Alpine Fauna Resilience: Surviving High-Altitude Environments

Alpine Fauna Resilience: Surviving in High-Altitude Environments

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Imagine having to survive in some of the harshest conditions on the planet. Extreme temperature changes between day and night, strong winds, and high altitudes would test even the strongest human. But there are animals that have adaptations that allow them to thrive in an Alpine environment.

In this article, I’ll cover some of these adaptations and explain how these creatures have evolved to live in these tough conditions.

Alpine Biome Overview

Alpine Biome Overview
The Alpine Biome, Starting Around 10,000 feet (3,000 meters) Above Sea Level, Covers 3% of the Earth’s Surface

If you’re into winter sports, such as skiing, you’ve likely visited an Alpine region. These areas are popular destinations for such activities, which not only contribute to the local economy but also provide a habitat for an abundance of wildlife.

You might not imagine that much would thrive in these regions because of the challenges of the Alpine biome. Before I get into the creatures that can be found here, I’d like to explain a little about the environment they’re up against.

Alpine biomes are typically associated with mountainous regions and their elevation is largely what defines them. However, for the most part, they’re also defined by their latitude, most often found between 60°N and 60°S, although this isn’t a strict rule.

Did you know that more than 3% of the earth’s surface is covered by the Alpine biome which starts at an altitude of around 10,000 feet (3,000 meters) above sea level? With strong winds, cold daytime temperatures (summer temperatures don’t typically exceed 59°F (15°C) and plummet further at night), and very little CO² and oxygen, areas like the Rocky Mountain Alpine Biome, the Himalayan Alpine Biome, the Alps Alpine Biome, and The Andean Alpine Biome, (among others) present many challenges. One of the most notable is the ever-changing temperature. it’s not uncommon that these biomes can go from very warm to below-freezing in the course of a single day.

Despite this, you’ll still find not only an abundance of animals in these regions but also plenty of specially adapted plant life. These include edelweiss, arctic moss, and the Alpine forget-me-not. Because the environment doesn’t allow for effective photosynthesis, these plants have found other ways to survive. By and large, they’re low-growing, ground-cover plants that grow very slowly.

When it comes to Alpine fauna, these creatures have a wealth of adaptations that permit their survival in these harsh conditions. Since there is a lot of snowfall, many animals are equipped with camouflaged, thick fur, specialized feet, and other features that make living here easier.  Despite their adaptations, many species in the Alpine biome are endangered or threatened and this largely comes as a result of climate change. For some species, seasonal migration between higher and lower altitudes allows them the best chance of finding food and resources.

Challenges of the Alpine Ecosystem for Fauna

Challenges of the Alpine Ecosystem for Fauna
Alpine Fauna, Like Marmots, Often Enter Torpor or Hibernation in Winter to Conserve Energy

Living in an Alpine ecosystem is certainly not without its challenges. In fact, if you were to take things at face value, you might assume that it would be impossible for life to thrive here. Limited oxygen, rocky terrain, and a lack of viable food resources could all contribute to the failure of a species.

Limited Oxygen Availability

You’re probably familiar with the idea that, as we move to higher altitudes, the availability of oxygen becomes less and less. As an asthmatic, this is something I have to contend with when at a higher elevation but there are animals in the Alpine biome that are perfectly equipped to resist the low-oxygen conditions.

It really comes down to the type of creature we’re looking at but many have a high reliance on oxygen availability. Many birds and mammals that live at lower altitudes could never cope with the respiratory challenges of living at such high altitudes. Still, Alpine species are able to survive thanks to their specialized hemoglobin that more efficiently transports oxygen around the body via the blood.

So, what is the problem with lower oxygen levels? Well, for starters, when there’s less oxygen, an animal needs to expend more energy when going about their daily activities. Things like foraging and mating can be much more exerting but since they’re essential to survival, these creatures must find a balance between conserving energy and doing what they need to survive.

If that wasn’t enough, we have to consider that these animals are already spending a lot of energy on trying to stay warm. Couple this with the lack of oxygen and it becomes clear why living in an Alpine region is incredibly challenging in this respect.

While many species remain resilient, others have to perform seasonal migrations in order to find spots that have the best oxygen availability.

Harsh Climatic Conditions

The Alpine climate might be perfect for your skiing vacation, but imagine living in the wild in these harsh conditions. One of the biggest challenges faced by Alpine creatures is the temperature. As I mentioned earlier, summer temperatures rarely exceed 59°F (15°C) and, in winter, the mercury frequently drops below freezing.

