What is an Arctic fox?
The Arctic fox looks similar to the common red fox but smaller, furrier, and pure white in colour. Its compact body features a number of adaptations that allow it to live in the icy Arctic regions. Even though temperatures can descend to minus 50 degrees Celsius, the Arctic fox’s luxurious winter coat keeps its body temperature at a cosy 40 degrees Celsius. Their snowy white colouring helps them blend in with their icy surroundings and hide from predators. Their feet are also covered in a dense layer of fur that acts as a natural snow boot, allowing foxes to sneak around silently on the snow while keeping their feet safe from the chill. An Arctic fox can also use its fluffy tail as a blanket while it sleeps to maximise warmth and comfort.
Although the Arctic fox’s winter coat is famous, it’s not permanent. The fox actually sheds its coat during the summer, and it becomes much shorter and darker, ranging from greys and browns to bluish hues. Not only is the shorter coat better suited for warmer weather, but it’s also perfect summertime camouflage when the snow melts and is replaced by grasses and shrubs.
Arctic foxes pair up for breeding towards the end of winter and stay together throughout the 51- to 57-day pregnancy and the raising of the pups. The mothers usually give birth around May or June to a litter of multiple pups. The average litter is around 11, but litters of up to 19 pups have been recorded.
Arctic foxes play an important part in regulating the numbers of their primary food source, a small rodent called a lemming. They also play a vital role in distributing valuable nutrients across their Arctic environment, where much of the soil lacks the nutrients required for plant life. They achieve this by digging dens and giving the soil direct access to the nutrients in their excrement and leftovers of their prey.
What is the Arctic fox’s scientific name?
The Arctic fox’s scientific name is Vulpes lagopus. The species grows dense fur on its feet during the winter, earning it the name lagopus, which means rabbit-footed. There are also eight subspecies of Arctic fox with the following names:
- Mainland Arctic fox: Vulpes lagopus lagopus
- Iceland Arctic fox: Vulpes lagopus fulignosus
- Greenland Arctic fox: Vulpes lagopus groenlandicus
- Spitsbergen Arctic fox: Vulpes lagopus spitzbergenensis
- Hall Island Arctic fox: Vulpes lagopus hallensis
- Bering Island/Sea Arctic fox: Vulpes lagopus beringensis
- Pribilof Islands Arctic fox: Vulpes lagopus pribilofensis
- Ungava Bay (Fort Chimo) Arctic fox: Vulpes lagopus ungava
Are Arctic foxes endangered?
Arctic foxes have been listed as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List since they were first assessed in 1996. Although the fox population fluctuates widely between years, this is a natural phenomenon caused by the population cycle of the foxes’ main source of food, the lemming. According to the IUCN’s studies, the Arctic fox population is believed to be in good condition and doesn’t meet any of the criteria required to earn a threatened status. However, there are still threats Arctic foxes face, such as hunting, fur farms, and climate change, which could affect their numbers in the future.
Where do Arctic foxes live?
The Arctic fox habitat range, when viewed on a map, is a consistent line covering all the northern coasts on the planet. These areas are known as Arctic tundra, and the foxes live beyond the point where trees stop growing and everything is covered in snow and ice. The specific countries and islands where the Arctic foxes can be found include the northernmost areas of Canada, Finland, Greenland, Iceland, Norway, Russia, Svalbard, Sweden, and the US (Alaska).
While the number of Arctic foxes naturally fluctuates from year to year, they also face threats that could affect their population more permanently. These include hunting, fur farms, and climate change.
Arctic foxes were once severely affected by the fur trade due to their high-quality winter coat—and their small size meant that they were hunted in high numbers. However, the fur industry has since died down, and it’s now mostly native populations that hunt the foxes for their fur. This could still be problematic depending on the health of the population, but it’s also a part of local traditions and an effective way to stay warm in the Arctic climate.
Data on fur farms is hard to obtain because most fur farming is believed to take place in Russia. However, reports suggest that hundreds of thousands of Arctic foxes are bred and killed each year for their fur. These foxes are not domesticated (it’s still unknown whether it’s possible to fully domesticate foxes), and they spend their lives in high-stress situations where they can’t move freely or distance themselves from humans. Although fur farms don’t affect the wild population of Arctic foxes, it’s still a problem in the eyes of people who believe Arctic foxes deserve freedom.
The Arctic is the area most susceptible to climate change, with studies showing that it has warmed nearly four times faster than the rest of the world in the past 43 years. This has various effects on the polar landscape, from loss of permafrost and sea ice to reduced snow cover. This is beginning to impact the Arctic fox, as it can lose its winter camouflage if there isn’t enough snow around. In some areas, Arctic foxes are competing for food with larger red foxes, who are slowly moving further north as the warmer weather permits.
What is an Arctic fox?
