5 – a brief reflection

Just a short reflection to round up this PT before I hand it in.

I have definitely learnt a lot more about the tundra. I never knew there were 2 kinds of tundras, and at that I only had a slight understanding of the tundra fauna.

Some interesting discoveries were:

  • Tundra plants’ roots grow horizontally
  • Reindeer can swim!
  • Reindeer actually stand only on their toes in winter (hard to imagine, isn’t it? tiptoeing for 10 months…)
  • Arctic hares are HUGE. They come up to a 2m-tall man’s knee. (from National Geographic)

I must say this was an interesting PT, although it was very complicated. It definitely required a greater amount of teamwork compared to other projects and a good understanding of AV stuff (like iMovie, which I floundered with while trying to add sound to the video).

One takeaway was that everything is connected in nature. All our organisms had to be adapted to one another, and if one organism was gone the whole food web would collapse. This shows how crucial each and every animal is to the Earth, even annoying mosquitoes.

Shouldn’t we taking action then, and playing our part to save the animals from extinction? The new panda celebrities Jia Jia and Kai Kai are already here to spread the message. If we could just refuse a plastic bag, or clean up after a picnic at the beach, it could save a life.

(For a visual representation of this, go to Hui Min’s blog – the entry dated Sep 9 2012, named Guilty – Yuumei)

At the very least, this shows how we should work together instead of lamenting how other groupmates are lazy, the project deadline is too soon etc.

Some food for thought. Anyway, I’m sure I have crossed the 150 word limit, so this marks the end of our Biology PT.

Here’s our video. The food web (which I forgot to upload) is in the video, so do have a look.




4 – Making the model

This is the sketch of my finalised organism:

In case you were wondering why I had no reference to the producer so far, it is because she is still coming up with her organism (she’s really busy cause of CCA). So she is adapting to me instead of me to her. Puzzling, isn’t it?

**For the whole design process, I based my adaptations on the general features of tundra plants.

Materials used:

Papier mache

  • Newspaper
  • Masking tape
  • Kitchen towels
  • PVA glue + water


  • Paint
  • Black permanent marker
  • Styrofoam
  • Polyester stuffing
  • Felt, needle and thread
  • Double-sided tape

[ I forgot to take pictures of the steps, so I’ll have to make do with these few pictures ><]


3/9/12 – 4/9/12

  1. First, I used newspaper and masking tape to make the shape of the goat
  2. I then tore up newspaper, dipped the pieces in glue and pasted them all over the surface of the model
  3. Lastly, I cut up kitchen towels and repeated step 2 with them
  4. After leaving the model to dry, it turned into a hard white sculpture:

I made the mouth open to show the specialised teeth of the goat. The tail is hidden due to the angle of the shot.


  1. I painted the hooves grey, the mouth pink and the horns brown. I also painted in the eyes and the underside of the tail.
  2. I then used a marker to draw the parting between the goat’s two toes and the rings around its horns.
  3. (I did not cut the feet to denote 2 toes as it might compromise the stability of the model)
  4. To make the teeth, I cut styrofoam up into 2 kinds of cuboids – 6 short wide pieces (molars) and 2 long thin pieces (row of incisors). I then used double-sided tape to stick these in the mouth.
  5. For the goat’s thick fur, I used the PVA glue to stick clumps of stuffing all over its body.
  6. As the goat had thinner layers of fur on its legs and face, I sewed felt over these parts instead of stuffing.

Finished model:

Side view (right) of model

Back view of model

Front view of model

Side view (left) of model

3 – Improvements on organism

After discussion with my group-mates (our first proper discussion, actually), I realised that there were some flaws with the organism:

  • The organism will not have shelter during summer
  1. There are no tall plants for cover
  2. It cannot burrow into the ground as the soil is waterlogged
  3. It cannot climb into the mountain caves -> no adaptations for climbing
  • As it does not have shelter, it would be difficult to protect its young (which are born in the spring-early summer)

Therefore, I changed my organism by basing it on a mountain goat and a reindeer as well as the arctic hare. Although the mountain goat is from the alpine tundra (which has less harsh conditions compared to the arctic one), it still has general adaptations to survive the cold, short summers, lack of water and so on.

