Author: Nessie O’Neil
Genus and Species: Vulpes lagopus
10-12 inches at the shoulder
3-4 years in the wild
12 years in captivity
The Arctic fox is an animal that adapted to thrive in the harsh conditions of the Arctic. Compact in build, the Arctic fox has a rounded body, short muzzle, and bushy tail, all of which minimize the surface area exposed to the cold and help conserve body heat. Its keen sense of hearing also enables it to locate prey beneath the snow.
Its primary feature is its thick, warm fur that changes color with the seasons. In the wild, arctic foxes display two distinct coat colors: white and blue. White Arctic foxes undergo seasonal changes to match their surroundings. This color variety turns white during winter and transitions to dark brown/gray with light gray along their abdomen in the summer. Blue Arctics, on the other hand, typically exhibit dark blue-gray colors in summer and slightly lighter blue-gray tones in winter.
Arctic foxes are opportunistic eaters and have a varied diet to ensure survival in an environment where food can be scarce. Their primary prey includes lemmings, voles, and other small rodents. However, they’re also known to eat birds, eggs, fish, and even carrion. In leaner times, they may scavenge the leftovers from larger predators like polar bears.
Thanks to their sharp hearing, Arctic foxes can detect the movement of prey beneath the snow. Once they’ve pinpointed their target, they’ll pounce through the snow to capture it.
Although Arctic foxes do not hibernate, they do accumulate fat reserves in autumn. These fat reserves can increase their weight by up to 50%. Given the harsh winters in their habitat, this fox species is known to cache surplus food as a reserve when resources are abundant.
Arctic foxes are known for their social behavior, often forming monogamous pairs during the breeding season. Their mating season ranges from April to June, after which the female gives birth to a litter. An Arctic fox litter usually consists of 6-8 pups, but some mothers can give birth to as many as 15! Larger litters are common when food is abundant.
Both parents play an active role in rearing their young. They dig intricate burrow systems, also known as dens, which protect the young from predators and harsh weather. These dens, sometimes centuries old, are used by multiple generations.
When food is scarce, these foxes will journey as far as they need to to find something to eat. Remarkably, these foxes can cover extensive distances of up to ninety-six miles in a single day. Consequently, due to their increased movement, arctic foxes face a higher risk of encountering predators or becoming targets themselves. Thus, their mortality rate surpasses that of foxes residing in a fixed area.. Tragically, most arctic foxes in the wild do not make it to their first birthday.
While the Arctic fox has a broad range and is not currently listed as endangered, it faces threats primarily due to climate change. The warming Arctic impacts the distribution of their primary prey, the snow-covered landscapes they rely on for camouflage, and increases competition with the larger red foxes encroaching into their territory.