Learning about how arctic animals stay warm in temperatures well below freezing is fascinating. This hands-on winter science experiment gives kids a very corporeal understanding of how animals like polar bears, penguins, seals, whales, and walruses have adapted to live in some of the harshest conditions on the planet.
This winter we curled up on the couch and learned all about the people and animals that live at the poles. Thinking about how Arctic animals stay warm in such frigid conditions is mind-boggling.
Animals such as whales, seals, polar bears, and penguins have developed many adaptations that allow them to thrive in subzero weather. One of those adaptations is a thick layer of blubber underneath their skin that provides insulation and warmth. To show the kids how effective blubber is at keeping an animal warm we did this simple hands-on winter science experiment.
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How Arctic Animals Stay Warm
To do our science experiment we gathered a few supplies:
- Bowl full of ice water
- Shortening (like Crisco)
- Paper towels for easy clean up
First, I had the kids place their bare hands in the ice water. We counted how many seconds they could leave their hands in before it was too uncomfortable. My seven-year-old lasted about 15 seconds while my five-year-old lasted about 10 seconds.
Next, we coated one finger with a thick layer of shortening to simulate blubber. Some animals only have a couple of inches of blubber covering their bodies, while some large whales can have a layer of blubber over a foot thick! It’s no wonder these Arctic animals stay warm!
Once their fingers were covered in shortening the kids immersed them again into the ice water. This time they kept their fingers in the icy water for over a minute, reporting that they couldn’t feel the cold water at all through the fatty layer! They were impressed!
Once they were done they wiped off their hands with a paper towel and then washed with warm water and soap. Clean up was surprisingly a breeze.
More Fun Facts
In addition to reading tons of books about Antarctica and the Arctic, we also watched the BBC production Frozen Planet. Here are a few interesting things we learned:
- Polar bears live in the Arctic while penguins live in Antarctica. So while we often think of these two animals living in the same place, they actually live half a world a world away from each other!
- Blubber can also be a source of stored up energy if the animal ever finds itself without an immediate food source. Some whales, for example, only eat for a few months out of the year and then live on their blubber the rest of the year.
- There is a caterpillar called the banded woolly bear caterpillar that eats frantically during the summer and then freezes solid during the winter. Because the summers are so short in the Arctic it takes up to 14 years for the caterpillar to get big enough to pupate and turn into a moth!
Can’t get enough? Scroll down for 20 awesome penguin activities for kids!