Here’s the level of each animal’s influence on my organism:

1) Mountain goat

2) Reindeer

3) Arctic hare

(That is, I will base my organism mainly on the mountain goat, and combine it with features from the other 2 animals)

Research on the mountain goat:

(Sources: http://animals.nationalgeographic.com/animals/mammals/mountain-goat/http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mountain_goat,http://animal.discovery.com/mammals/mountain-goat/ for picture)

Mountain goats are not true goats—but they are close relatives. They are more properly known as goat-antelopes.

Habitat: North America, from Alaska to the Rocky Mountains.

Diet: plants, grasses, mosses, and other alpine vegetation

Adaptations for climbing

  • Cloven hooves with two toes –> spread wide to improve balance
  • Rough pads on the bottom of each toe –> provide grip/traction
  • Muscular legs  –> good jumping ability, can jump nearly 12 feet (3.5 meters) in a single bound

Survival from predators

  • Their climbing abilities far surpass many other animals –> predators are unable to climb as high
  • Camouflage –> white coat blends in with the mountaintops’ snow

Survival in cold temperatures

  • Long, warm coats –> during the more moderate summer season, they shed this coat

Life cycle and Mating

  • Lifespan: 12-15 years in the wild, 16-20 years in captivity –> limited by the wearing down of their teeth
  1. In the spring, a nanny goat gives birth to one kid (sometimes two) after a 6-month gestation period. They can run and climb within hours.
  2. Kids are mostly weaned within one month. They follow their mothers closely for the first year of life (or until the nanny gives birth again, if this does not occur the next breeding season)
  3. The kids reach reach sexual maturity at about thirty months (2 1/2 years)
  4. Nannies undergo synchronized estrus in late October through early December. Both males and females usually mate with multiple individuals.
  5. After the breeding season is over, males and females move away from each other
  • Males (billies) break up into groups of 2-3 individuals
  • Nannies form loose-knit nursery groups of up to 50 animals

Research on the reindeer (caribou):

(sources: http://www.learner.org/jnorth/tm/caribou/BuildACaribou.htmlhttp://kids.nationalgeographic.com/kids/animals/creaturefeature/caribou/http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reindeer)

Surviving the cold

  • Have compact bodies, small tails and short ears –> smaller surface area that is exposed to the cold –> keeps body heat in
  • Normal body temperature is set at 40°C
  •  Their circulatory system is uniquely adapted to northern climate extremes.
  1. The veins and arteries run close together –> warm blood pumping from the heart keeps the cooler blood in the veins warm
  • Have 2 layers of fur
  1. fine crinkly inner layer
  2. outer layer of guard hairs –> hollow, traps air to act as insulation, keeps in body heat
  3. **Guard hairs also help them float in water.
  • Muzzle is densely covered with short hairs, including nostrils –> helps to warm the air before it reaches the lungs


  • Have 4 toes
  1. 2 are small “dew claws”
  2. 2 are large, crescent-shaped toes that support most of their weight
  3. >> The concave hooves offer stability on soggy ground and crusty snow
  • Hoof pads
  1. Change from a thick, fleshy shape in summer (to provide extra traction) to become hard and thin in winter (cuts into ice to prevent slipping)
  2. Long hair between the “toes” covers the pads so the caribou walks only on the horny rim of the hooves –> prevents feet from freezing

Adaptations to find food

  • Good sense of smell
  1. Allows it to sniff out lichen even under as much as 1.5m of snow, which is a key part of its winter diet
  • Specialized stomach
  1. Its four-chambered stomach and complex digestive system allow it to extract all nutrients available from its food
  2. This allows it to thrive on vegetation that may be low in nutrients but available in large quantities, especially in winter
  • Concave hooves
  1. Allows it to dig through snow in search of food
  2. Allows it to paddle through water –> expands the area where it can search for food


Organism (2nd draft)

<name undecided>

Habitat: Mountain caves and plains

  • Stays in the caves, goes to the plains to look for food

Size: 1m at the shoulder, 1.45-1.55m long

Diet: Winter – Lichen, woody plants, Summer – plants, berries, grass (our group’s producer) etc.


