Terrestrial Animals

In regions of extreme living conditions, the fauna comprises few species although these often occur in vast numbers. On the sub-Antarctic islands there are a few native land birds-two duck species and a small pipit at South Georgia and one duck on Iles Kerguelen. The mammals, such as reindeer, rabbits, cats, rats and mice have all been introduced by man.

A variety of large invertebrates are conspicuous on these islands, especially amongst the vegetation which provides a source of food, moisture, shelter and warmth. Flies and midges are commonly seen in the air, and some islands also have small moths. Beetles, the largest of all indigenous southern polar land invertebrates, spiders, mites and springtails also occur commonly.

In the soil, earthworms are sometimes seen and there are a few snail species. Many forms of microscopic animals live in the film of water adhering to plants, especially mosses, and in the damper soils.

At more southerly latitudes the terrestrial fauna is much less diverse. Springtails, no more than 2mm in length, and mites occur in great quantities amongst mosses, lichens and beneath stones, especially near penguin and petrel colonies.

One species of mite has been found only a few hundred kilometers from the South Pole. A very few species of wingless midge occur on the Antarctic Peninsula and one winged species inhabits some of the South Shetland Islands.

The remaining animal populations comprise microscopic protozoa and slightly larger groups, such as nematode worms, rotifers and tardigrades, which occupy the moister mosses and soils.

The three species of duck which inhabit some of the sub-Antarctic islands feed mainly on freshwater algae; they also graze mosses and flowering plants at pool margins and take small freshwater and marine crustaceans. The diet of the South Georgia Pipit is mainly insects, spiders and seeds, although in winter they feed in small flocks along the shoreline, presumably on marine invertebrates. In sub-Antarctic and Antarctic coastal areas, the omnivorous sheathbill scavenges the shoreline and penguin colonies.


 • Australian Antarctic Data Centre fact files
Introductory information about Antarctic and subantarctic animals, plants and features.
 • Prehistory
More background information on the prehistory of Antarctica.
 • Antarctic Adventure 1997
Information on the geography and climate of Antarctica.