Arctic Fox, Vulpes lagopus

Kingdom:  Animalia
Phylum:  Chordata
Class:  Mammalia
Order:  Carnivora
Family:  Canidae
Genus:  Vulpes
Species:  lagopus

Status

Arctic fox have been hunted for fur and by competing predators in their native lands, but are relatively common.  U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has not assessed Vulpes lagopus.  International Union for the Conservation of Nature Status: Least Concern; population stable.

Description

Small canids with white fur during the winter months, and a brief period of shedding that result in grayish to black fur coloration during summer.  Their winter fur is extremely thick and long, providing insulation from the cold and camouflage.  Small ears prevent heat loss.

Habitat and Range

Arctic foxes are found mainly in arctic and alpine tundra, usually in coastal areas.  They can be found in the treeless tundra extending through the arctic regions of Eurasia, North America, Greenland, and Iceland.  Some foxes may move from Russia to Alaska when ice conditions are appropriate.  Arctic foxes may also migrate following prey movements.

Diet

The arctic fox is an opportunistic feeder, eating practically any animal, alive or dead.  Although it prefers small mammals, it will eat insects, nesting birds and their eggs, berries, and carrion.  Some arctic foxes follow polar bears eating remains of the polar bear’s kills.

Reproduction

Mating occurs from February to July; births take place from April through June for the first litter, and July or August for the second litter.  Average gestation period is about 49-57 days.  Number of young per litter varies with the availability of food, especially lemmings.  Usual litter size is 5-8.

Behavior

Arctic foxes live a communal and nomadic life, often forming small bands to scavenge the countryside for food.  They do not hibernate during winter months.  Foxes also construct dens, often in cliffs.  A single den may be inhabited by a social family group.  This group consists of one adult male, the litter, and two vixens – one of the vixens is a non-breeding animal born the previous year that stays to help care for the next litter.

Wow!

  • The male parent stays with cubs, helping to feed them.
  • Dens have 4-8 entrances and a system of tunnels covering about 98 square feet. Some of these dens have been used for centuries by generations of foxes.
  • Arctic fox paws are sheathed in dense fur during winter, unlike other canids and giving it the name “lagopus” (which means “the rabbit footed”).
  • Fur of the arctic fox changes twice every year.  They have long, thick, white coats in winter and short, dark gray or brown to black coats during the summer