Facts About Arctic Fox
Facts About Arctic Fox
The Arctic fox, also known as White Fox or Snow Fox, is a small mammal that lives in cold climates in the Arctic tundra. Here are 17 facts about the arctic fox that will interest you.
1. The Arctic Fox is the smallest member of the Fox family and the furriest animal in that family. With its thick white coat, it can live and hunt in temperatures as low as −50 °F (−45 °C). It has short legs (although longer than other foxes) and black feet for walking on ice. Its ears and tail are shorter than those of most other fox species; its bushy tail helps protect its rump from the cold. Its paws are covered with thick fur, and a further developed pad on its paw protects them when running on ice or snow.
2. They have smaller skulls, brains, and teeth than other foxes but a larger brain-to-body ratio. Their skulls are shorter in length and broader. They typically have 36 teeth (see dental formula below) compared with 38 for most other canids. Arctic Foxes weigh 3–7 kg (6-15 pounds), with some individuals of the species reaching 10–12 kg (22-26 pounds) making it one of the smallest animals in the arctic.
3. The arctic fox has thick, white fur that contains an oil that repels water, which makes it resistant to frostbite if kept clean and free from feces or urine. Researchers believe there is a correlation between skin pigmentation and climate: Arctic animals tend to be white or light-colored because pigment clouds the freezing point of blood and thus reduces the risk of frostbite. It also camouflages the fox against its snowy background. The fox has small paws with fur on their undersides and between their digits, helping it walk on top of the snow without sinking into it.
4. Arctic foxes are reluctant to enter the water for any time; when swimming, they keep themselves afloat with their hind feet while holding a clump of ice with one forepaw (or sometimes both). In addition, they will take off from floating ice sheets if pursued by dogs or humans on skis, although they rarely swim more than 50 meters before landing again. These adaptations make them well-suited for life in an arctic climate.
5. It has a circumpolar distribution throughout the Arctic regions of Canada, Greenland, Iceland, Scandinavia, and Russia. The species is present in Alaska south through central Yukon to southwestern Northwest Territories, where they were introduced from Greenland in the early 1970s; and on Nova Scotia’s Sable Island off the Atlantic coast of Canada. They are absent throughout most of northern Siberia, although relict populations survive there as islands within increasing extensive areas unsuitable for their survival. Estonia hosts a natural resident population which had been expanding in recent years, with over 1,000 animals being estimated to live in that country by 2013. Their numbers have also increased since 2004–2005 on Novaya Zemlya, where about 3,500 lived in 2015, following an ice-free summer for the first time since the 1990s.
6. It does not hibernate during the winter. Instead, it stays in a den dug deep into the ground during winter months and creates nests out of the grass or moves into an area where snowfall is light (a process called migration) and stores fat for food purposes.
7. In 2007, a tagged arctic fox was tracked for 15 days as it left the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and covered more than 1,300 miles through Canada before ending at Assateague Island on Maryland’s Atlantic coast. Another tagged arctic fox made its way from northern Greenland to Newfoundland for 30 days—a distance of about 3,000 miles across North America (from 69°N 145°W near Churchill, Manitoba). This is further evidence indicating that arctic foxes survive long periods without food stored fat and have long-distance migration patterns that were previously undocumented. They seem able to sustain a steady walking speed of 8.8 km/h (5.5 mph) for long periods, traveling continuously without sleeping or eating; they have even been tracked crossing rivers at night without stopping.
8. The arctic fox preys primarily on small rodents such as lemmings and voles, which make up the majority of its diet; birds, insects like moths and arthropods also constitute a significant part of their diet in summer months when lemmings are scarce. Their geographic range overlaps with the Red Fox, making competition for food between these two species inevitable in parts of Alaska, Canada, and Greenland, where both species occur simultaneously. However, arctic foxes prey mainly on small rodents while red foxes eat carrion and berries; their ranges do not overlap except in winter when the red fox can forage while traveling.
9. Arctic foxes are monogamous (mate for life) and breed once annually in April and May, following a 40-day gestation period. They dig open burrows for birthing dens at the end of long trails in sheltered areas such as under boulders, low-lying shrubs, and trees on mountain slopes or near coasts; these sites are often near water they can find food year-round. The birth lasts about an hour and a half, during which time each female usually delivers 2 to 3 embryos measured 19–23 cm (about 9–10 inches) long with silvery fur that changes to white within 6 weeks.
10. Nests are usually placed in the uppermost part of a den which is lined with hay, mosses, and grasses collected by the female beforehand; however, nests can also be built on the open tundra. Both male and female arctic foxes assist in rearing their young. In late summer or early autumn, when they reach maturity, offspring will leave to find mates of their own and occasionally disperse as far away as 2,000 km (1,250 mi) from their place of birth. Within a single population, females live about 10 years longer than males which become sexually mature at age 9 months but do not reach social dominance until 11–12 months old; at least one case has been documented where a female was sexually active until age 13 years.
11. They have have a lifespan of 4-6 years in the wild, and about 13 years in captivity.
12. Arctic foxes are reported to have historically bred on Baffin and Ellesmere Islands, and there is recent evidence that they did breed historically in northern Greenland, but this has not been verified recently; they were extirpated from these areas by the first half of the 20th century only to return to Baffin Island between 1997 and 2013 where around 100 foxes now live. Similar increases in their population have occurred in recent decades throughout much of their former range: for example, on Melville Island, their numbers increased from about 3,600–4,400 individuals (depending on the year) before 1991 to over 7,000 by 2006; an increase of 84% over 15 years.
