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The Arctic fox lives in the treeless tundra of the circumpolar Arctic, including North America (Alaska and Canada), Greeland, Iceland, Asia and Scandanavia.
This species inhabits Arctic and alpine tundra, often near coasts.
What Does It Eat?
In the wild: Small birds (puffins, murres), small mammals (lemmings, moles), fish, eggs, carrion (scavenge on dead animals), and plants.
At the zoo: Thawed rodents and birds, eggs, and vegetables.
What Eats It?
The Arctic fox is preyed upon by red foxes, bears, and wolves.
Arctic foxes live in small communal groups that are nomadic and are continually on the search for food. Each fall, family members go their own way to search for food in the winter. A breeding male and female, along with their young offspring and potentially older female offspring, form an Arctic fox pack.
Arctic foxes are sexually mature by the age of one and typically form monogamous pairs for life. Mating usually occurs in early Spring (March-April), and typically 6-12 pups are born 52 days later. Males will hunt for food while females den with and nurse the young. Pups are weaned off their mother’s milk when they are 45 days old, and can begin to eat meat when they are one month old. Pups begin to participate in hunts when they are three months old, and leave the pack when they are 6 months old. Arctic foxes, on average, live 3-5 years in the wild, although some may live 10 years. In captivity, Arctic foxes live up to 10 years.
Burrr… It’s Cold!
One of the Arctic fox’s most remarkable adaptations is its ability to stay warm in freezing Arctic temperatures. This fox has one of the warmest coats of fur of any mammal; they don’t start to shiver until it is -90 degrees Fahrenheit! In fact, 70 percent of their coat is a thick and fine undercoat. In order to keep their face and long snout warm, they will wrap their long tail around their face like a scarf when lying down. When summer roles around, Arctic foxes molt (shed) their fur to cool off.
Doggy Bag, Please
Arctic foxes are often observed following polar bears and scavenging off the remains of polar bear kills (usually seals). This behavior allows foxes to consume what the bears do not eat; this ensures nothing goes to waste. When not enjoying leftovers, Arctic foxes will hunt small mammals and birds with their incredible sense of smell or hearing, or consume the eggs of shorebirds.
Lucky “Rabbit’s Foot”
The Arctic fox has paws covered in thick fur, which in unique to wild canines (dogs). This thick fur protects their feet from succumbing to the freezing cold snow and ice that it must walk on when searching for food. Carol Linneaus, the 18th century botanist, gave the Arctic fox the scientific name lagopus, which means “rabbit-footed”.
IUCN Status: Least Concern.
Arctic foxes are typically common throughout their range. They are even known to be overpopulated in some areas where they have decimated seabird and egg populations. Arctic foxes have been driven out of some areas, like Scandinavia, because of predators like the red fox as their range expands due to warming global temperatures. Humans in some areas, like Iceland, view Arctic foxes as pests because they will hunt and eat livestock.