If you have ever had an exotic pet, say a bearded dragon or a hamster, you might have heard that it prefers a specific climate. For example, snakes typically prefer arid climates. What you may not know is there are over a dozen different types of climates scattered all over the world. They range from tropical to temperate to freezing polar, and each has unique subcategories that break the climate down even more.
Let’s take a look at the different types of climate and what they could mean for your pet.
The Different Types of Climate
Before we look at the different types of climate, let’s first talk about what climate is.
We all know weather; it includes temperature, precipitation, humidity, wind and more. Weather changes daily, sometimes even hourly.
Climate, on the other hand, is the average weather conditions in one place over a long period of time – typically 30 years. Scientists look at the weather patterns and determine the climate based on that. Keep in mind that climate also depends on altitude, atmospheric pressure, Earth’s tilt and rotation, elevation, humidity, latitude, proximity to large bodies of water and mountains, ocean movements, wind patterns and more.
When it comes to measuring climate regions, your main tool is the Koppen Climate Classification System.
A German scientist named Wladimir Koppen divided the world’s climates into categories based on their vegetation, temperature, precipitation and latitude (this measure a region’s distance to the equator by measuring north to south). Koppen claimed there are five main climate groups, each with their own subcategory: tropical, dry, mild, continental and polar.
With that being said, Koppen’s system has evolved over the years and now includes four major groups with a minor group: dry, temperate, polar and tropical, as well as highlands.
The first climate region is dry. As you can guess, the region is hot and dry year-round. This zone is based on the amount of precipitation that occurs, which is almost none: dry climate regions typically get less than 10 inches of rain annually. It also has low humidity and moisture, as the moisture quickly evaporates due to the high heat. At night, the temperatures can drop to below freezing.
The dry region typically exists in the center of continents away from the sea. Deserts in Africa, Saudi Arabia, Australia and the Southwest U.S. are all examples of the dry climate.
There are two subcategories: semi-arid and arid.
Semi-arid is dry with differing amounts of precipitation; this region gets between 10 to 20 inches of rain a year. There are only two seasons with semi-arid: hot summers and mild winters. The winters are where most of the rain falls. The plant life consists of trees, shrubs, bushes and grasses, and the animals include bison, coyotes, deer, gazelles, giraffes, hyenas, jackals, lions, wildebeests, wolves and zebras.
Arid is hot and dry year-round. Over 30% of Earth has an arid climate. This region gets between four and 12 inches of rain a year. Like semi-arid, a lot of plants are shrubs, bushes, grasses and cacti. Animals include birds, camels, foxes, jackals, reptiles, insects and rodents.
The next type of climate zone is temperate. Looking at Koppen’s Climate Classification System, temperate and mild are separate climate zones. However, they are quite similar to one another and are often clumped together. Temperate climate zones are also called cold or continental climate regions.
The temperate climate has moderate to high rainfall and high variations in temperature over the four seasons. The humid summers range from warm/hot to mild/cool. There is little rainfall during this time, though thunderstorms and tornadoes can occur. The cold, wet winter, on the other hand, usually has snow and strong winds.
This region typically exists in central regions of landmasses, like the American Midwest. It covers most of Europe, northern Asia and southern South America. Most plant life includes oak, maple, elm and willow trees, and the animals include bear, birds, deer, rabbits and squirrels.
There are five subcategories under temperate climates, making it the most diverse group: humid continental, humid subtropical, subarctic, Mediterranean and Marine West Coast.
Temperate Climate Subcategories
- First is humid continental, also called wet or warm summer. This region has a variety of temperatures and precipitation, causing four distinct seasons: warm, humid summers; cool, dry autumns; cold winters; and warm, wet springs. Lots of plants (evergreen and deciduous trees, grasses, shrubs) exist here, along with bears, birds, coyotes, deer, small mammals and wolves.
- Second is humid subtropical; think of the southeast U.S. It has two seasons: long, hot, humid summers and short, mild to cold winters. Precipitation is between 30 and 65 inches, and the average temperature is 70 degrees. Humid subtropical often has hurricanes and tornadoes. Plantlife includes palm trees, ferns, bushes and shrubs, and animals include alligators, deer and panthers.
