The curious case of the “glacier mice” that appear to bounce on ice

Fuzzy moss balls that colonise glaciers and transfer in excellent unison have puzzled scientists for many years. Now, due to some painstaking surveillance, they’re lastly giving up their secrets and techniques


16 December 2020

“Glacier mice” normally develop to 10 centimetres, however may be twice as large

Alamy Inventory Photograph

FEW have glimpsed them within the wild and also you received’t see any in captivity. But the elusive glacier mouse – small, inexperienced and fuzzy – abruptly discovered itself an A-list celeb earlier this yr when studies of its antics turned the antidote to a blizzard of unhealthy information.

It’s possible you’ll recall the tales of ice-dancing mice that journey in troupes and transfer with a synchrony worthy of the corps de ballet. In that case, you’ll know that the mice in query aren’t truly mice in any respect. Purists may name them unattached moss polsters, supraglacial globular moss cushions or simply plain moss balls. However when the Icelandic glaciologist JÓn EythÓrsson first introduced them to the world’s consideration in 1951, he dubbed them jökla-mýs (glacier mice) and it caught. “They genuinely look cute, like a small furry creature – not less than from a distance,” says Scott Hotaling, a glacier biologist at Washington State College.

Hotaling is likely one of the scientists who served up the newest instalment within the long-running saga of the glacier mice, which stay a riddle wrapped in a thriller. These fortunate sufficient to have encountered a colony in considered one of their distant icy haunts confess that they discover them puzzling in some ways, not least their curious actions. But due to some painstaking sub-zero surveillance, these mossy blobs are slowly giving up their secrets and techniques.

Solely lately have we begun to get the measure of glacier mice. That’s partly as a result of they’re uncommon, discovered solely on choose glaciers in Alaska, Iceland, …

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