Species Profile: Arctic Fox

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Image from: https://www.artphotolimited.com/uk-en/fine-art-photography/wildlife/fox/photo/nature-picturelibrary/arctic-fox-sitting-in-the-snow

Introduction

The Arctic Fox (Vulpes lagopus) is known for its white coat in the winter to blend into the snow and ice. In the warmer seasons, the fox’s coat turns brown or gray. This adaptation allows them to camouflage with the summer rocks and plants. They are 3-8 kilos and have a length of 55cm.

Distribution

The Arctic fox occurs in Arctic tundra habitats in northern Europe, northern Asia, and North America. They breed and reproduce in the mountain tundra habitats in Fennoscandia, Eurasia and North America, Greenland, Iceland,  and Svalbard.

Behaviour

The Arctic fox is monogamous and pairs are territorial during the breeding season. The breeding season lasts from the end of February until mid-April. They live in large dens with complex systems of tunnels and may exist for many generations. 

Adaptations

Arctic foxes live in one of the most extreme ecosystems on the planet. Therefore, they have intriguing adaptations to help them survive in the sub-arctic. 

Low surface area to volume ratio: They have a low surface area to volume ratio in order to maintain body heat.

Seasonal Coat: They have a thick layer of body fat, fur on their paws, exceptionally furry tails, and a highly insulated coat. Their coats change from white  winter to earth tones in the summer.

Litter sizes in years with high prey populations:  The litter size depends on the density of prey.

Countercurrent heat exchange in the paws: They have physiological mechanisms in the paws that allow warm blood to heat up blood that is leaving to prevent heat loss.

Feeding

In Iceland, they are generalists and prey on marine and terrestrial foods. Their prey includes lemmings, voles, hares, birds, eggs, fish, and carrian. They hoard food and store body fat in the winter when food is more scarce.

Conservation

Although the Arctic fox is of least concern, some populations are endangered in areas including Scandinavia. The population globally fluctuates in a cycle with the populations of lemmings and voles. Like many polar species, the Arctic fox is threatened by anthropogenic activities. Hunting and climate change are the main drivers and potential threats for future population decline. 

Further reading:

https://www.npolar.no/en/species/arctic-fox/

https://www.nationalgeographic.com/animals/mammals/a/arctic-fox/

https://www.worldwildlife.org/species/arctic-fox

 

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