Do Insects Live in Antarctica?

Antarctica is one of the least hospitable places on this planet. But then, we all know that insects are tenacious and unrelenting even in the most hostile climates. Let us bring these two concepts together, then, and ask: Do insects live in Antarctica? 

Yes, they do! But there are only three species of insects that can stand the living conditions in Antarctica. From the three insects only one, the Antarctic midge, also known as Belgica Antarctica, is actually native to Antarctica. This insect is the largest purely terrestrial animal that is native to the continent – which says a lot, given that this midge grows scarcely bigger than a human fingernail, and it is the only insect that stays in Antarctica all year long. 

Even though the Antarctic midge stays in Antarctica year-round, it is only active in the summer when the temperature is over 39 degrees Fahrenheit. It has a special trick to survive the freezing temperatures during the rest of the year: usually, when insects freeze, the water inside their body expands, which causes irreparable damage.

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The Antarctic midge, though, is able to dehydrate its tissue, which makes it capable of surviving temperatures of 5 degrees Fahrenheit (the freezing point of water is 32 degrees Fahrenheit!). It is able to lose about 70% of its bodily fluids and can go up to a month without oxygen. All in all, the Antarctic midge spends about nine months of the year frozen solid. 

Because food is so scarce in Antarctica, insects of this species take two years to reach adulthood. Antarctic midges are flightless – it is not as if the capability to fly would be of any use on a continent where scarcity reigns everywhere. 

Studying the Antarctic midge helps scientists working on the technologies for cryopreservation, which is the ability to store things in the cold for a very, very long time. Researching how Antarctic midges survive their long inactive periods during the cold months can help us to learn how to best store organs for transplantation, for example. 

Cute penguins on stony beach in the cold Antarctica region
Cute penguins on stony beach in the cold Antarctica region

Another insect living in Antarctica is the Rhagidia mite, a tiny, reddish mite related to spiders. Those mites hunt for springtails, a very primitive form of insect. The hierarchy of terrestrial predators you will find on every continent thus looks very different in Antarctica. Instead of lions hunting gazelles or bears going after deers, you have a tiny mite that is one millimeter long preying on springtails that are even smaller. 

Which Animals Live in Antarctica? 

Antarctica is best suited for animals that spend a large amount – or all – of their life in the water. But even these animals like seals, whales, various birds, and penguins tend to only visit Antarctica in the summer. Since the marine animals visiting Antarctica are warm-blooded, they are mostly quite big, like whales and Elephant seals, to prevent themselves from freezing.

Smaller animals, like penguins, stay cozy thanks to their waterproof feathers and insulating blubber beneath their skin. In their legs, penguins have arteries that are able to adjust blood flow and just feed the food enough blood to keep it a few degrees above freezing. 

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Do Insects Live in the Arctic Circle? 

Yes, compared to Antarctica the Arctic circle offers an almost cozy home for several types of insects. There are bees and wasps, butterflies and moths, mosquitoes, and, mostly, flies. Most of these insects feed on plant matter, and only the female mosquitoes need the blood of animals.

Even though the insects are largely the same that you will find in a more temperate climate, they have certain adaptations that make living in a harsh climate easier. Bumblebees living in the Arctic circle have a warmer coat than their relatives down south, and some caterpillars have certain chemicals in their blood that prevents their bodies from freezing solid. 

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Are There People Native to Antarctica? 

Polar research ice camp over a drifting ice floe in Antarctica
Polar research ice camp over a drifting ice floe in Antarctica

No. The great ice sheet around the south pole has an extremely inhospitable climate, and where only so few insects dwell, humans stand even less of a chance. The firsts sighting of Antarctica is said to have happened in 1820 by two Russian ships under the command of Captain Fabian Gottlieb von Bellingshausen. It would take until 1898 until humans first stayed ashore for more than a year.

The only people who ever inhabited Antarctica are scientists on their research stations. They usually do not stay longer than one or two years and most of the personnel on the scientific stations go home during winter.