Bio PT organism (goat)

Advantages of this organism over the previous one:

  • It has shelter all year round (caves)
  1. Protects it from predators and the weather
  • It has better defence against predators
  1. Predators are unable to follow it up the mountain
  • It can take better care of its young
  1. Permanent shelter protects young from predators and the weather
  2. Females stay in groups when taking care of young >> greater chance of spotting predators before they attack
  • It has a more efficient way of producing energy in winter
  1. Group disperses to find food >> decreases competition for food in a concentrated area
  2. Gains a layer of fat during summer >> acts as an alternative energy source during winter

Credit must really go to my groupmate Xiao Jian, who gave me the idea that my organism should live in the caves as well, and gave me suggestions to solve other minor problems such as the number of young I should have and my lifespan.

2 – Coming up with the organism

When I first thought about my animal, my thoughts immediately drifted to furry white animals such as arctic foxes and hares. These are the general stereotypes of arctic tundra animals, however they are prime examples of adapting to the cold environment. Arctic foxes, for example, have thick fur to minimise the escape of body heat and a compact body shape to retain body heat as well.

Thus I decided to base my first draft of the organism on one of these “stereotypes”, the arctic hare.

–> I also incorporated some features from my brainstorming session. This will give me a headstart. 🙂


(Source: http://animals.nationalgeographic.com/animals/mammals/arctic-hare/)

The arctic hare lives in the harsh environment of the North American tundra.

*Note: Hares are a bit larger than rabbits, and they typically have taller hind legs and longer ears


  • Winter –  woody plants, mosses, and lichens –> dig through the snow to find
  • Other seasons – buds, berries, leaves, roots, and bark

Surviving the low temperatures

  • These hares do not hibernate
  • They sport thick fur
  • Have a low surface area to volume ratio that conserves body heat -> shortened ears
  • dig shelters in snow and huddle together to share warmth -> conserves body heat

Survival from predators

  • They are fast and can bound at speeds of up to 40 miles (60 kilometers) an hour
  • Camouflage:
  1. In winter, they sport a brilliant white coat –> same as snow
  2. In spring, the hare’s colors change to blue-gray –> same as local rocks and vegetation


  • Arctic hare groups disperse rather than form during mating season.
  • They pair off and define mating territories –> a male may take more than one female partner.
  1. Females give birth to one litter per year, in spring or early summer.
  2. Two to eight young hares grow quickly and by September resemble their parents. They will be ready to breed the following year.


Sketch of organism (ignore the poop :D)

<Name undecided>

Size: 50-67cm tall (from feet to ears, when crouching), length undecided

Diet: Winter – digs for woody plants under the snow, Summer – feeds on (producer), berries, non-woody plants

Habitat: Winter – digs burrows under the snow, Summer – (undecided)

Life cycle:

Young are born in early spring, reach maturity by the next year (next spring)

Gives birth to about 4 young each year

Lifespan: 3-4 years


Bio PT organism (hare)

1.5 – Features of habitat

Research on the tundra

We looked up Planet Zork’s tundra habitat and we realised there were 2 kinds of tundras: the arctic tundra and alpine tundra. From what we know of Planet Zork, its habitat is an arctic tundra as it is not specifically on a high mountain.


Conditions of a tundra:

  • extremely low temperatures
  • little precipitation (<– geography)
  • simple vegetation with no deep root systems
  • limited drainage
  • short summers of 50-60 days
  • permanent layer of frozen soil (permafrost)
  • top layer of soil turns waterlogged in summer
  • slowly decaying layer of dead matter

Animals in the tundra are

  1. adapted to handle long, cold winters
  2. breed and raise young quickly in the summer
  3. Mammals and birds have additional insulation from fat
  4. Many hibernate during the winter because of scarcity of food.
  5. Or: Migrate south in the winter, like birds do.