Even in summer when the temperatures are slightly warmer, as night falls, they can plummet significantly. This means that any life found here must be able to cope with sudden changes in temperature as well as being able to survive in the often heavy winter snow which can make finding food and staying warm extremely difficult.

It’s not uncommon for Alpine fauna to enter into a state or torpor of even hibernation during winter as this is one of the only ways that they can conserve energy and survive into the next season.

Surprisingly, while there is a lot of snowfall during winter, (several meters of snow cover in some regions) there isn’t a lot of water to be found in the Alpine environment. Any bodies of water are often frozen over, especially during winter and, as we know, water is essential to survival. Studies by the WWF have shown that, even despite climate change, there’s still around 10% more ice than there is water in the Alpine biomes of the world.

Rocky Terrain

Navigating around an Alpine biome can be incredibly challenging for the simple reason that much of the terrain is very rocky. Since these regions are mountainous, it’s not just the rocks that animals have to contend with but also steep inclines, and areas that have been eroded.

Erosion is a key threat to Alpine species since it can eradicate nesting spots that are already scarce. Many creatures need to nest on level ground which is often hard to come by in the Alpine regions of the world. Moreover, those species that burrow have limited opportunities since the soil is often frozen or too rocky to nest in.

What’s more, for prey species, the rocky terrain poses a problem in terms of being able to find cover. Prey species may be able to use this to their advantage, and this demonstrates a clear predator-prey dynamic that often falls in the favor of those doing the hunting. 

In order to overcome some of the terrain challenges, there are Alpine species whose foot and limb structures are specially adapted to moving over this type of ground. For example, mountain goats have a wider hoof with two toes that spread out, giving more ground cover with each step, and therefore, greater stability.

Scarcity of Food Resources

Seasonal migration is very common among Alpine species as this allows them to inhabit the best environments with the greatest abundance of food at any given time of the year. However, that isn’t to say that they aren’t faced with food scarcity, and this happens more commonly than one might imagine.

While there are lots of species of Alpine plants, these often grow sparsely meaning that there isn’t a lot of available vegetation for herbivores like the snow vole and the marmot. What’s more, during winter, when the ground is largely covered with snow, it makes foraging even more of a challenge. This means that animals need to expend far more energy to find food.

The problem is that, because of a lack of vegetation, it’s not uncommon for herbivore species’ numbers to drop. This then has a direct impact on the predators of the Alpine biome who may have to search farther and wider for their next meal.

The Alpine regions of the world are home to many bird species. These include everything from small hummingbirds to majestic raptors and vultures. Vultures are known for their love of carrion, but they’re not the only creatures here that make use of this food source. The wolverine is a perfect example of an Alpine scavenger. 

Some Alpine bird species rely on a diet of insects to sustain them but owing to the harsh conditions, there aren’t that many creepy crawlies to be found here. However, there are some examples of Alpine insects, including butterflies, weevils, and grasshoppers depending on the location and time of year. 

Intense Solar Radiation

With all that snow and those harsh winds, one might not imagine solar radiation to be a problem in the Alpine biome. But that’s not the case. In fact, being at a higher altitude, these regions are more readily exposed to the rays of the sun, especially when we consider the thinner atmosphere, making solar radiation a significant challenge for Alpine fauna.

You know yourself that spending too much time in the sun can result in health problems as a direct result of UV exposure. This is no different for Alpine species who are exposed to some of the highest UV radiation on the planet.

There are many risks that come with this including dehydration as a result of faster evaporation as well as thermal stress. That said, many species have adapted burrowing behaviors that allow them to escape the sun during the hottest period of the day. Other creatures have specialized skin pigments, lighter coloration, or feather patterns that help to protect against UV radiation.

During periods where there is a lot of sun, this can lead to much higher daytime temperatures. However, once the sun goes down, things can get very chilly, very quickly and this is something that the wildlife here needs to be able to cope with.

Alpine Animals Adaptive Strategies

Despite the challenges, the Alpine biome is home to many amazing species that have evolved special adaptations to make life here a little easier.

1. Alpine Ibex (Capra ibex)

Let’s begin with one of the Alpine ungulates; the Alpine ibex which is an impressively robust-looking creature found in the European mountain ranges at elevations between 4,920 and 12,467 feet (1,500 and 3,800 meters). Growing up to 220 lbs (100 kg), these animals have thick, curved horns which are often used for fighting, and this explains why the males are longer than the females, up to 3.3 feet (1 meter) in length.

