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Arctic fox
Polarfuchs 1 2004-11-17.jpg
Scientific classification
Binomial name
Vulpes lagopus
Cypron-Range Vulpes lagopus.svg
Arctic fox range

The Arctic fox (Valpes lagopus) is an omnivorous (meat-eating and plant-eating) member of the Canidae family. The Arctic fox can also be called the white fox, polar fox, or snow fox. It lives in the Arctic tundra habitats of northern Europe, northern Asia, and North America. The Arctic fox is found at elevations up to 9,800 ft. (3,000 m.) above sea level and has been seen on sea ice close to the North Pole.


The Arctic fox is about 10-12 inches high (25–30 cm) and it weighs from 6.5 to 21 pounds (2.7-4.5 kg). The females tend to be smaller than the males. The Arctic fox has a round body shape, a short nose and legs, and short fluffy ears. This small round shape means that less of its body surface is exposed to the cold, which helps to keep it warm. It has a deep, thick fur which is brown in summer and white in winter. The pups are born with brown fur which changes to white as they get older.

The Arctic fox's seasonal furs: summer (top), "blue" (middle), and winter (bottom)

There are two genetically different coat color morphs: white and blue. In the winter, the white morph is white and turns brown along the back with light grey around the abdomen in summer. The blue morph is often a dark blue, brown, or grey color year-round. 99% of the Arctic fox population is the white morph. The white morph mainly lives inland (away from the sea) and blends in with the snowy tundra, while the blue morph lives near the coast because its darker color blends in with the cliffs and rocks.


Alopex lagopus IMG 9019
Arctic fox sleeping with its tail wrapped around itself

Arctic foxes must endure temperatures outside that are extremely different from their internal core temperature. To prevent heat loss, the Arctic fox curls up tightly, tucking its legs and head under its body and behind its furry tail. Arctic foxes also stay warm by getting out of the wind and staying in their dens.

Arctic foxes do not hibernate. They grow thicker fur in the autumn and put on more than 50% of their body weight as fat for insulation and as saved-up energy. The fur of the Arctic fox provides the best insulation of any mammal. It is the only fox that has fur on its paws. Its broad, fluffy paws let it walk on ice and snow to look for food.

The Arctic fox has such good hearing that it can hear small animals under the snow. When it hears an animal under the snow, it jumps and punches through the snow to catch its victim.

Arctic foxes also have a keen sense of smell. They can smell carcasses that are often left by polar bears as far away as 6 to 24 miles.


Arctic foxes live in large dens in frost-free, slightly raised ground. These are complex systems of tunnels covering as much as 1,200 sq yds (1,000 m2) and are often in eskers, which are long ridges of sedimentary material deposited in areas where there used to be glaciers. These dens may be in existence for decades and are used by many generations of foxes.

Arctic foxes tend to choose dens that are easy to enter. There are many openings and dens are clear from snow and ice, making them easier to burrow in. The Arctic fox builds and chooses dens that face southward toward the sun, which makes the den warmer. Arctic foxes prefer large, maze-like dens so that they can more easily escape predators.


Arctic foxes are omnivores. They eat lemmings, Arctic hares, fish, birds, eggs, fruit, insects, small seals, and carrion. They scavenge on carcasses left by larger predators as well. Their main prey is lemmings, and a family of foxes can eat dozens of lemmings each day. They also eat berries and seaweed, so they are considered omnivores. This fox eats all bird eggs except the largest tundra bird species. When they have more food than they need, the Arctic fox buries (caches) the extra to store for later.


Arctic foxes form pairs in the breeding season. Breeding usually takes place in April and May. It takes 53 days for the pups to grow in the mother before they are born. The mother can produce 5-8 cubs, and sometimes as many as 25 cubs, depending on the availability of food. Both the mother and the father help to raise their young pups. The young come out of the den when they are about 3 to 4 weeks old and are weaned by 9 weeks of age. Arctic foxes live for about 3 to 6 years.

Conservation status

Drawing of a skull by St. George Mivart, 1890

Overall, the conservation status of the species is good. Several hundred thousand individuals are estimated to remain. The IUCN given the Arctic fox the status of "least concern."

The larger red fox is catching up in numbers to the Arctic fox. Scientists think that climate change could be the reason. When there is less snow cover, the Arctic fox is not as camouflaged as when there is more snow on the ground.

New Zealand does not allow Arctic foxes to be brought into the country. In their Hazardous Substances and New Organisms Act 1996, New Zealand classed the Arctic fox as a "prohibited new organism."

Endangered species

There are two locations where Arctic foxes are endangered: on Medny Island (Commander Islands, Russia) and in Fennoscandia (Norway, Sweden, Finland, and Kola Peninsula). In Russia, mange caused by an ear tick in the 1970s reduced the population by 85–90%, to around 90 foxes. The population is currently being treated with antiparasitic drugs. Scientists are hoping the drugs will help the foxes.

The population in Fennoscandia decreased around the start of the 20th century because fur was so valuable. Hunters did not stop hunting Arctic foxes, even when the population decreased. It has been illegal to hunt or hurt them for several decades. The estimate of the adult population in all of Norway, Sweden, and Finland is fewer than 200 individuals. Populations of Arctic foxes have been carefully studied and counted in places such as the Vindelfjällens Nature Reserve (Sweden), which has the Arctic fox as its symbol.

Interesting facts about Arctic Foxes

Fox with fish
An Arctic fox (Summer morph) with fish
  • Arctic foxes are about the size of domestic cats.
  • They use their tails to help them balance and as a blanket.
  • Arctic foxes mate for life. Both parents raise the pups.
  • As of now, there is no danger of extinction for Arctic foxes.
  • Arctic foxes will eat almost anything.
  • They have been seen hiding food under rocks for the future.

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