Plants are

  1. short and group together to withstand strong winds, cold temperatures
  2. photosynthesize in low light conditions
  3. most reproduce asexually and quickly within the short summers
  4. roots run horizontally rather than vertically into the soil (due to permafrost)

This gave us a better idea of the conditions our organisms had to face. After a brief discussion, we decided that our microhabitat would be on a plain as its conditions are not as harsh as those on the mountains.

–> But our organisms would not have shelter in this way 😦

So, we decided to include a mountain with caves as their shelter. This list summarises the habitat layout and the abiotic factors in it.


  • Plain (grassland)
  • Covered with short plants that are clustered together
  • A mountain with caves is located at the far end of the grassland

Influential abiotic factors

  • Temperature – Low
  • Seasons
  1. Winter – extremely low temp., long
  2. Summer – warmer temp., short
  • Wind – strong
  • Soil – permafrost present in winter, waterlogged in summer
  • Water – little rainfall
  • Light – little sunlight

1 – Brainstorming

13/8/12 Monday

We employed the “force-fitting” method to come up with new ideas.


  1. We chose an object (we got an eyeglass holder) from a bag
  2. We examined it and listed down its physical attributes
  3. We compiled these into a mindmap and tried to find ways to use these attributes for our organism

Link to mindmap: https://www.mindmeister.com/193446817

Eyeglass holder


I think this method is not very useful when starting brainstorming, as my group and I had many ideas popping into our heads the moment we got our PT. Therefore we were somewhat unable to concentrate on observing the attributes of the object.

Thus I feel that the “Morphology matrix” would have been more appropriate for us to start with. After that, we could use the “force-fitting method” to increase the creativity of our answers and improve on them.

14/8/12 Tuesday

Today we had our 2nd group discussion.

After doing some research on the conditions of the tundra, we chose the plain (as in an expanse of flat land) habitat to focus on.

Some useful links:



Some members felt that the mountain habitat had more room to explore in terms of adaptations due to its extreme weather. However, majority still felt that the plain was the main source of life for the environment, as it has the greatest amount of plants growing there and serves as a water source during summer. Therefore, it would be restrictive to only focus on the mountain habitat, as it is highly unlikely that animals would stay on the mountain throughout the year . This is why we chose the plain as our habitat to focus on.

We have not decided on the features of the habitat yet (e.g. rocky, covered with shrubs).

These are some sample pictures we used to give ourselves a better idea of the habitat.

Summer tundra

Winter tundra

After yesterday’s experience, I tried employing the “morphology matrix” method in coming up with ideas, as well as used some attributes of the eyeglass holder. This is my table:

Ideas for organism’s adaptations

Coping with the weather

Nutrition – how to get food etc.



Survival from predators

Thick layer of waterproof fur Because of large body size, it has to eat less Builds several burrows to rear young, switches between them frequently Long legs to prevent drowning in waterlogged soil Colour of fur changes according to the season-  brown in summer

–  grey-white in winter

Sheds fur in summer to prevent overheating Able to balance on hind legs to get food Produces many young during summertime——————

Produces few young but takes care of them for a long time

Shiny, glossy fur?- during summer
Body has small surface area to volume ratio to retain heat better Large flat molars and sharp incisors to grind and tear producer respectively Rears young in groups Soft padded feet Good eyesight
Warm-blooded Digestive system maximises water intake from food Mammal Hooves Good sense of hearing
Digestive system removes almost all water from faeces Food hoarding Run Good sense of smell
Long nasal cavity to warm air before it enters lungs –> reduces energy needed for heat production Strong muscles, large paws to dig underneath the snow to find food Hop Strong leg muscles able to outrun predators, burrow into snow
Burrowing to keep warm Flexibility Stays in groups
Small ears Tail in a contrasting colour, flashes it to warn others of danger
Large paws like snowshoes Horns/antlers to fend off predators
Hibernation during winter? Thick skin
Hard shell
Looks like a rock (mimicry)
footpads have fur to increase traction

Cannot be implemented

Flying– wind speed is too high, energy is wasted overcoming the resistance