The most prominent feature of walruses (Odobenus rosmarus) is their tusks. Both male and female walruses have them. What use are they?
The males use their tusks for fighting, and the dominant male is usually the one with the largest tusks. Walrus tusks are lengthened canine teeth, and they can grow to over 3 feet (1 meter) long. Around their tusks they have 400 to 700 thick bristles which look like whiskers. Those organs are supplied with blood and nerves making them sensitive to touch for finding food.
There is another important use of tusks in both the males and females. Walruses live in the Arctic region, and when they are not in the water, they spend much of their time on ice. Getting a 4,400 pound (2000 kg) body out of the water and onto a sheet of ice can be difficult. They spike the ice with their tusks to pull themselves onto the slippery surface.
Tusks are also useful for making and maintaining breathing holes in the ice or to get access to food. Walruses eat various marine organisms, but they prefer shellfish called mollusks which they suck from the shells. The thick, wrinkled skin of a walrus is very sparsely covered with fur, but under the skin is a thick layer of blubber to keep the animal warm. The blood vessels in the skin constrict in cold water, and the lack of blood near the surface can make a walrus look almost white when swimming. Because of an air sack under its throat, a walrus can float and sleep with its head above water.
Walruses are a keystone species in the Arctic. That means they play a crucial role in the ecology of their environment. Many other species depend on them or are affected by them in some way. Without walruses, the ecosystem of the Arctic would be dramatically different. Walruses play a crucial role in the system God has designed for life on Earth.
© Roland Earnst