These herbivorous animals, sometimes called steinbocks, often live on rocky terrain but have concave hooves that allow for better footing. These specialized feet allow them to climb near vertical surfaces where necessary. They also have thick fur that keeps them warm and whose coloration allows them to perfectly blend into their environment, helping them evade predation. That said, they have few natural predators and are more likely to be killed by diseases or parasites.

Young Alpine ibexes have to learn quickly how to survive in these harsh conditions but are naturally equipped with respiratory systems that help them cope with the limited oxygen at such high elevations. While parents don’t offer much to care for their young, this species is sometimes known to form herds as a form of protection, especially where there are a lot of predators. 

Like many Alpine species, the ibex does exhibit migratory behaviors, moving between elevations to find the best food sources according to the seasons. However, it’s also not uncommon for them to enter into a state of torpor during winter to conserve energy and lessen the need for food. They have also been observed basking in winter.

While most populations of the Alpine ibex are considered to be of Least Concern on the IUCN Red List, there may be some populations that are considered vulnerable. This is largely due to factors like climate change and habitat fragmentation which is often a result of human activity. In the 16th century, populations were almost hunted to extinction but have since recovered after hunting was made illegal and areas where populations survived were made into National Parks.

2. Alpine Marmot (Marmota Marmota)

Considered to be one of the world’s largest species of ground squirrel, the Alpine marmot can be found throughout the European mountain ranges at elevations between 4,920 and 8,858 feet (1,500 and 2,700 meters). These stocky animals grow to around 24 inches (60 cm) and have camouflage fur which can range from gray to brown in color.

These social, playful creatures can live for up to 18 years in the wild and are often seen in groups of 15 or more which provides them with protection. They are burrowing animals that build complex tunnel systems that better allow them to navigate the Alpine terrain. Their compact bodies also make it easier for them to use these burrow systems with ease.

With a thick coat, the marmot is easily able to withstand the chilly Alpine temperatures but may enter into hibernation in winter to conserve energy. During this time, their specialized metabolisms allow them to regulate their body temperature and survive the winter. In the harshest winters, they may hibernate for up to nine months of the year.

One of the most interesting things about the Alpine marmot is that this species times its reproduction to coincide with the greatest food availability. Being herbivorous, they feed on leaves and blossoms which are soft and easy to digest. They’re also able to eat plants that may be poisonous to other creatures, expanding food availability.

While they are listed as Least Concern on the IUCN Red List, the Alpine marmot isn’t exempt from threats. Habitat loss and degradation are among the most significant problems and this is often a result of tourism. What’s more, the species is targeted by trophy hunters is Austria who kill an estimated 6000 individuals each year.

3. Himalayan Tahr (Hemitragus jemlahicus)

Found in the Himalayan Alpine biome, the Himalayan tahr is another species of Alpine ungulate that is found between 6,652 and 16,404 feet (2,000 and 5,000 meters) above sea level. Identifiable by their curved horns, which are smaller and straighter in females, tahrs are sadly a Near Threatened species with numbers decreasing. Males make use of their horns during rutting season when they put on impressive dominance displays and engage in fights for female attention.

The reasons for this endangerment are many, including human interference, hunting, and habitat loss. In any case, without these threats, this species is perfectly adapted to survive in its Alpine environment. First of all, they’re equipped with a thick, shaggy coat that allows for optimal thermal regulation which is essential since the recorded lows in this region are a chilly -6.8°F (-21ºC)! Plus, with a specially adapted respiratory system, the lack of oxygen up here isn’t a problem for these resilient animals. 

The terrain here is incredibly rocky but the Himalayan tahr boasts specialized hooves that allow it improved grip, even on steep slopes. Observing these creatures shows how impressively agile they are on even the most challenging terrain.

Herbivores, tahrs will feed on Alpine herbs and scrubland plants. Introduced to New Zealand, these creatures have had a negative impact on the flora in this region. On the other end of the scale, the Himalayan tahr is a prey species for the snow leopard. However, they will form social groups as a means of protection and have a camouflage coat that helps them to blend in. 

4. Chamois (Rupicapra rupicapra)

Found across the European mountain ranges, the chamois is a species of bovine that can grow to around 31 inches (80 cm) and 110 lbs (50 kg). These animals are found at lower altitudes of 2,625 feet (800 meters) but can live anywhere up to 11,483 feet (3,500 meters) where they navigate the steep, rocky terrain with their specialized hooves that allow for improved grip and stability.