- Next is subarctic, also called boreal or taiga. This region exists in Russia or Canada. The subarctic climate has short, warm summers with little rain and long, cold winters. Snow exists for most of the year, and temperatures get below freezing. Plants include evergreen trees, ferns, grasses and shrubs. Animals include bears, bobcats, caribou, eagles, moose, mosquitoes and wolves.
- Fourth is Mediterranean, named after the Mediterranean Sea. This drier climate has long, warm summers and short, mild, rainy winters. This climate exists in southern South America, Spain, Australia and southern California. Plants include shrubs, grasses, herbs and pine, cypress, oak and fruit trees, as well as grape, fig and olive vines. Animals include geckos, goats, hawks, jackals, rabbits, rodents, sheep and snakes.
- The final subcategory is Marine West Coast, which exists in Canada and western Europe. The milder climate region is usually foggy, cloudy and damp. It has short summers and long, wet, cool winters. Plants include evergreen trees (cedar, pine, redwood and spruce), as well as ferns and grasses. Animals include bears, penguins and small mammals.
The third and fiercest climate region is the polar climate, or tundra. Known for being extremely cold and dry throughout most of the year, it is particularly noted for having permafrost, or permanent snow and ice.
During the short, cool summer, temperatures never go above 50 degrees, and precipitation is between five and 15 inches. The polar climate is often called a polar desert due to its low amount of precipitation and humidity. The long, cold, harsh winters often dip below freezing.
This region is flat with almost non-existent plant life. You might find algae, moss, lichen, grasses and low shrubs, but don’t expect any trees. There are lots of bogs and marshes. Animals include albatrosses, arctic foxes, caribou, insects, lemmings, musk oxen, orca whales, penguins, polar bears, reindeer, seals, snow owls, squirrels and wolves.
Polar climates exist at the Arctic and Antarctic Circles, northern Canada, Russia and Greenland.
There is only one subcategory: ice caps.
The ice caps, consisting of snow and ice, mostly make up Greenland and Antarctic. This is the most extreme climate on Earth where temperatures rarely rise above freezing, even during the “warmer” months. In fact, it is so cold that is rarely snows. Temperatures can get down below -80 degrees F. Permafrost keeps the region cold by reflecting back the Sun’s energy. Due to this, few things are able to live here.
Since the ice caps receive zero direct sunlight, it has two seasons, though they depend entirely on light and not heat: “summer” has 24 hours of light while “winter” has 24 hours of darkness.
The final major type of climate group is tropical, which is hot and humid. It has high temperatures that are above 64 degrees year-round. It also has high amounts of rainfall – over 60 inches of precipitation occurs annually.
This region has the greatest plant and animal diversity in the world. Plants get 12 hours of daylight and include hundreds of different tree species. Animals include birds, insects and small mammals.
Tropical climates exist near the equator in South America, African jungles and Southeast Asia.
The tropical region has three subcategories: tropical wet, tropical wet and dry and tropical monsoon.
Tropical wet is hot, wet and muggy year-round. It receives direct sunlight throughout the year, meaning it has only one season. This region has rainfall almost every day, and the average temperature is 80 degrees. Most tropical wet regions include rainforests. Tropical wet exists in Central and South America, Africa, Southwest Asia, Hawaii, Malaysia, Brazil, Indonesia and the Philippines.
Tropical wet and dry, or savanna, has two seasons: wet and dry. The wet season (summer) has an average of 77 degrees and 25 inches of rain. The dry season (winter) has an average of 68 degrees and less than four inches of rain. Plants include grasses and shrubs, and animals include birds, cheetahs, elephants, gazelles, giraffes, hyenas, lions, wildebeests and zebras. Savannas exist in Africa, Brazil, India and the Serengeti Plain.
The third subcategory is tropical monsoon. This also has two seasons (wet and dry) that coincides with its wind system, which reverses every six months. During the summer, the wind flows from the sea to the land and brings lots of rainfall. During the winter, it flows from the land to the sea. This region exists in southern Asia and West Africa.
The final climate, which is a minor type of climate, is called highlands or alpine climate. The highlands climate mostly exists in rugged mountains. This region has different temperature and precipitation levels that vary with latitude and elevation levels; it changes as you move up the mountain. For example, the base can be 80 degrees and sunny, cold and rainy in the middle and snowy and freezing at the top. Due to these varying levels, vegetation also ranges, but you can often see a tree line that shows where trees are able to survive and where they can’t. Animals include goats, mountain lions, sheep and snow leopards.