Flora And Fauna Of Antarctica: Representative Species

The flora and fauna of Antarctica is the least diverse of all the continents, due to the extreme climatic conditions of this territory. Antarctica is 98% covered by a layer of ice up to 2,500 meters thick, with temperatures reaching -90 ° C and annual rainfall of 200 mm in the form of snow.

In addition, living beings must resist constant winds that exceed 100 km / h. Under these conditions it is impossible to develop a vegetation cover and therefore the existence of a diverse fauna.

Penguins in Antarctica. Source: Jason Auch / CC BY (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)

However, in limited coastal areas on the western side, conditions are somewhat suitable for life. Therefore, it is there and in the surrounding ocean that most of the flora and fauna of Antarctica inhabit.

The flora is limited to three species of flowering plants, one of which is introduced, in addition there are about 750 species of fungi. As for lichens there are 400 species and mosses and liverworts add up to 125 species.

For its part, the fauna observable in the terrestrial environment is limited and closely linked to the marine environment. Except for some insects, the rest of the fauna is considered under the classification of marine fauna, including birds.

Article index

  • one

    Fauna of Antarctica

    • 1.1

      Seals (Phocidae family)

    • 1.2

      Sea lions (family Otariidae)

    • 1.3

      Dolphins and killer whales (family Delphinidae)

    • 1.4

      Blue whale (Balaenoptera musculus subspecies intermedia)

    • 1.5

      Penguins (Spheniscidae family)

    • 1.6

      Southern Giant Petrel (Macronectes giganteus)

    • 1.7

      Icefish (suborder Notothenioidei)

    • 1.8

      Antarctic Krill (Euphausia superba)

  • two

    Flora of Antarctica

    • 2.1

      Antarctic hair grass (Deschampsia antarctica)

    • 2.2

      Antarctic pearl (Colobanthus quitensis)

    • 23

      Annual bluegrass (Poa annua)

  • 3


Fauna of Antarctica

Seals (Phocidae family)

Leptonychotes weddellii

The so-called true seals are characterized by not having ears, the ears being reduced to openings without a canopy. They are marine mammals with small rounded heads and cat-like whiskers, with flattened-tipped legs that function as flippers for swimming.

Among the species found in Antarctica are the Weddell seal (

Leptonychotes weddellii

) and the crabeater seal (

Lobodon carcinophagus

). Like the leopard seal

Hydrurga leptonyx

) and Ross’s seal (

Ommatophoca rossii


Sea lions (family Otariidae)

Arctocephalus gazella female

Sea lions have a body similar to seals, but unlike seals, they do have visible ears, although very small. On the other hand, they move better on land than seals, because they have more developed pectoral muscles and front flippers.

In fact they are able to raise their chest and head off the ground. The Antarctic sea lion or Antarctic fur seal (

Arctocephalus gazella

) and the sea lion (

Mirounga leonina


Dolphins and killer whales (family Delphinidae)

Southern or Antarctic dolphin (Lagenorhynchus australis). Source: FDrummondH / CC BY-SA (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)

Dolphins are toothed aquatic mammals that hunt by echolocation (they emit sharp sounds that impact obstacles and bounce, being captured in an organ that allows them to locate said object). These cetaceans have a large dorsal fin, pectoral fins and a horizontal fin-shaped tail, they are very intelligent and communicate with a wide variety of sounds and movements.

Among the species of dolphins that inhabit Antarctica is the southern or Antarctic dolphin (

Lagenorhynchus australis

). Just like the crossed dolphin (

Lagenorhynchus cruciger

) with its characteristic black color with white bands and the Strait of Magellan inhabits the piebald dolphin or tonina overa (

Cephalorhynchus commersonii


Other species of the family also inhabit these waters that are not normally recognized as dolphins, but as whales. These are the killer whale

Orcinus orca

) and the long-finned pilot whale (

Globicephala melas


Blue whale ( Balaenoptera musculus subspecies intermedia )

Blue whale

This cetacean belongs to the group of baleen whales, that is, those that have baleen instead of teeth. These are a series of filaments that filter seawater and retain food, mainly krill.

The blue whale is the largest existing animal, reaching 190 tons in weight and more than 30 m in length. Therefore, it is at least 10 times the length of an elephant and more than 30 times its weight.