With camouflage fur that changes color with the seasons, the chamois is able to effectively conceal itself from predators such as the wolf and the Eurasian lynx. They’re also incredibly agile which gives them an advantage over their predators. Their color-changing coat is also extremely dense, keeping them warm in the colder months.

Even when vegetation is sparse, these herbivores have a specialized metabolism that means they’re still able to survive.  They’ll also select the most nutritious foods in their environment to aid survival. However, it is not uncommon for them to migrate between altitudes to access the greatest food resources, moving sometimes into forested areas at lower elevations and showcasing their adaptability.

With a strong, muscular body, the chamois is not only amazingly agile but is also well known for its leaping abilities which further aids its navigation of the Alpine terrain.

While there are monitoring and habitat protection efforts in place, some populations of chamois are at risk because of factors like climate change, habitat degradation, and disturbance by humans. That said, they are listed as being of Least Concern on the IUCN Red List with a stable global population of around 300,000.

5. Pika (Ochotona spp.)

Perhaps one of the Alpine biomes’ most adorable creatures, the pika is found in Asia, Europe, and North America at elevations between 6,562 and 13,123 feet (2,000 and 4,000 meters). Their fur allows these small mammals to blend in with their surroundings although the little hay piles they make are a clear giveaway that pikas are in the area. The purpose of these piles is that they allow the pika to store food for winter; they’re even known to store dead birds in their piles and eat the poop of other animals. Whatever it takes to survive!

The color of pikas will depend on their surroundings and the fur is what helps them to blend in. What’s more, their thick fur acts as a shield from the cold and helps them to survive the harsh Alpine winters.

The pika grows to around 9 inches (23 cm) at most. Being small isn’t without its advantages, however, and their compact size makes burrowing a breeze. An activity that allows them shelter and a better way to navigate tough terrain.

In addition to this, the pika has a super-efficient metabolism and can store water which is vital when resources are limited. They are herbivores and tend to forage for grasses and plants which they’ll first dry out in their hay piles.

Climate change is one of the biggest threats to the pika but amazingly, they’re defying the odds and have adapted behaviors such as puffing themselves up and basking to regulate their body temperature. That said, while some species of pika are listed as being of Least Concern, others are endangered because of things like habitat loss.

6. Ptarmigan (Lagopus spp.)

When you think about Alpine birds, the ptarmigan is perhaps one of the first species that comes to mind. They’re something of an icon in these regions but did you know that there isn’t just one species? There are actually three species, and two of these are found in Alpine biomes.

The rock ptarmigan is a small bird with brown and white plumage that’s found in Europe and North America. Their plumage changes with the season to help them blend in with their surroundings and avoid predation. There’s also the white-tailed ptarmigan which is sometimes called the snow quail and is found in Alaska, the western United States, and parts of Canada. Their feet are covered in feathers which keeps them warm as they navigate the snowy terrain.

As well as the adaptations I have already discussed, the ptarmigan also has some behavioral adaptations such as seasonally migrating between altitudes to find the best foods such as buds, plants, and even twigs. They’re determined foragers, often digging through the snow to find a meal.

The ptarmigan is a relatively social bird that can sometimes be seen huddled in groups for extra warmth. While there are tales of them approaching humans, they should do so with caution since humans are known to hunt them for food.

Various populations of ptarmigans may face different threats and, as such, their numbers may differ around their range. However, generally speaking, they are listed as being of Least Concern on the IUCN Red List. Conservationists are monitoring populations and finding ways that the Alpine habitat can be protected to avoid a drop in the numbers of these beautiful birds. 

7. Andean Condor (Vultur gryphus)

Seen in Andean cultures as a spiritual symbol, the Andean condor is an impressive bird with a huge wingspan of more than 10 feet (3 meters)! This makes them exceptional gliders and soarers, and they can be seen covering huge distances across the Alpine skies. When soaring at such high altitudes of up to 16,404 feet (5,000 meters) above the South American mountains, these birds have thick plumage around their necks to help regulate their temperature.

You might think that all that flying would use up a lot of energy but soaring is a great way to scan the environment for carrion, without exhausting themselves. This, along with adaptations like a specialized respiratory system, excellent vision, and sharp talons make them some of the most successful Alpine birds on the planet.

