Lesson 10: Animal adaptations - favorite bits

I’m so glad we get this extra week to finish this fantastic course. I loved this lesson - most was information I’d heard before, but as always the Mountains 101 team makes it enthralling.

  • So mountain animals are furrier and stockier - no wonder they are cuter! Especially pikas. I loved that the entomologist described the mountain butterflies as having “nice furry bodies.”
  • Llamas having the highest red blood cell counts made me wonder about their relatives (alpacas and vicunas) - and in fact it looks like all camelids have small RBCs which supposedly is one of the ways the dromedary is adapted to hot and arid climates. Evolution is so amazing!
  • Ptarmigans eat snow and yaks have an extra pair of ribs!
  • New-to-me species: New Zealand alpine cockroach, mountain yellow-legged frog, Banff longnose dace
  • Great words: cryoprotectant, hibernaculum

Same here :grinning_face_with_smiling_eyes:

Three of my favorite bits:

  • Insects that prevent freezing (supercooling) or can even tolerate it!
  • Ptarmigan’s impressive color changes: fully white in winter, but speckled gray/brown in summer.
  • The fact that some animals have evolved specialized hooves. It reminded me of videos I’ve seen of Ibex mountain goats climbing nearly vertical rock walls!

Yes, mountain ungulates will go to great lengths to access critical minerals and nutrients (like Calcium). With one of my students and collaborators from Parks Canada we have been studying the distances that mountain goats will travel to access mineral licks in the Rocky Mountains.

Patterns of decadal, seasonal and daily visitation to mineral licks, a critical resource hotspot for mountain goats Oreamnos americanus in the Rocky Mountains


Since I come from more of a physics background than biology, there was a lot of new stuff for me in lessons 9 and 10. What really blew my mind is how all these seemingly tiny changes, like changing the colour on just some part of a butterfly’s wings to change its albedo and hence its heat uptake, or adding a bit of extra fur for insulation, can actually make a big enough difference for them to naturally select for and gradually adapt to their environment. Each individual adaptation seems insignificant (to me at least), but taken together they enable these animals to live in places their ancestors would not have been able to.


Atleast now I know where Pikachu comes from!


There are so many interesting animals in this Week 10. I’m so impressed by the bar-headed geese flying over the Himalayas honking. The flight described by Sir Lawrence Swan, by the bar-headed geese over Mount Makalu at 8,463m calling each others is astonishing. There are small creatures with great power.