The return of biting arctic air to southeastern Wisconsin froze my enthusiasm for strolling the block, but activated my wondering about kinds of organisms that thrive in icy ecosystems, or arctic extremophiles.

Crustaceans, worms, diatom chains, unicellular algae, bacteria and viruses grow cozily within brine-filled crystal containers that form in the northern hemisphere's oceans, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). I find myself unable even to daydream about finding a refuge in such an ever-gelid environment.

I will not be joining the local Polar Bear Club anytime soon. Tortoise Cat is comfortably curled up, possibly dreaming of Spring.

Has anyone started an Antarctic Penguin club, I wonder?

Polar Bear mother and cubs, by Alastair Rae, via
Polar Bear mother and cubs, by Alastair Ray, via

Census of Marine Life explorers were amazed to find more than 235 species that live in both polar seas, including whales, birds and fish as well as many tiny critters. Flapping snails, sometimes called pteropods or sea butterflies, are among the most wondrously strange and beautiful.

Mental exercises can usually cheer me up amid uncomfortable circumstances, but today I cannot begin to imagine enduring, let alone flourishing, as an arctic extremophile. The lack of antifreeze in my blood might have something to do with it.

There are many extreme conditions of chemistry as well as temperature on this planet that some tenacious prokaryotes or eukaryotes find homey. Most extremophiles are microbial.

Extremophile of Berkeley Pit, by Kolopres, via Wikimedia Commons
Extremophile of Berkeley Pit, Montana, by Kolopres, via Wikimedia Commons

Astrobiologists are studying extremophiles on Earth, asking whether exoplanetary life as we don't (yet) know it might be burgeoning out there somewhere, within investigating range.

Envisioning some of the wilder extremes of habitats and lifeforms scientists could discover soon, helps me await warmer Midwestern days more agreeably.

What kind of extremophile can you imagine being, even for a day, within virtual reality? What is your favorite extremophile?