Andean condors are found in areas where there are plenty of rocky cliffs which they use for nesting. The young are almost as big as their parents when they hatch but they remain with them for the first two years of life. Offspring are able to fly and hunt by the age of six months and observe their parents to learn essential survival skills.

Sadly, the Andean Condor is listed as Vulnerable and this is largely due to poaching and habitat loss. However,  many individuals succumb to lead poisoning after consuming carrion that has been killed with bullets. There are programs in place to prevent further habitat loss as well as programs to reintroduce individuals into the wild.

8. Snowfinch (Montifringilla nivalis)

The snowfinch is found across Europe and Asia at elevations of up to 14,764 feet (4,500 meters). There are seven subspecies of snowfinch, based on their location. These include, among others, M. n. Leucura, found in southern and eastern Turkey as well as M. n. Groumgrzimaili which is found in China and Central Mongolia.

These small birds benefit from thick plumage that provides insulation and is colored in such a way that it provides camouflage. One might imagine that, being called the snowfinch, this species would be white but it’s actually only white on the underside. The upperparts are brown, while the head is gray.

Hopping across the Alpine landscape is made easy for the snowfinch thanks to its short legs. These birds can be found making nests in the rocky crevices of the Alpine biomes and may roost in groups for added warmth and protection against predators. When it comes to feeding, they’re largely scavengers and have an extremely varied omnivorous diet that consists of insects, berries, seeds, and small invertebrates.

The snowfinch has demonstrated some migratory habits in response to the change of season. In studies, populations in the Spanish Pyrenees were found to have originated from the Alps. That said, with such amazing adaptations, these birds are often seen on snow patches, even during the summer.

There’s currently no concern over the number of wild snow finches and the IUCN Red List states that they are of Least Concern. However, with ongoing climate change and habitat loss, there is concern that they may face threats in the future.

9. Alpine Chough (Pyrrhocorax graculus)

The Alpine chough is a species of bird found in Europe and Asia. While it can be found at lower elevations, these birds may inhabit regions up to 14,764 feet (4,500 meters). They have specially adapted respiratory systems to cope with the low oxygen environment and also demonstrate strong, agile flight which sees them moving efficiently through their habitat.

These birds, which have beautifully glossy black plumage and a bright yellow beak, grow to around 5.5 inches (14 cm) in length and are often spotted in large social groups when roosting. Like many other Alpine birds, they make the most of mountain winds and updrafts which allow them to soar and search for prey. Being omnivores, they may look for insects and carrion but can also be seen foraging for seeds and berries. They have specially adapted beaks that allow them to probe and extract insects from the soil.

Watching the Alpine chough during flight is something of a spectacle and they’re known for their acrobatic aerial displays. During breeding season, a pair may mutually preen one another and, once bonded, the pair will mate for life.

Considered to be a symbol of endurance and resilience, the Alpine chough is of significant cultural importance. However, despite this, it is still threatened by human disturbance in its natural habitat as well as by factors like climate change. The conservation status of individual populations may vary but, as a whole, the species is considered to be of Least Concern. What’s more, the Alpine chough can survive for up to 23 years in the wild, making it one of the longest-lived small bird species in the world. 

10. Brown Bear (Ursus arctos)

The brown bear is one of the most majestic and fascinating creatures found in Alpine biomes and they’re found across Eurasia and North America at elevations of up to 8,202 feet (2,500 meters). Despite their name, brown bears aren’t always a uniform color. Some individuals may be almost blond while others are almost black. They grow to around 59 inches (150 cm) in height and can weigh up to 1,323 lbs (600 kg) although males are significantly larger than females.

Omnivores by nature, brown bears may feed on a range of foods, including insects, berries, roots, and small mammals. Often a feared animal, brown bears won’t actively seek out humans and certainly don’t see them as food. More often than not, they’ll avoid human contact although they will attack if they feel threatened.

Survival in alpine regions is not a challenge for the brown bear as it is equipped with several adaptations that make it perfectly suited to its environment. For example, it has a thick coat that keeps it warm and these animals will typically hibernate in a den throughout the winter to conserve energy, emerging in spring when breeding season begins. Cubs are then born the following winter during hibernation. They may also make seasonal migrations to access the best food sources.

Brown bears have vast territories that can span up to 3,089 square miles (8,000 square kilometers) in more remote regions. They’ll navigate through their territory over rocky terrain, through rivers, and through wooded areas and are considered to be essential to the ecosystem because of their foraging habits.

