Shelledy Elementary

Awesome Adaptations

Colorado Life Zones: Seasons, Plants, & Animals

Step 1: Choose One of the Life Zones or Choices Below

Life Zones Menu Bar
Colorado Life Zones General Information Interactive Elevation & Life Zone Diagram Colorado Maps: Life Zones and More Semidesert Shrublands (West CO) Shortgrass Plains Life Zone (East CO) Foothills Woodlands & Shrublands Montane Forests Life Zone Subalpine Life Zone Alpine Life Zone Riparian Life Zones

Subalpine Life Zone: Seasons, Plants, & Animals

Step 2: Choose a Topic from the Subalpine Life Zone & Scroll Down

Subalpine Life Zone General Information
General Information

Subalpine Life Zone Through the Seasons
Through the Seasons

Subalpine Life Zone Extreme Weather
Extreme Weather

Subalpine Life Zone Awesome Adaptations
Awesome Adaptations

Subalpine Life Zone Plants and Trees
Plants and Trees

Subalpine Life Zone Mammals

Subalpine Life Zone Birds

Subalpine Life Zone Reptiles and Amphibians
Reptiles & Amphibians

Subalpine Life Zone: Awesome Adaptations

Colorado and the Rocky Mountains have many different plants and animals that have made awesome adaptations to live in the different life zones. Here are just a few.

Bristlecone Pine
Bristlecone Pine


Rocky Mountain Bighorn Sheep
Rocky Mountain Bighorn Sheep

Canada Lynx
Canada Lynx

Tiger Salamander
Tiger Salamander

American Dipper
American Dipper

Awesome Adaptations: Bristlecone Pine

Here in the subalpine, there is quite an amazing tree. The bristlecone pine is one of the longest living trees on the planet. Some may be thousands of years old. They only grow a little bit each year. When the Egyptians were building the pyramids some of these trees just started growing from their seed. The oldest tree, named "Methuselah", is over 4,700 years old. The branches of the tree twist and turn in every direction. Parts of the tree look almost dead and other parts are very alive and full of needles. The bristlecone pine is truly remarkable to live that long in such a harsh life zone.

Sources of information and to find more information :Blue Planet Biome,Ancient Bristlecone Pine,CSU

Bristlecone Pine Bristlecone Pine
Bristlecone Pine Bristlecone Pine

Awesome Adaptations: Krummholz

The upper edge of subalpine is tree line, (above where trees no longer grow). As you get close to the tree line, the different pine trees get shorter and shorter. These dwarf pine trees are called krummholz. They are the same species as the ones lower in the subalpine, only their growth has been slowed by the extreme weather and elevation. See the pictures below for more information.

Tree Line Krummholz
1. The tree line is where the subalpine stops and the alpine begins. It is so cold, windy, snowy, and high up in elevation that most trees can't grow any higher there. 2. Higher than most trees are small pine trees called krummholz. They are the same kinds of trees as lower but they grow only a little each year. They are small, but they can be very old!
Krummholz krummholz
3. If you take a closer look at krummholz trees and trees by the tree line, you may see that one side of the tree is growing well and the other half of the tree seems dead. 4. This will tell you which way most of storms and winds blow. The windy side has little growing on it and the protected side has lots more branches.

Awesome Adaptations: Rocky Mountain Bighorn Sheep

There is a reason why the Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep is the state mammal of Colorado. Its many adaptations have inspired people of the beauty and ruggedness of Colorado. First, the bighorn sheep lives in cold, windy, and steep places. The bighorn sheep has warm fur to protect from the wind and snow. It has special hooves, an excellent sense of balance, and strong legs that help the bighorn climb the steep rocky mountains.Bighorn sheep need to eat lots of grass and shrubs in the short spring, summer, and fall to put on enough fat to survive the winter. During harsh winter, bighorns may move down to the subalpine or montane foothills life zones. The Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep have found a way to live in very harsh life zones.

Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep live in groups called flocks. The females are called ewes and have smaller horns. The male mountain bighorn sheep, called rams, have large c-shaped horns. Bighorn sheep keep their horns their whole life and do not shed them, unlike the elk that grow and sheds antlers each year. Over it's lifetime, a ram's horns will continue to grow and get more curly. During mating season in the fall, the rams run at each other and butt heads to prove who is the strongest ram that will mate with the ewes. The collisions can be quite strong and the cracking sound may be heard from far away. They can do this because they have thick skulls and strong necks.

The Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep population has been threatened by diseases brought bydomestic sheep and cows, loss of habitat, and overhunting in the late 1800's and early 1900's. They use to number over 1 million in the western United States. By the 1950's, the population in the Colorado numbered around 2,000 mountain bighorn sheep and lived in only a small part of the state. The Colorado Division of Wildlife has helped the population of bighorn sheep to grow and have been relocating mountain bighorn sheep across the state. Today their numbers are around 70,000 (*Defenders of Wildlife) in the western United States. As humans build their cabins, ranches, and houses further in the mountains we must recognize and respect we are building our homes in wild places that need to be kept wild. We must also be careful when bringing new species to an area that they may affect the native animals. The diseases brought by domestic sheep have killed many native mountain bighorn sheep. The Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep is a symbol of Colorado and the west, and we need to protect this proud rugged animal.

Sources of information and to find more information:Nature Works,CO Div of Wildlife,Defenders of Wildlife

Rocky Mountain Bighorn Sheep Rocky Mountain Bighorn Sheep
Rocky Mountain Bighorn Sheep Rocky Mountain Bighorn Sheep ramming

Awesome Adaptations: Canada Lynx

The Canada lynxis a beautiful cat that has many adaptations to help it live the cold snowy rough Rocky Mountains. The lynx have thick whitish-tan and gray warm fur to protect them from the cold snowy weather. The fur also helps it blend into its habitat. They have excellent senses of sight, smell, and hearing. They use these to hunt their most common food, snowhoe hares. They sometimes will also eat other small animals or weakened or sick larger animals like deer. The Canada lynx have an advantage hunting in the snow. The lynx have very large paws that help it stay on top of the snow instead of sinking in the deep snow. It is the same reason humans wear snowshoes in the winter. The lynx is great at silently sneaking up and ambushing its prey. When the lynx catches its prey, it will sink its sharp claws in the animal and bite with its sharp teeth in the neck to try and suffocate the prey. They make look cute and cuddly, but the Canada lynx is one tough cat.

The Canada lynx had lived in land that is now Colorado for a long time before settlers came from the eastern United States. However, they were hunted for their furs and killed because they were a larger predator in the 1800's and early 1900's. The Colorado Division of Wildlife has brought the Canada lynx back to the state to hopefully set up a large enough population to stay in the state. Canada lynx are still doing well in the northern Rocky Mountains, and some of those cats were captured and released in Colorado. The Canada lynx may be easy to get confused with the bobcat. They look similar except the lynx is bigger and their are other small differeences. So if you see a lynx in the wild: 1. You are incredibly lucky and need to respect its space. 2. You should report it to the Colorado Division of Wildlife about when and where you spotted the Canada lynx.

Sources of information and to find more information:Nature Works,CO Div of Widlife,Bear Country USA

Canada Lynx Canada Lynx

Awesome Adaptations: Tiger Salamander

Tiger Salamanders have found a way to live in a cold and high climate. Most of the year snow covers the ground in the subalpine. During this time, tiger salamanders hide underground in a small chamber. The ground keeps the temperature from getting to cold. But for a few months in the summer time, it digs its way up, mates, and lays lots of eggs in the newly formed ponds. The eggs quickly turn to larvae and grow gills. They live underwater eating any insects, fish, and fresh water shrimp. As they get bigger some of the salamanders lose their gills and live on the land. They can have beautiful bright yellow and grayish-black patterns on their skin. A tiger salamander will eat any insect or animal that it can fit in its mouth. Some tiger salamander never lose their gills and stay in the water for their entire life. Tiger salamanders with gills are often called waterdogs or mudpuppies. By late August most tiger salamanders have dug themselves a new chamber deep underground waiting for the next summer.

Sources of information and to find more information:CO Herp. Society,Hogle Zoo,Bush Gardens,eNature

Tiger Salamander

Tiger Salamander with gills, often called a waterdog or mudpuppy

Tiger Salamander Tiger Salamander

Awesome Adaptations: American Dipper

When hiking high in the mountains, people may sometimes see a dull colored gray bird by a mountain stream and may not think twice about it. But, the American dipper is a truly amazing bird. The dipper dives in the bone chilling cold streams to catch food. It eats aquatic insects, worms, and small fish. The bird often dips under the water, comes back up, and dips its head under the water again looking for food, thus the name dipper. More amazingly, It can walk underwater on the bottom of the stream looking under rocks for food. It also uses its wings to swim and catch food. Its warm thick set of feathers keep it warm. In the winter time, the bird may head down the stream to the foothills and montane life zones.

Snowmelt water flowing down the mountain can have lots of force or strength. Many people have been seriously hurt trying to cross small mountain streams only to be surprised at the waters strong power and slipping on wet rocks. Aside from the possible serious injuries from the fall, the hiker will get to experience the frigid water. The water seems like it instantly sucks all your body heat away and a person might think it is so cold that it should still be ice. If a person is not careful, he or she may get hypothermia from being wet and cold. For such a small bird to live and thrive in streams with strong current andbone chilling cold water, makes the American dipper one remarkable bird.

Sources of information and to find more information:All About Birds,South Dakota Birds,Bird Web,CSU

An American dipper by a stream

Looking for food

American Dipper American Dipper