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What is an Arctic Fox?

By KD Morgan
Updated Mar 05, 2024
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The Arctic fox (Vulpes lagopus) is one of the most beautiful and resourceful fur-bearing animals in the world. Also known as the snow fox or white fox, these beauties reside in the northern Arctic regions.

Alaska, Canada, Greenland, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Russia, Scandinavia and Sweden are their typical residences. During the Ice Age, they made the trek across the frozen ocean to Iceland to become the only native land mammal of that region.

In the Scandinavian countries, the Arctic fox became endangered and by the year 2000, approximately 120 adults were left to replenish their species. The governments of Finland, Norway and Sweden put them under protection in hopes of repopulating the area. Russia is another region where endangered Arctic fox are struggling to rebuild their population. However, the total number of Arctic foxes in the world is estimated to be in the hundreds of thousands.

Most Arctic animals, such as bears and wolves, are larger than their cousins from the warmer climates to the south are. In contrast, the Arctic fox is about the size of a cat, weighing only 6 to 10 pounds (2.72 to 4.54 kilograms).

The foxes' thick, insulating fur with furry soles to their feet, short legs, ears and muzzle seem to help them accommodate the sub-zero temperatures of the arctic. Their thick fluffy tail is their finest asset. It helps them maintain balance and keeps them warm as a wrap. Their fur-covered feet also give them traction to maneuver across the frozen ice.

The magnificent coats of the arctic fox change with the season, ranging from pristine white to silver blue to brown. This is a perfect camouflage to protect them against their greatest enemies. Man is the most notorious hunter of the arctic fox, as their luxurious furs are coveted by almost every culture. They have the warmest coat of any animal, including the polar bear and arctic wolf. Their second greatest enemy is the polar bear.

The Arctic fox tunnels in the snow to create burrows and complex dens, housing several generations. Since they do not hibernate, they can produce up to two litters a year. Mating and birthing season is between September and May.

They choose a mate for the year and remain monogamous. Gestation is 52 days and the female (vixen) can produce up to 15 pups (kits). Both the male (reynard) and the vixen raise the kits together.

The kits are born blind so constant attention for the first two weeks of life is required. After three weeks, the parents bring the babies out to explore their environment and begin learning to hunt. This is their most vulnerable stage, when the polar bear hunt them.

Lemmings are the primary prey of the Arctic fox. A family must kill about thirty lemmings a day to sustain a new litter. By the time the family reaches maturity, the parents must harvest over 100 lemmings a day. The Arctic fox also sustains itself on amphibians, birds, bird eggs, fish, rabbits, reptiles, rodents, shellfish, and shore animals. During the spring months, they will invade the snow dens and prey on the infant ringed sealed pups.

The Arctic fox has incredible hearing. This allows him to hunt along the surface of snow-packed tundra, listening for prey moving beneath the snow. When small animals are located, they jump and pounce to break through the snow and catch their prey.

When meat is scarce, these frugal scavengers will dine on fruit, berries and vegetables. During the winter months, the Arctic fox will even track polar bears to feed off the remains of their kill. When food is abundant, the Arctic fox buries any excess for sparser times.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is an Arctic Fox and where can it be found?

The Arctic Fox, known scientifically as Vulpes lagopus, is a small, resilient canid adapted to live in the harsh conditions of the Arctic tundra. They are found throughout the Arctic regions of the Northern Hemisphere, including parts of Canada, Russia, Greenland, Iceland, Norway, and Alaska. Their thick fur and keen hunting skills make them well-suited to the cold environment.

How does the Arctic Fox adapt to its cold environment?

Arctic Foxes have several adaptations for cold climates. Their fur, which is one of the warmest of any mammal, changes color with the seasons for camouflage—white in winter and brown in summer. They have short ears and a short muzzle to minimize heat loss, and their paws are covered in thick fur to walk on snow and ice.

What do Arctic Foxes eat?

Arctic Foxes are opportunistic feeders and primarily carnivorous. They eat a variety of small animals, including lemmings, voles, and seabirds. During the winter, when prey is scarce, they are known to follow polar bears to scavenge leftovers from their kills. In the summer, they may also eat berries and seaweed to supplement their diet.

How do Arctic Foxes reproduce and raise their young?

Arctic Foxes mate in early spring, and after a gestation period of about 52 days, the female gives birth to a large litter of 5-8 pups, although litters of up to 25 have been recorded. Both parents care for the young in a den, with the male providing food for the female and pups until they are old enough to venture outside.

Are Arctic Fox populations at risk?

Arctic Fox populations are not currently endangered globally, but they face threats from habitat loss due to climate change, which affects the availability of their prey. In some regions, they are also at risk from overhunting and competition with the red fox, which is expanding its range northward as temperatures rise.

What research or conservation efforts are in place for Arctic Foxes?

Conservation efforts for Arctic Foxes include legal protections in some countries and research into their ecology and behavior to better understand how to protect them. Organizations like the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) are involved in monitoring populations and advocating for climate action to preserve the Arctic ecosystem that the foxes depend on.

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