The Arctic Fox has several names like the lemming fox, the polar fox, the snow fox, or the white fox. It resides in the cold environment of the Arctic and is well equipped to do so. These foxes have thick fur, which changes color according to season, and a fluffy tail that keep them warm in chilly temperatures. These foxes’ most recognizable public image comes from the white fur coat that they sport in winter.
These foxes are found in the Arctic region, as its name indicates. The main areas include the northern parts of Asia, northern Europe, Greenland, Iceland, and North America.
They live in alpine tundra, along coastal areas, on ice floes, and north of the arctic tree line.
Arctic foxes generally eat most small animals, including birds, eggs, fish, hares, lemmings, voles, and other rodents. They also feed on carcasses left by wolves and polar bears. When food is scarce, they eat would go to the extent of eating their own feces for survival. On the other hand, when the edibles are found in abundance, the Arctic fox buries the surplus in reserves called caches.
Generally, they live for 3-4 years in their wild habitat and about 14 years if bred in captivity.
They are nomadic, known to group up and move about in small bands.
These foxes are known for building and using dens with complex structures and tunnels, with the same den often being used by multiple generations for decades. Some of them are almost 300 years old.
With the help of their intense hearing, Arctic foxes can hear prey like lemmings moving even under snow. After a suitable meal is found, they pounce up into the air, landing on their target.
Verbal communication includes specific sounds such as a loud yowl over long distances to a high-pitched yapping noise that warns of danger.
Arctic foxes have several natural predators like brown and polar bears, red foxes, wolves, and wolverines. Certain eagles and owls also swoop down and snatch unsuspecting baby foxes.
They have thick fur coats that are highly insulating while also providing camouflage. The summer coat is thinner and dark grey to brown, camouflaging it against the darker background of rock and vegetation when the snow melts. The winter coat makes the fox look more rounded and white, hiding it against a frozen backdrop.
Their paws are heavily padded to insulate them from snow and ice and provide a grip on slippery surfaces. The paws of arctic foxes also maintain temperature separately from the rest of their bodies, so less heat is lost when the foot comes in contact with the ground. To survive the ice-cold temperatures of the Arctic, these foxes try to lower their volume by curling up to reduce heat loss.
They even have a long fluffy tail that functions as a blanket when these foxes wrap it around their body and face particularly while sleeping.
Arctic foxes build up their fat reserves over fall, increasing their body weight by more than 50% at times, providing greater insulation as well as energy when food is scarce.
They have keen senses, most notably their hearing, which allows them to track down prey like lemmings even underground. Their strong sense of smell help to locate food up to a distance of 25 miles away.
Mating and Reproduction
These foxes are monogamous, mating for life. Breeding occurs from April to July, with births taking place from April through June for the first litter of pups and July or August for the second. In fact the females deliver up to 14 pups in a single litter.
After a gestation period of around 2 months, 5-8 pups are born. The juveniles begin to leave the den at 3-4 weeks and are weaned off at 9 weeks. Both parents care for their young, with the male feeding them as well. They reach sexual maturity at 10 months.
As per the IUCN, the Arctic Fox is listed as “Least Concern” or “LC” since 2004. However, populations in the Scandinavian regions of Finland, Sweden, and Norway are critically endangered, their numbers equaling to just 200 individuals. Some of the basic reasons for depletion in their numbers include hunting and even loss of habitat particularly to the red fox.
Arctic foxes can run at speeds of 31 mph.
In July 2019, a report by the Norwegian Polar Institute stated that a young female fox crossed a distance of 3119 miles in 76 days before her GPS tracker stopped working, averaging over 29 mi a day.