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An all-comfort trip to 2,000 meters to observe plants and animals. That's what the "Alpine Grenzgänger" exhibition at Naturkundemuseum Weiherburg at the Alpenzoo in Innsbruck presents. Open until Feb. 28, 2023, this exhibit is produced in cooperation with the natural science department of the Tyrolean regional museums. From showcase to showcase, visitors will take a journey from the edge of the forest higher and higher to the glaciers. It is definitely an exhibition suitable for adults and children, but the explanatory texts are in German only.
How do animals and plants survive in high mountains? The climatic conditions at these altitudes are extreme: large temperature ranges, wind, ice, and short "summers." Yet there are numerous species that have adapted to this habitat by implementing some ingenious tricks. The alpine marmot for example has opted to hibernate. On display we see a taxidermic preparation of a marmot in its burrow. There it spends between 6 and 7 months sleeping. Vital functions slow down: 2 breaths and 20 heartbeats per minute. Thus, energy consumption is reduced and the animal can survive on body fat reserves accumulated during the summer.
Thick hair is a solution adopted by animals, we know, but also by some plants. Downy hairs-such as that of the edelweiss, for example-serve in plants to reduce evaporation of fluids and to protect against UV rays, which are very strong at these altitudes. In order not to fight unnecessarily with gusts of wind, on the other hand, the females of some species of high-altitude butterflies (such as the Sciadia caelibaria) do not fly, but hop around. They can be recognized by their small wings. There are birds that have adapted differently. Tichodroma muraria specimens, for example, live on steep cliffs up to 3,500 meters above sea level. Thanks to their long, thin beaks, these birds with beautiful red wings are able to feed by catching insects in the crevices of rocks.
The Machilidae is a 50-million-year-old insect that lives at high altitude. One display case shows some specimens of it preserved in test tubes; but an enlarged model allows us to observe all its details and look it straight in the eye. Also on display are some taxidermic preparations of large animals. The most beloved by visitors is definitely a two-year-old brown bear specimen, which you can even pet. Also on display is an intruder: the emperor penguin. After a moment of disorientation, we are left with the doubt that we were not paying attention in school in biology classes. But upon reading the caption, we are quickly reassured: the penguin does not belong to the alpine fauna. It is on display because an Ischgl hotelier had a plan to "import" it as a tourist attraction. A plan that fortunately did not materialize.