Penguins ( Spheniscidae family )

Emperor penguin (Aptenodytes forsteri). Source: Ian Duffy from UK / CC BY (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)

In Antarctica there is the greatest diversity of these flightless birds that feed by fishing in the cold waters. For this they have special adaptations, such as the air that they accumulate between their feathers to protect from the cold and favor flotation, and their wings, which have become fins to be able to propel themselves in the swim.

Pygoscelis adeliae

Among the species located in Antarctica the most abundant is the Adelie penguin (

Pygoscelis adeliae

). In addition, there is the largest species, the emperor penguin (

Aptenodytes forsteri


Others are the rockhopper penguin (

Eudyptes chrysocome

) and the chinstrap penguin (

Pygoscelis antarcticus

). Just like the gentoo penguin (

Pygoscelis papua

) and the macaroni penguin (

Eudyptes chrysolophus


Southern Giant Petrel ( Macronectes giganteus )

Macronectes giganteus

It is a bird about 100 cm long with a wingspan of just over 2 m, weighing up to almost 6 kg. It is brown in color with white to almost black spots, lighter head and chest, as well as the ends of the at.

As the large light orange yellow bill with a greenish tip and greyish brown legs, they feed on fish, krill, squid and other seabirds.

Icefish (suborder Notothenioidei )

Icefish (suborder Notothenioidei)

The fish populations of this group represent 90% of the mass of fish that inhabit the marine waters of Antarctica. They are characterized by the absence of a swim bladder, nostrils on the sides of the head as well as the very elongated dorsal and tail fin.

Likewise, they have three lateral sensitive lines, which are organs for capturing variations in pressure or movement of water. On the other hand, many of its species have antifreeze proteins in their blood to adapt to cold waters.

An example of this is the Antarctic toothfish (

Dissostichus mawsoni

), a fish that can reach up to 1.7 m in length and 135 kg in weight.

Antarctic Krill ( Euphausia superba )

Antarctic Krill

This tiny crustacean is similar to a shrimp, is part of zooplankton and is an important part of the food chain. They live in schools of thousands of animals per cubic meter and feed on phytoplankton.

Krill is the staple food of baleen or filter whales such as the blue whale and many other animals.

Flora of Antarctica

Antarctic hair grass ( Deschampsia antarctica )

Antarctic hair grass (Deschampsia antarctica). Source: Lomvi2 / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)

This herb inhabits the South Orkney Islands and South Shetlands, as well as the coasts of the Antarctic Peninsula. Although due to global warming, this grass is increasing the number of individuals and advancing to the south of the peninsula.

It is also located in areas of Patagonia in the southern cone of South America and in the Falkland Islands. It is a perennial herb that forms extensive lawns through rhizomes and stolons.

Antarctic pearl ( Colobanthus quitensis )

Antarctic pearl (Colobanthus quitensis). Source: Liam Quinn / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)

It is a perennial caryophyll that grows in the shape of a cushion between rocks protected from the winds. It has light green, simple and somewhat triangular colored leaves, with yellow flowers that produce capsules with numerous seeds. It is distributed by the Antarctic Peninsula and the nearby archipelagos up to the Andes, reaching Ecuador.

Annual bluegrass ( Poa annua )

Annual bluegrass (Poa annua). Source: Forest & Kim Starr / CC BY (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)

This species also belongs to the grass family, but in this case it is a non-native plant (not typical of Antarctica), but has been introduced there by humans. It is an annual herb with short, erect, light green leaves that grows in clusters or clusters.

This species is found almost everywhere in the world in temperate and cold conditions, including the tropical Andes.


  1. British Antarctic Survey. Bedmap2. Natural Environment Research Council. (Seen on July 18, 2020). Taken from:

  2. Mackintosh, NA (1960). The Pattern of Distribution of the Antarctic Fauna. Proceedings of the Royal Society of London. Series B, Biological Sciences.
  3. Peat, HJ, Clarke, A. and Convey, P. (2006). Diversity and biogeography of the Antarctic flora. Journal of Biogeography.
  4. Schiavini, ACM, Yorio, PM, Gandini, PA, Raya-Rey, AN and Boersma, PD (2005). The penguins of the Argentine coasts: population status and conservation. The Hornero.
  5. Smith, R. (1981). The earliest report of a flowering plant in the Antarctic ?. Polar Record.
  6. World Wild Life. Tundra. (As seen on July 15, 2020). Taken from worldwildlife.org

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