Glacier Mouse

Posted by on Nov 18, 2017 in Unmowed Blog | 0 comments

This is a glacier mouse. These adorably fuzzy little balls of green fluff are as close as anything in the plant kingdom comes to being a mammal.

They’re actually a type of moss, but they’re known as glacier mice–no kidding, that’s really what scientists call them. They’re found only on glaciers, in chilly places like Iceland and the Himalayas.

This fall I spent two weeks exploring Iceland, and one of my most memorable adventures was a hike on a glacier. Crampons, ice axe, and all. (Not that I needed them to scale the glacier or leap crevasses, as I trudged with a dozen other tourists behind the guide, but still, it was fun to wear the costume. Like wearing a cowboy hat when riding a horse–you don’t need it but it’s cool.)

The glacier was…well, awesome is an overused word. But it did indeed fill me with a sense of awe to set foot on the back of an immense glacier. I use the word “back” deliberately, as it almost seemed like the glacier was a great animal, a living thing, a big frozen dragon creeping with infinite slowness across the land.

So how did a little ball of moss get onto a glacier? The glacier mouse started out as a tiny moss spore, drifting over the blue-white ice. It avoided cracks and crevasses and somehow managed to plunk itself down on a pebble, where it sprouted little rootlike holdfasts and tiny leaves, small as mouse’s ears. Eventually it grew into a fuzzy, mouse-sized ball of moss. The dark leaves absorbed sun, melting the ice under them and providing water for the mouse to drink, so to speak.

Whole herds of glacier mice roam across the glacier, wandering wherever the wind blows them. They live for years on this most barren of all habitats. The inside of the mossball is a few degrees above freezing, and so it can shelter tiny, insect-like creatures like springtails and tardigrades.

Mice hitching a ride on the giant dragon’s back.

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