20 Animals That Can Survive in Extreme Environments

“Spectacled eider” by San Diego Shooter is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Earth is an extraordinary place because it has many different environments—from cold to hot. As a result, most people live in places where the weather is just right, but some animals actually prefer the extreme places. Here are the animals that can survive in extreme environments!

West African Lungfish

“File:Protopterus annectens Aquarium Liège 30012016 2.jpg” by Vassil is licensed under CC CC0 1.0

Most fish breathe through gills, but lungfish have a special trick: they can also breathe air using something like lungs. This helps them survive when there’s not much water around, like during a drought. However, when things get dry, they dig into the mud, make a cozy cocoon of mucus, and take a long nap to save energy. And when the rain finally comes back, and there’s water again—they wake up and come out.

Himalayan Jumping Spider

“Eyes of a 3mm Jumping Spider” by Thomas Shahan is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

No animal lives as high up as the Himalayan jumping spider. Climbers have discovered them even at 22,000 feet on Mount Everest! Like other jumping spiders, the Himalayan jumping spider has really good eyesight because it has four big eyes on its face. This helps it see insects that the wind has carried up the mountain so it can jump and catch its food.

Ice Crawlers

“Grylloblattidae (cropped)” by Alex Wild is licensed under CC CC0 1.0

The ice crawler is a fascinating bug that lives in cold areas all over the top half of the world. These insects eat both plants and meat and when it’s freezing—even below freezing, they explore places like the edges of glaciers and ice caves to find food, like dead bugs. But here’s the catch: if the temperature gets warmer than 50° Fahrenheit, most of them can’t survive.

Mountain Stone Wētā

“Mountain Stone Weta Hemideina maori” by Kathy Warburton is licensed under CC BY 4.0

Wetas are big crickets that can’t fly, and they only live in New Zealand. One type, the mountain stone weta, lives in the really cold Southern Alps. When it gets very cold and the temperature drops below freezing, they can freeze, too! But here’s something amazing: when it warms up again, they thaw out and return to living their lives. They’re the biggest bugs that can handle being frozen.

Emperor Penguin

“Emperor Penguins” by Christopher.Michel is licensed under CC BY 2.0

These are the biggest penguins in the world, standing about 45 inches tall. They’re great divers, too—going deeper underwater than any other bird! Unlike most birds, they have strong bones instead of hollow ones, which helps them handle the intense pressure of the water. These penguins also differ because they lay eggs during the harsh Antarctic winter. It gets incredibly cold there, with wind chill reaching -76 degrees Fahrenheit! 

Red Flat Bark Beetle

“Red Flat Bark Beetle – Cucujus clavipes, Leesylvania State Park, Virginia” by Judy Gallagher is licensed under CC BY 2.0

The red flat bark beetle, also called Cucujus clavipes, can be found as far up as Canada and Alaska. Even in really cold places, these beetles manage to survive—especially when they’re babies (larvae). Scientists discovered that they have special proteins and glycerol that work like antifreeze, stopping them from freezing. When it gets cold, like below -76 degrees Fahrenheit, the larvae actually turn into a glass-like state, which helps them stay alive. 

Gray-Crowned Rosy-Finch

“Gray-Crowned Rosy Finch” by carfull…from Wyoming is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Gray-crowned rosy-finches are really tough birds. They make their homes in rocky areas from Alaska down to high mountain spots like the Sierra Nevada. These birds are strong. In fact, they probably build their nests higher up than any other bird in North America. Some of them nest on the slopes of Mount Denali—which is a towering 20,310 feet high.


“Reindeer” by Marie Hale is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Caribou are experts at handling tough weather. Their fur has special hollow hairs that keep them warm—and their big hooves help them walk on snow. They can even dig through the snow to find their favorite food. What’s really interesting is that they are the only deer that have antlers. Male caribou use theirs to protect their mates during mating season, but even pregnant females use their antlers in winter to defend their feeding spots.

Spectacled Eider

“Threatened spectacled eider male (Somateria fischeri), Alaska SeaLife Center, Seward, Alaska” by USFWS Headquarters is licensed under CC BY 2.0

The Spectacled eider is a type of sea duck. They make their homes in the chilly coastal areas of Alaska and northeast Russia. They love munching on seafood like clams and worms. When winter rolls around, all 370,000 of them gather in the Bering Sea. They hang out in groups in spots where the water is about 200 feet deep. Their thick feathers help them stay warm in the freezing cold water.

