Moss menagerie

The South Orkney Islands are volcanic islands near Antarctica. There are only two flowering plants that can survive in this icy country - one is a kind of thrift and the other is a small stunted grass. There seems to be no land living animals of any kind. However, when the snow melts in the summer, there are more than 100 different kinds of mosses and lichens attached to the rocks. These plants are able to survive freezing temperatures and some can even survive being frozen solid for weeks on end. Within the mini-jungle lives hundreds of tiny animals which graze on the lichens and mosses during the summer. In winter they almost grind to a halt but they survive unfrozen because their blood contains a kind of anti-freeze and remains liquid even when the temperature falls well below zero. Most are vegetarian but amongst them are tiny carnivorous mites that clamber around the grazing herds, eating whichever grazers they choose. In this extreme cold, the processes of life are slowed down. Not only do things grow slower, but even old age is delayed and these tiny creatures live years longer than their warm climate relatives.

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