While the brown bear is listed as being of Least Concern on the IUCN Red List, the species does face threats from human conflict. Understanding more about these beautiful creatures and their behavior could be a way to minimize this. What’s more, things like habitat loss are a concern for brown bears, and human activity has driven them out of their natural range. Today, brown bears only inhabit 2% of their original range

11. Golden Eagle (Aquila chrysaetos)

The golden eagle may just be one of the most iconic birds in the world. Revered in many cultures for its hunting skills and seen as a symbol of power, honesty, strength, and wisdom, the golden eagle is a majestic bird found across Europe, Asia, Africa, and North America. It inhabits regions with an elevation up to feet 13,123 feet (4,000 meters), where it can be seen soaring across the skies using its strong flight muscles and specialized respiratory system to cope with low oxygen levels. 

As the golden eagle soars, it is hunting for prey which may include birds and mammals. Being an opportunistic hunter, the golden eagle will often team up with another member of the same species to capture prey. In some cases, they can take down animals as large as seals, swooping down at speeds of up to 240 miles per hour (386 kilometers per hour)!

Up there in the mountainous skies, it gets pretty cold but with feathered legs, the golden eagle is able to keep warm. Their plumage also serves as a form of camouflage. Not that they need to hide from predators as they don’t have any in the wild. In fact, the biggest threat to the golden eagle is humans but there are efforts to educate people in the hopes of reducing human-wildlife conflict.

12. Gray Wolf (Canis Lupus)

The gray wolf is perhaps one of the most diverse and widespread Alpine animals on this list. They can be found from the Arctic tundra through to Alpine habitats, forests, and meadows, all over the world. What’s more, they’ll live at varying elevations across the Northern Hemisphere.

These canines, despite being described as gray, may vary in color and can be anything from gray or black through to white or brown. In any case, the coat is incredibly dense, providing protection from the cold weather in Alpine areas.

Since the terrain is often rocky and rugged, the gray wolf benefits from large paws that aid in balance and stability when navigating its environment. This comes in handy since these animals are predators that hunt in packs, going after prey that’s often much larger than they are. But as they say, there’s strength in numbers, and this, coupled with sharp teeth and strong jaws, allows packs of gray wolves to take down ungulates. In some cases, the wolves may even migrate between altitudes to capture their prey. Where food sources are limited, their efficient metabolism allows them to survive. 

This pack behavior isn’t limited to hunting. Gray wolves are incredibly social animals, using howling calls to communicate with one another. They band together for many activities including breeding.

There was once a time when the gray wolf was the most abundant mammalian species on the planet, aside from humans. However, today, these stunning creatures face a number of threats that have seen their numbers decline at an alarming rate. Persecution by humans and habitat loss are the leading causes of their decreasing numbers and while, generally speaking, they are listed as being of Least Concern, local populations may show faster declines than others. 

13. Mountain Goat (Oreamnos americanus)

The mountain goat is found in the mountainous regions of North America including the Cascades and the Rockies. They live at elevations of up to 1,640 feet (4,500 meters) and are easily able to navigate the challenging terrain thanks to their climbing, agility, and special concave hooves that give them superior grip on rocky surfaces.

It gets pretty cold at such high altitudes, but this isn’t a problem for the mountain goat whose thick, shaggy coat provides sufficient warmth. What’s more, they will engage in seasonal migration, moving to slightly lower altitudes during the winter months, which keeps them warmer and gives them access to greater food sources. Being herbivores, they largely feed on mosses and lichens that they find on steep slopes.

Not only do their physical adaptations allow them to efficiently forage on tough terrain, but their agility also gives them the edge over predators like mountain lions, wolves, and bears. Their coat is so colored that it helps them to blend in, giving them an extra layer of protection. 

Telling males and females apart is relatively easy in mountain goats since the males have a prominent beard and are typically larger than the females. Pairs will mate at the end of fall or beginning of winter and kids are born in the spring.

It’s good news for the mountain goat in terms of population sizes as there are thought to be up to 62,000 in the wild. As such, they’re listed as Least Concern although they may face threats from climate change and habitat loss. Education and awareness about keeping human activity out of mountain goat territory is a great way to prevent further habitat loss or fragmentation.

14. Big Horn Sheep (Ovis canadensis)

As well as mountain goats, you may also find sheep in the Alpine environment. This is a species known as the bighorn sheep and there’s no prizes for guessing how they got their name; those huge, curved horns that males use for fighting and self-defense. While females also have horns, they’re typically much smaller and less impressive.

