March 1, 2024 at 12:46 pm

How Siberian Horses Evolved To Survive Sub-Zero Temperatures

by Trisha Leigh

Source: Shutterstock

The fact that people have chosen to live in places where it’s almost always freezing cold and dark like, a majority of time has never made sense to me.

You have to write it off as different strokes for different folks, I suppose, because those people probably think beach living is equally untenable.

Where there are people there are domestic animals, though, and they’ve had to evolve to make those conditions survivable, too – like these horses who are content to hang out in Siberia even when the temperatures get as low as -70°C.

The Yakut region in Northern Siberia is one of the coldest places on earth. The horses there have thick winter coats, squat bodies and stubby limbs, and are native to the area.

Source: Shutterstock

Perhaps their neatest survival trick is the ability to reduce their metabolic rate and lower their core body temperatures, effectively hibernating like other mammals in the area do during the coldest days.

The horses, though, do this without becoming inactive. Researchers refer to it as “standing hibernation,” as they’re still having a normal day of moving around and eating.

A 2015 study said this ability is “one of the fastest cases of adaptation to the extreme temperatures of the Arctic.”

When they compared the genomes of present-da Yakutian horses to those in the early 19th century and also some from 5200 years before – then studied all of those against the genomes from the Late Pleistocene era.

Their findings were pretty wild.

“Contemporary Yakutian horses do not descend from the native horses that populated the region until the mid-Holocene. They were most likely introduced following the migration of the Yakut people a few centuries ago.”

Source: Shutterstock

This took place between the 13th and 15th centuries, which means these horses have adapted in just a few hundred years – lightning quick as far as evolution goes.

It’s not uncommon, as there are “only a few evolutionary strategies are compatible with survival in extremely cold environments,” but it is fast.

And a good thing for them, too.

Because Siberia might be the last place on earth to start getting noticeably warmer.

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