Faster, higher, stronger: Athletes in nature
Curious wood turtle (Photo by Ryan M. Bolton)
The Olympic Winter Games are officially underway. Athletes from around the world have arrived in PyeongChang, South Korea, in hopes of scoring a medal for their country in more than 100 events .
While most of us will be watching the Games on a screen, there is a different kind of Olympics happening right outside.
Everyday species are running races, swimming marathon-like distances and high jumping in nature. Instead of medals, these species are competing against each other and the elements for survival.
Northern American river otters are playful mammals that can run 13 to 16 kilometres per hour on ground, but belly slide at 25 kilometre per hour to get around on snowy or icy terrain.
Red and arctic foxes are keen hunters in the land of ice and snow. With their acute senses, they can hear lemmings, voles or mice under all that white fluff. They "dive bomb" their prey with an aerial jump ― their head and half their body get buried deep into the snow, with their fluffy tail waving above ground. Now that's how nature achieves a perfect finish to this sport.
Humans have been swimming since prehistoric times, but it wasn’t until the early 19th century that swimming became a competitive sport. Now there are more than 30 swimming events alone in the Olympic Summer Games. From the 100-metre backstroke to the 10-kilometre marathon, athletes have become one with the water.
Michael Phelps is well acquainted with the Olympic pool. While he may swim an average 7.1 kilometres per hour, he is no match for the Steller sea lion. This species can reach speeds as fast as 29 kilometres per hour — that’s more than four times faster than Phelps!
An Olympic triathlon consists of three rigorous components: a 1,500-metre swim, 40-kilometre cycle and 10-kilometre run. While they may not be able to ride a bike, turtles swim and walk impressive distances in their lifetime. On an average day, a wood turtle can walk and/or swim up to 108 metres. At this rate, the species will travel more than 1,500 kilometres in its lifetime!
Although these athletes may be less decorated then some of our Canadian athletes, Canada’s plants and animals have built a tremendous amount of skill and perseverance to master their "sport" and be a mighty competitor in their respective environments.
Nature is full of everyday champions who live and breathe the Olympic motto: faster, higher, stronger. Take a look at our slideshow below to learn more about a few of Canada’s natural athletes.
North American river otter (Photo by Chris Paul/Wikimedia Commons)
Arctic fox (Photo by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service/Wikimedia Commons)
Golden eagle (Photo by NCC)
George River caribou stag, NL (Photo by David Elliot)
Bur oak, Gore Bay, Manitoulin Island, ON (Photo by NCC)
Pronghorn, AB (Photo courtesy of the University of Calgary)
Puffins (Photo by Bill Caulfeild-Browne)
Spring peeper (Photo by Ryan M. Bolton)
Semipalmated sandpipers, NS (Photo by Christine Gilroy)
Western yellowbelly racer (Photo by James Bettaso, USFWS)