Like the mountain goat, bighorn sheep have concave hooves which allow them better traction when walking on rocky, mountainous terrain. Their fur is also incredibly thick and designed to keep them warm even when temperatures drop across regions like Canada, the US, and Mexico, where this species is found.

Bighorn sheep live at various elevations but can survive at altitudes as high as 1,640 feet (4,500 meters). That’s largely because of how efficiently they use oxygen but also because of their ability to adapt to varying altitudes which is demonstrated during their seasonal migrations. As they migrate, their excellent climbing skills are put to the test and this shows how agile they are, not only when searching for food but also when evading predators.

Being herbivores and very low down the food chain, predation is a real problem for big horn sheep. They’re targeted by animals like mountain lions, wolves, bears, and golden eagles, to name a few but their camouflage coloration does make them more difficult to spot.

What’s interesting, when observing bighorn sheep, is how they have a social hierarchy among the males. They’ll use those spiral-shaped horns to assert their dominance and work their way to the top of the social group, getting access to the best females.

There are seven subspecies of bighorn sheep. Four of those are mountain sheep, while the remaining three are desert bighorn sheep. In any case, populations are strong, and the species is listed as Least Concern. However, threats from habitat loss, disease, and human disturbances could cause numbers to decline in the future. Wildlife sanctuaries, such as the Kofa National Wildlife Reserve, provide a safe space for bighorn sheep to thrive without any threat of habitat loss. 

15. Mountain Hare (Lepus timidus)

Look across the Alpine landscape in Eurasia, Japan, and North America and you might spot the mountain hare. But then again, you might not since these animals are able to change the color of their coat by the season in order to camouflage themselves. This gives them the best chance of survival from predation and sees them turning from brown in the summer to white in winter.

During the winter, there’s a lot of snow on the mountains, but the mountain hare uses its large hind feet, which are covered in fur to easily navigate the Alpine terrain. Plus, this physical adaptation means they’re able to move in short, sharp bursts of up to 45 miles per hour (72 kilometers per hour). Living at elevations of up to 12,467 feet (3,800 meters) (but also as low as 984 feet (300 meters)), the mountain hare may migrate between altitudes depending on the season and food availability. 

They are typically grazers, feeding on various Alpine plants including herbs, woody plants, and grasses. They’ll adjust their diet according to the season which means they’re able to survive no matter what is currently growing.

During the breeding season, it’s the females that show aggression, unlike most species where the males fight for the right to breed. However, it’s not that the females are trying to compete for a mate; they’re actually seen boxing potential suitors when they’re not in the mood to be pursued.

Populations of mountain hares are considered to be stable and, as such, the species is listed as being of Least Concern on the IUCN Red List. That said, threats from human disturbance, habitat degradation, and climate change could all become issues in the future if efforts are not continued to protect their habitat.

16. Eurasian Lynx (Lynx lynx)

The Eurasian lynx is a medium-sized feline species that is found in Central Europe, Russia, and Scandinavia at altitudes of up to 16,404 feet (5,000 meters). There are several subspecies of Eurasian lynx, including the Northern, Siberian, and Balkan lynxes. These subspecies are based on location and varying populations may have stronger or weaker numbers. However, generally speaking, the species as a whole is considered to be stable and of Least Concern on the IUCN Red List. 

Despite healthy populations, Eurasian lynx are elusive and difficult to spot in the wild. This is largely due to their nature but also down to their gray, brown, and white coats which ensure they remain concealed. These coats also offer warmth but their metabolism is another adaptation that helps to regulate their temperature in cold climates.

Being carnivores, Eurasian lynx will hunt for everything from small mammals to ungulates and they have strong, muscular bodies and large paws that allow them to tear across the rugged Alpine terrain when in pursuit of their prey. What’s more, their padded paws ensure that they can make stealthy movements when hunting before ambushing their target.

As well as being adept hunters, Eurasian lynx are also formidable climbers. They’ll often be seen in trees which offers them protection as, despite being apex predators, they often come into conflict with humans. Fortunately, there is a lot of protection from humans for the Eurasian lynx, and hunting them is now illegal. What’s more, they are listed as a protected species.

17. Snow Leopard (Panthera uncia)

Found in Central and South Asia, at elevations of up to 16,404 feet (5,000 meters), the snow leopard is one of the most elusive and beautiful creatures in all of the Alpine biomes. These medium-sized felines are well-known for their spotted, light-colored coat which not only help to keep them warm but also ensures they blend into their surroundings. 