In their former range, they were believed to be extirpated from the mainland but have recolonized several hundred kilometers of shoreline on Nunavut’s Southampton Island, Cape Sheridan, and perhaps Bathurst Island, all in the southern Canadian Arctic Archipelago since 1995; it is possible that by 2028, arctic foxes may return to many sites throughout Canada that are currently being monitored; their successful recovery has been attributed to culling Red Foxes (Vulpes vulpes) as well as efforts to reduce habitat fragmentation. The European Greenlander is now also common on Baffin and Melville islands which probably had a refuge population there during the Little Ice Age between 1550–1820 A.D.; it is thought that the arctic fox was never extirpated from Greenland, but the Greenlander may have been.
13. Arctic foxes currently occupy four of six regions in Northern Canada: The Northwest Territories, Nunavut, Yukon, and Labrador; their geographic range extends into Alaska and northern parts of Maine (USA); however, there are no confirmed extant populations remaining in Newfoundland, Quebec or Ontario. Evidence suggests a historical presence on Prince Edward Island, but this has not been verified recently (possibly due to red foxes); they were also present historically on Baffin and Ellesmere islands but never inhabited other Canadian territories such as the Queen Elizabeth Islands, where range overlaps with the Grey Wolf “Canis lupus.”
14. While Arctic foxes are found in large numbers near the tree line, they do occasionally range into tundra areas and have been observed living at sea ice levels during summer months, where they prey for Polar Bears (Ursus maritimus) as well as being consumed by them; their only defense when caught on land is to feign death. They also hunt rodents, hares, lemmings, and birds like ptarmigans and grouses, as well as scavenge dead animals such as caribou (Rangifer tarandus). In fact, it was not uncommon historically for people dating back 100 years ago to use arctic fox skins for mittens since they were so common; fur trade records from 1837 document that over 1,200 arctic foxes were exported from Churchill alone for use in the manufacture of women’s fur mittens.
When at sea ice levels and near shorelines, they are preyed upon by polar bears, particularly when their populations have grown too large or have not been culled sufficiently; this threat has caused them to be eliminated as far south as Killinek on Nunavut’s Victoria Island where historic trapping records report a historical presence of arctic foxes but none are known to live there today.
15. The only other significant predators besides polar bears are wolves that probably eat nearly equal (if not more) numbers of Baltic Grayling in Northern Canada than the arctic fox. However, the latter species are much more accessible, making them a more popular prey choice.
Arctic foxes’ primary predators are Arctic wolves which are abundant in Canada and commonly known to live year-round throughout their entire range; they primarily hunt arctic fox kits. However, adult animals have also been observed as prey items, although less common. While the latter has not been confirmed, observation of wolves consuming foxes provides evidence that the latter’s population may be declining due to competition with this species; wild dogs (Canis lupus) and wolverines (Gulo gulo) will regularly consume young Baltic Grayling but never adults; aerial predation by golden eagles (Aquila chrysaetos) is rare but does occur especially when numbers exceed 250,000.
Steelhead Trout (Salmo gairdneri) can also ingest them when they fall from the sky and are caught in waterfalls; sea lions have been observed eating land-locked foxes whose bodies washed up along shorelines of Hudson Bay as well. Their greatest threat, however, is likely climate change which has seen summer ice levels recede past a point where arctic foxes can survive; as such, their numbers throughout Canadian territories is thought to be decreasing, although it is difficult to determine if this change is due to more than one factor since records on population estimates are sparse. They were once hunted for food in areas they resided, but declining populations no longer pose much threat now that hunting of arctic foxes is prohibited throughout Canada.
16. Arctic foxes in Canada have no significant human interactions besides the occasional vehicle collision, the latter of which is not a life-threatening event for the animal as it can simply crawl underneath because their bodies are relatively small and they have short legs; they will also enter chicken coops and consume chickens though these events are rare and only seem to happen when populations become very high over time. They were, however, hunted extensively between 1875 and 1930 throughout Nunavut, Northwest Territories, Eastern Yukon Territory, Northern Labrador, and southwestern Hudson Bay, where records suggest 1964 was a peak year in harvest (Nunavut Inuit Traditional Knowledge Database). These documented hunting practices were driven by fur trade demands that caused them to become extinct on Prince Patrick Island and Baffin Island, where their arctic fox skins would have been exported for use in the manufacture of mittens.
Arctic foxes are protected throughout Canada by law which prohibits any form of hunting, killing, capturing, or destroying them; they are also classified as a “prohibited” species under Ontario’s Fish & Wildlife Conservation Act of 1997 while only being listed as “species of special concern” within all other Canadian provinces.
17. Although the arctic fox is not endangered or threatened at this time, many scientists believe it should be considered a species of concern because they are vulnerable to changes in climate, which could affect their population directly and indirectly. The larger threat comes from mankind’s harvesting the Arctic region for gas, oil, etc. Therefore, it is hypothesized that we may expect to see some major changes in the arctic fox’s future because of human activity in this area.
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