest nutritional needs and complete their moult last. The old fur that has faded to very light beige over the long winter falls out in large patches revealing a new chocolate brown coat. When the moult is complete, caribou are uniformly dark brown with a white belly and white mane. Adult males also sport a white flank stripe and white socks above their hooves. In the fall, as white-tipped guard hairs grow out through the summer hair for extra winter insulation, caribou become a more uniform light brown. The exceptional warmth of the winter coat is the result of individual hairs which are hollow. The air cells in the hair act as an insulating layer to con-serve body heat.

Barren-ground caribou have the largest antlers in relation to their body size of any deer species and are the only species in which females grow antlers. Antlers are shed and regrown each year.

Caribou have several gaits. When migrating, they walk at about 7 km/hr, covering between 20 and 65 km a day. When startled, a caribou runs in a loose, even trot. The head is held high with the nose up and the tail erect. When galloping at top speed most caribou can outrun wolves, their major predator, but wolves close in quickly on any animal that stumbles or takes a wrong turn. Caribou are excellent swimmers. Their hollow hairs enable them to float high in the water and their broad hooves propel them along at speeds of about 3 km/hr.

The Arctic ground squirrel is the largest of all of the American ground squirrels. Its range covers most of the Northwest Territories; it is well adapted for life in extreme conditions, and that has allowed it to survive so far north. Unlike its close relatives, the Arctic ground squirrel will not defend a territory, but rather it will live in a number of different burrows in its life time. The Arctic ground squirrel will also live in large colonies. These colonies will construct a large system of burrows which can reach a length of twenty metres with approximately fifty to sixty separate entrances. Arctic ground squirrels eat a wide variety of native tundra vegetation such as leaves, roots and stems of grasses and sedges. They will also eat meat, as one squirrel was seen to carry a kilogram of caribou flesh to its den.

The arctic hare (Lepus arcticus), or polar rabbit is a hare which is adapted largely to polar and mountainous habitats. The arctic hare survives with a thick coat of fur and usually digs holes under the ground or snow to keep warm and sleep. Arctic hares eat mainly woody plants but also dine on buds, berries, leaves and grasses. In the early summer they eat purple saxifrage. It has a keen sense of smell and may dig for willow twigs under the snow. When eating plants, arctic hares like standing where there is less snow to easily locate twigs or plants that fall off or lie on the ground for them to chew on/feed on. Although hares are known for eating plants, they can eat meat.

Arctic hares look like rabbits but have longer ears and can stand up taller, they can live/maintain themselves in cold places unlike rabbits. They can travel together with many other hares, sometimes huddling with dozens or more, but are usually found alone, taking in some cases more than one partner. The arctic hare can run up to 40 miles per hour. Its top predator is the arctic wolf.

Sources: NWT Wildlife Sketches, Northwest Resources Wildlife and Economic Development, Canadian Biodeversity Website, Wikopedia