The Arctic fox is well adapted to coping with the harsh Arctic climate. In winter its bushy coat turns completely white, making it almost invisible to its prey against the snowy tundra. As the long summer days start to shorten, the Arctic foxes coat thickens and changes color. Starting at the tail, its short, grayish brown fur first turns gray and eventually, with the onset of winter, a pure white. But some foxes have a steel blue winter coat.
Habits: The Arctic foxes habitat is one of
the most inhospitable on earth. During the long winters, it lives in almost
constant darkness; in summer the sun shines 24 hours a day, occasionally warming
the air to just above freezing. The Arctic fox lives in a den or burrow dug
into the side of a hill, cliff, or riverbank. In winter it digs a series
of interconnecting tunnels in the deep snow, several family groups occupy
the tunnels. During winter when food is scarce, the Arctic fox ranges over
a large territory, often in small groups. In the abundant summer months, its
territory is smaller.
The Arctic fox does not hibernate during the winter. Some migrate south to the coast or along the tree line of northern Scandinavia. In fall, the fox's coat changes and its heart rate slows down to save energy.
Food and Feeding: The Arctic fox preys on
voles, lemmings, hares, ground squirrels, and birds and their eggs. Near
the coast it feeds on shellfish, sea urchins, and other shore invertebrates.
After a storm, the fox scours the shore for beached seals and whale carcasses
or other carrion – even beach flies. Without meat available, the fox eats
fruit and berries. Although it may search for food in groups, the Arctic fox
mainly hunts alone because small mammals or sea birds only provide a meal
for one. It hunts by stealth, leaping on its victim in a springing pounce,
pinning it to the ground.
The Arctic fox follows other predators to eat the remains of their kill, such as the rest of a seal killed by a polar bear. In spring, like the polar bear, the Arctic fox digs ringed seal pups out of their dens in the snow for food. In summer, the fox hides food in its den or pushes it into rock crevices, keeping the cache (store) for the lean months ahead. It marks the cache with its scent so it can find it again under the snow. The Arctic fox uses ice floes to travel in search of food in winter.
Breeding: The Arctic fox chooses a mate in
early spring and mates for life. The male becomes more territorial, marking
out a home range with urine and feces. It calls to its mate with a variety
of howls and wails. In May or June, a litter of 4 to 11 cubs is born in a
den in a rock crevice or burrow. Both parents care for the blind cubs, and
sometimes two females share a den and look after the young. At two weeks,
the cubs open their eyes. A week later they explore outside the den with
their mother. They are weaned at six weeks and begin eating meat brought
by the parents to the den.
Later the cubs learn to hunt with their parents; they become independent in the fall. Young males leave to form their own groups while females stay with the family group. After a few weeks the cubs explore outside the den. The female finds a den that shelters the cubs from the biting Arctic wind.
Key Facts: Sizes, Breeding, Lifestyle, and Related
Head and body length: 1 ½ -2 ft.
Tail length: 11-13 in.
Height to shoulder: 10-12 in.
Weight: 10-18 lb. Male is larger than female
Sexual maturity: Approximately 1 year
Mating: Early April
Gestation: 51-57 days
No. of Young: 4-11, average 6. Female can have two litters a year.
Habit: Solitary in summer. In winter, it hunts and dens in small groups.
Diet: Small mammals, birds, dead fish, and carrion.
Lifespan: About 60 years.
Related Species: Only species in this genus,
but related to other foxes, wolves, and dogs in the Canidae Family.
Distribution: Found mainly in the Arctic circle, but also south on the shores of the Bering Sea and Hudson Bay in Greenland, as well as Iceland, northern Scandinavia, and the Soviet Union.
Conservation: Although the Arctic fox has declined in local areas, particularly south of its range, it is still common.
Features of the Arctic Fox:
Autumn coat: The coat turns from light brown in fall to white or steel blue depending on the foxes location.
Winter coat: Long, dense, and white, blending with the snow-covered landscape. This camouflage helps the Arctic fox hunt scarce prey during the winter.
Body: Small and compact with short legs. Its small, rounded body conserves body heat lost mainly through extremities such as the ears and feet.
Ears: Unlike the long, pointed ears of its relative the red fox, the Arctic foxes ears are short, rounded, and heavily furred.
Feet: The soles of the feet are covered with thick hair to insulate the fox against the cold.
Did You Know:
In areas where lemmings live, the Arctic fox population fluctuates according to the number of lemmings.
The Arctic fox only starts shivering at –94 degrees and has survived temperatures of –112 degrees.
During the winter, Arctic foxes have lived on the Greenland pack ice 300 miles from the nearest land.
When food supplies are low, the Arctic fox survives on the feces of reindeer and musk ox.
One Arctic foxes cache contained 36 auks, two guillemots, four snow buntings, and numerous auks eggs.
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