Polar Bears

“Polar bear” by tharendra is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0

Polar bears are amazing at handling very cold weather as well. They live in places where winter can last about four months—and it gets as cold as -29 degrees Fahrenheit! Their fur has two layers: a thick, warm layer underneath and special hairs on top that look white and help them blend in with the snow. Underneath all that fur, they’ve got a layer of fat that can be up to 4.5 inches thick. 

Spinoloricus Cinziae

“Spinoloricus” by Roberto Danovaro, Antonio Dell’Anno, Antonio Pusceddu, Cristina Gambi, Iben Heiner & Reinhardt Mobjerg Kristensen is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Almost all animals need oxygen to survive, but in 2010, scientists discovered something surprising. They found a tiny creature called Spinoloricus cinziae that doesn’t need oxygen at all! It’s the only animal known to live and even thrive in an environment completely without oxygen. Before this discovery, folks thought only tiny microbes could survive without oxygen. But spinoloricus cinziae lives about 2.2 miles below the surface of the Mediterranean Sea—where there’s no oxygen.


“CT scan: Mariana snailfish-1” by uwnews is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

In December 2014, the Schmidt Ocean Institute went on an expedition to the deepest part of the ocean, called the Marianas Trench. They discovered a new kind of sailfish living five miles below the surface. That’s like 8 kilometers down! This area is incredibly intense—with pressure over 1,000 times higher than what we feel at the surface, and it’s always dark down there. This sailfish broke records because it’s the deepest fish ever found. 

Giant Tube Worms

“Giant Tube Worms” by Ryan Somma is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Way down on the ocean floor, like a mile or more below the surface of the Pacific Ocean, there are these fascinating creatures called giant tube worms. They live in a special environment that doesn’t rely on the sun at all. Instead, they hang out near something called black smokers, which are like underwater hot springs. Also, these smokers pump out heat and minerals—creating a whole ecosystem that’s totally different from what we see up here.

Wood Frog

“Wood Frog (Rana sylvatica)” by 2ndPeter is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Wood frogs are very common in the forests of northeastern USA and most of Canada. Like a lot of frogs that live in colder places, they’re good at handling the cold weather. But here’s what makes them stand out: they can survive being frozen solid. Every year, they freeze up and then thaw out again. For example—the Alaskan wood frog can freeze at temperatures as low as -16°C.


“A Tardigrade” by peter.v.b is licensed under CC PDM 1.0

These tiny creatures, just a millimeter long, live in water, and they’re like the superheroes of the animal world. People even call them Earth’s toughest animals. They can handle super freezing temperatures as low as -272°C and scorching hot ones up to 151°C. Plus, they can survive in really tough conditions like a vacuum or high pressures, even more intense than what’s at the bottom of the ocean. Also, they can even survive radiation levels! 

Sahara Desert Ant

“Муравей-бегунок Cataglyphis nodus / Cataglyphis nodus / Desert ant Cataglyphis nodus / Мравка файтонджийка Cataglyphis nodus / Wüstenameisen bezeichnet Cataglyphis nodus” by katunchik is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Even though the Sahara Desert is veryhot—it’s not empty of life. There’s this ant called cataglyphis bicolour that’s really tough. Also, it can wander around on the scorching hot sand when it’s as hot as 70°C. Even when it’s the hottest part of the day, this ant will come out of its home to search for food. It uses its sense of smell and even counts its steps to make sure it doesn’t get lost .

Rüppell’s Vulture

“Rüppell’s Vulture (Gyps rueppelli) (21160089681)” by Lip Kee from Singapore, Republic of Singapore is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Meet Rüppell’s vulture, a bird that calls the Sahel belt home. What’s really cool about this bird is its flying skills. It can soar way up high—reaching heights of 37,000 feet. That’s almost as high as those big airplanes you see in the sky! At such heights, the air is really thin, but these clever birds have a special protein that helps them breathe better, making survival up there possible.


“Purple Cup Sponges” by icelight is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Did you know that if you have a bath sponge, you have one of the oldest creatures on Earth? These weird animals have been around for a whopping 670 million years. Actually, they’re the oldest group of animals we know about! Some types of these sponges thrive in harsh places where you wouldn’t expect any life—like the deep ocean where it’s totally dark. Even though they can’t move on their own, they’re incredibly tough.

Pompeii Worm

“Alvinella pompejana” by Kanijoman is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Deep under the ocean, where sunlight can’t reach, there are special places near underwater volcanoes called hydrothermal vents. These vents are very hot and full of minerals. Surprisingly, even in these extreme conditions, there are whole communities of creatures living there. One of them is the Pompeii worm—which can handle scorching temperatures up to 175°F (79°C).