Art by Tim Bower

Why do moose have that weird goatee thing?

The unofficial answer is… well… because… nature’s weird? The flap of skin that hangs underneath a moose’s chin is known as a dewlap, or bell. Scientists have theories about the purpose of the dewlap, including that it may be used for communication during the rut. Another theory is that it may act as a sign of social hierarchy; a larger dewlap could signal a more dominant male. Ultimately, there’s no conclusive evidence explaining exactly why moose have dewlaps. That means the official answer is, well, because nature’s weird.

Nature is, in my opinion, pretty neat. What’s the neatest thing about nature in Alaska?

During winter, wood frogs in Alaska will stop breathing, their hearts will stop beating for days to weeks, and two-thirds of their body will freeze before they thaw and return to life as usual in spring. How crazy is that? How about this one: Female little brown bats can eat as much as 110 percent of their body weight in a single night. Alaska is home to more than 30,000 brown bears, some of the best aurora viewing on the planet, and more than 40 active volcanoes. In a state with so many extreme and marvelous natural wonders, it’s impossible to choose one.

I’ve seen moose and brown bears. What should I look for next?

Keep your eyes peeled for the lesser known Alaskan penguin. They’re shy, aloof, and spend most of their time adding on to and remodeling the complex burrow systems in which they dwell. Alaskan penguins have patterns similar to the famous tuxedo style of their southern counterparts, except the jacket is a light brown, very similar to the color of Carhartt, and their belly is checkered like flannel. Like everything else in Alaska, they’re large, twice the size of an emperor penguin. So don’t piss one off. We recommend avoiding fishing near where an Alaskan penguin is foraging, just in case his feathers get tangled in your line.

How do Alaska Natives use the whales they harvest?

An integral part of life for Yup’ik and Inupiaq people, whaling is a way for indigenous Alaskans to pass on traditional knowledge, strengthen community, and teach skills like patience and perseverance. In addition to cultural significance, whaling in modern Alaska is primarily a source of food. Eleven communities, from Kaktovik in northeastern Alaska to Gambell on St. Lawrence Island, subsistence hunt for bowhead whales. Some communities hunt only in spring or fall, and some communities hunt during both seasons. Whale harvest provides about one million pounds of food during an average year. Replacing that nutrition with store-bought beef would cost residents tens of millions of dollars.

Author

Alexander Deedy is the assistant editor and digital content manager for Alaska magazine.

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