Arctic Fox (Alopex lagopus)


Class: Mammalia
Order: Carnivora
Family:    Canidae
Size:    Length: 30 to 46 inches (75 to 115 cm) Height: 10 to 12 inches (25 to 30 cm)
Weight: 5.5 to 20 lbs (2.5 to 9 kg)
Diet: Scavenger (any food available); mainly lemmings and other rodents, as well as ground-nesting birds, carrion, fish, molluscs, crabs, berries, seaweed and insects
Distribution: Arctic regions of North America, Eurasia, Greenland, Scandinavia and Iceland
Young:  One to two litters per year of 3 to 25 cubs
Animal Predators:  Wolves, red foxes, polar bears, grizzly bears, wolverines and golden eagles
IUCN Status: No special status
Terms: Male: Reynard   Female: Vixen   Young: Kit, Pup or Cub
Lifespan:  3 to 4 years in the wild and up to 14 years in captivity



         Unlike red foxes, Arctic foxes have rounded ears.

         Arctic foxes are also sometimes called polar foxes or white foxes.


Arctic foxes have a heavy white coat though a small proportion of this species has a bluish-gray coat. Both variations adapt their colours to help camouflage them. In winter, the white foxes turn nearly pure white, enabling them to blend in with the snow, and in summer they become brownish-grey. Blue foxes become brownish-blue in winter and dark brown or charcoal-coloured in summer. Their body is small and compact, and their ears are short and rounded. Their tail is thickly furred. 



Arctic foxes dwell in the Arctic and alpine tundra areas, especially along the northern coasts of Canada, Russia and Alaska.


Feeding Habits

True omnivores, Arctic foxes will eat nearly anything. In winter, Arctic foxes will sometimes trail polar bears to eat the remains of their kills. When hunting, the fox walks along the top of the snow, listening for prey underneath. When it detects something, the fox jumps up and down, breaking through the snow with its paws and then grabs the prey. 



Mating usually occurs in March or April, with a litter being born between late May and early June. Females giving birth in spring sometimes have a second litter in late summer. Arctic foxes have the largest litter size of any wild caninethe mean litter is about 11 whelps with 25 being the largest recorded litter. The father of the family guards the den and hunts for food for the young. Sometime between two to four weeks after birth the cubs are weaned. Around this time the young foxes begin to appear outside the den. The cubs start to become independent at around three months. Some cubs may leave the den at that time, while others stay until early spring before dispersing. 



Arctic foxes are monogamous and can be found in communities made up of an adult pair and their young. Male offspring leave the group when they reach maturity, but females will sometimes stay much longer. Arctic foxes do not hibernate during winter. Their fur is very warm and well-insulated, and the soles of their feet are thickly furred, enabling them to walk across snow. Arctic foxes are nomadic, migrating more than 1,000 kilometres to reach their summer habitat. They have dens in frost-free ground, which may be up to 300 years old and possess as many as 250 entrances, leading to a system of tunnels covering 30 square metres. Arctic foxes store food in their den during the summer months in preparation for the lean winter. 



At the turn of the 20th century the population of Arctic foxes in Norway, Sweden, Finland and the Kola Peninsula dropped due to overhunting and the population has not increased in the last 100 years. The Arctic fox is listed as Endangered on Norways Red List. A subspecies of Arctic fox, Alopex lagopus semenovi, found on Mednyi Island (Commander Islands, Russia) is considered Endangered. The population was reduced to around 90 animals as a result of mange caused by ear ticks. The population was treated with antiparasitic drugs and numbers have increased from less than 50 in 1985 to more than 200 in 1998. 



Arctic Fox Wildlife Fact File, IM Pub, USA

Forsyth, A. 1985. Mammals of the Canadian Wild. Camden House. Camden East, ON