Their fur also covers their large paws and this helps them to move with ease across the snow. Since much of the Himalayas and Tibetan Plateau where they are found is covered in rocky terrain, their long tails ensure they’re easily able to balance when navigating their environment.

When it comes to keeping warm, the snow leopard has an amazing ability. Its nasal cavity is so designed that it warms the cold air that the animal breathes in. This, plus the specialized respiratory system means that the snow leopard is able to survive in cold, low-oxygen environments. 

The snow leopard, as I have mentioned, is an elusive creature that has earned them the nickname ‘the ghost of the mountains.’ Like many felines, they’re solitary animals, except when breeding season comes around in winter or early spring. Females take extra special care of their young in dens where they remain dependent on their mother for the first year of life. However, from around the age of five months, she will wean them and teach them how to hunt stealthily for prey such as sheep, urials, tahr, and other animals. 

While the snow leopard has few natural predators, its spotted fur allows it to blend in. This is certainly useful since they are under threat by hunting from humans. But this isn’t the only thing that threatens their numbers; habitat loss and human conflict both play a role in why this beautiful animal is listed as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List, with numbers continuing to decrease.

18. Mountain Lion (Puma concolor)

Known by many different names including the cougar, the puma, and catamount, the mountain lion is a large feline species native to the Americas. It is found at elevations of up to 9,843 feet (3,000 meters) from Yukon in Canada as far south as the Andes.

As is the case with many species, male mountain lions are typically larger than their female counterparts and can grow to weigh up to 159 lbs (72 kg). With a tawny coat, they’re easily able to blend into the rocky environment of their Alpine habitat which comes in handy when hunting for prey such as rabbits, beavers, squirrels, and other small mammals. Sometimes, they’ll even feed on fish and birds. It really depends on what is available and since they have wide-ranging territories, it’s essential that their diet is adaptable.

With a slender, muscular build, mountain lions are incredibly agile and their powerful limbs allow them to easily navigate the rocky terrain. They’ve even been seen to conserve energy by moving slowly uphill or avoiding steep routes. What’s more, their cardiovascular systems are specially adapted to allow them to hunt with endurance. Couple this with their long tails that help them to balance and their fantastic vision and it’s easy to see why they’re at the top of the food chain.

The mountain lion is typically a solitary creature and has an elusive nature, preferring areas with a lot of vegetation cover. That said, they sometimes run into humans, although attacks are rare. Still, one of the biggest threats to the mountain lion is human conflict, closely followed by habitat loss. Fortunately, however, they are listed as being of Least Concern on the IUCN Red List so there’s no immediate danger to the survival of their populations; although numbers are decreasing.

If you’re ever out in mountain lion country, listen out for their loud vocalizations which include purrs, growls, and even screams. They use these sounds to communicate with one another as well as for protection. Mothers will use a series of chirps and whistles to communicate with their young which they may have from as early as 18 months of age.

19. Chinchilla (Chinchillidae family)

The chinchilla is a popular domestic pet and it’s also highly sought after for its dense fur. But these popular animals are naturally found in Alpine regions throughout the Andes at elevations of up to 14,010 feet (4,270 meters).

The fur that makes them so highly prized by humans is actually designed for protection against the cold in the natural environment as well as from UV rays. With more than 20,000 hairs per square inch (3,100 hairs per square centimeter), the chinchilla can lay claim to having the densest coat in the animal kingdom.

They have other adaptations including excellent agility, thanks to their hind legs, that allows them to move effortlessly across rocky terrain. Their large ears help to dissipate heat while their specially adapted respiratory systems mean they’re easily able to thrive in low-oxygen environments.

These small to medium-sized rodents can grow up to 13 inches (33 cm) in length, not including the tail, and have large eyes that provide excellent vision when foraging for grasses and herbs. For water, they’re known to seek out cacti and feast on both the flesh and fruits. They tend to feed at dusk and dawn which keeps them out of the way of predators such as foxes and owls.

Chinchillas may be observed taking dust baths which helps them to keep their dense fur clean and free from contaminants. You may also see them jumping around the terrain and this again, is thanks to their super strong hind legs.

The conservation status of the chinchilla differs between species. Some populations are of Least Concern while others are endangered. Threats come not only from hunting for their fur but from habitat loss and competition for resources. However, it is now illegal to hunt for or trap these animals although it has proved difficult to police this so further work needs to be done.

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