The Arctic fox is a northern fox and a member of the Canidae family. This family also includes other foxes, wolves, jackals, and dogs. It lives in Arctic and alpine tundra areas across the globe, including northern Norway, Sweden, and Finland.
What are Arctic foxes called?
Arctic foxes are also referred to as white foxes or polar foxes due to their white fur and polar habitat.
What do Arctic foxes look like?
Arctic foxes have a typical fox-like face with a narrow snout, rounded ears, and a long, fluffy tail. In the winter, their coats are either pure white or bluish-grey and incredibly long and thick. In the summer, they shed their long coat and change colour so they can camouflage with the earthier colours of their summer surroundings.
How much does an Arctic fox weigh?
Arctic foxes are one of the smallest species of fox, with a body length of just 45-67 centimetres and a tail that grows up to 35 centimetres long. The smallest individuals weigh in at just three kilograms and the largest only reach just under eight kilograms. These small bodies help to keep the cold at bay by providing less surface area.
Do Arctic foxes change colour?
Yes, Arctic foxes change colour and are not always the pure white you might expect. A fox’s white coat is its winter coat—this is when its fur is at its thickest and the fox’s environment is snow-covered. When the snow melts and the weather gets warmer, the fox sheds its long white coat and ends up with shorter fur that varies in colour.
Some are multiple shades of grey, while others are brown with a bluish hue. Just as the white coat keeps them camouflaged in the snow, their summer coat is adapted to keep them hidden in shrubs and grasses.
What do Arctic foxes eat?
Arctic foxes hunt a small rodent called a lemming as their main source of food. The lemming plays such a large part in their diet that the fox population fluctuates in tandem with lemming numbers. When an Arctic fox is struggling to find its next lemming, it will resort to other food sources like insects, berries, or even the droppings of other animals.
Another way the fox can get food is by following a polar bear on a hunt. This is typically not dangerous for the fox as long as the bear makes a catch—a polar bear with a blubbery seal will not attack or eat a fox. Instead, the bear allows it to eat the meaty leftovers.
When food gets scarce, the Arctic fox can find or dig a snow den and hibernate. By slowing down its heart rate and metabolism, the fox can enter a hibernation-like state for a week or two and try to hunt again after some time has passed.
Do Arctic foxes hibernate?
No, Arctic foxes don’t hibernate during the winter. Instead, their fur coats get thicker during the winter months to help maintain their body temperature. Their main source of food, lemmings, also stays awake and active during the winter, so the foxes have an uninterrupted supply of their usual food.
Can Arctic foxes swim?
Like other kinds of foxes and members of the Canidae family, Arctic foxes are capable of swimming. However, they don’t do it very often. Arctic foxes are most likely to take the plunge when they are migrating and need to travel from one section of sea ice to another, or if they need to hide from predators.
Do Arctic foxes live in Antarctica?
No, Arctic foxes only live in the area they are named for—the Arctic. In fact, very few species live both in the Arctic and the Antarctic, and most of them are cold-water worms, crustaceans, sea cucumbers, and pteropods.
How do Arctic foxes survive the cold?
The Arctic foxes are well adapted to their icy climate—they don’t just survive in the cold, they thrive in it. Thanks to their thick layer of fur and the large tail they use as a blanket, their internal temperature is a stable 40 degrees Celsius.
How do Arctic foxes protect themselves?
Since Arctic foxes aren’t really fighters, they protect themselves through stealth and camouflage. Their feet have a thick layer of fur that acts like snow boots, helping them to move quickly and quietly through the snow. This helps keep them off the radar of any nearby predators. They are also protected by their snow-white coats, which help them stay hidden against the frozen landscape. While many other arctic mammals also have camouflage, it’s particularly effective on smaller animals like the fox.
Do polar bears eat Arctic foxes?
Arctic foxes are not a part of the polar bear’s usual diet, and under normal circumstances, the bear won’t eat or attack the fox. In fact, polar bears often allow Arctic foxes to follow behind them and scavenge on the leftovers of a polar bear’s kill. Since the polar bear is only interested in the blubber and fatty parts of its prey, it’s usually happy to leave the meaty parts for the fox.
However, food is not always readily available, and sometimes polar bears have to stray from their preferred foods. If a fox gets too close to a bear in this situation, it is possible that it will become the bear’s next meal.
Are Arctic foxes endangered?
Though Arctic foxes are not listed as Endangered (EN) by the IUCN—they are classed as Least Concern (LC)—they do still face threats that could affect their population in the future. Hunting, fur farms, and climate change are all issues that impact Arctic foxes.
How many Arctic foxes are left in the world?
Though the IUCN doesn’t provide a precise estimate, the global population of Arctic foxes is labelled as stable and they believe numbers are in the several hundred thousands.
How can you help?
Arctic foxes face threats that could affect their population permanently, such as hunting, fur farms, and climate change.