Arctic Fox

Vulpes lagopus

Last updated: March 22, 2021
Verified by: AZ Animals Staff

Extremely thick winter fur!



Arctic Fox Scientific Classification

Kingdom
Animalia
Phylum
Chordata
Class
Mammalia
Order
Carnivora
Family
Canidae
Genus
Vulpes
Scientific Name
Vulpes lagopus

Arctic Fox Conservation Status

Arctic Fox Locations

Arctic Fox Locations

Arctic Fox Facts

Main Prey
Lemmings, voles, hares, other small rodents, berries, insects
Name Of Young
kit
Distinctive Feature
Thick fur that changes colour with season
Habitat
Polar forest regions
Predators
Snowy Owl, Wolf, Polar Bear
Diet
Carnivore
Average Litter Size
5
Lifestyle
  • Solitary
Favorite Food
Lemmings
Type
Mammal
Slogan
Extremely thick winter fur!

Arctic Fox Physical Characteristics

Colour
  • Grey
  • Black
  • White
Skin Type
Fur
Top Speed
30 mph
Lifespan
7 - 10 years
Weight
1.4kg - 9.4kg (3lbs - 21lbs)
Length
70cm - 110cm (28in - 43in)

Arctic Fox Images

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“Arctic Foxes Are Iceland’s Only Native Mammal”

Arctic foxes (often misspelled as artic fox or artic foxes) are small, adorable animals and have natural adaptations protecting them from predators and frigid temperatures. According to fossils, Arctic foxes got their start in Tibet during the Pliocene Epoch, 2.6 million years ago, then spread to North America and Eurasia by migrating over ice-land bridges. The species is Iceland’s only native mammal, and while hundreds of thousands currently roam around the Arctic Circle, climate change threatens to decimate populations in the coming years.

Incredible Arctic Fox Facts!

  • They are burrow dwellers that occupy elaborate dens, some of which are centuries old!
  • The species diverged from domesticated dogs 12 million years ago.
  • Arctic foxes are the main carriers of the Arctic rabies virus.
  • Individuals of the species can trek up to 96.3 miles (155 kilometers) in a single day!
  • These foxes are smart, curious, and fast! When avoiding predators and hunting prey, they can sprint up to 50 kilometers per hour.

Arctic Fox Scientific Name

The scientific name for these foxes is Vulpes lagopus — which has Ancient Greek and Latin roots. “Vulpes” is the Latin word for “fox,” and lagopus comes from two Ancient Greek words, lagōs, which means “hare,” and pous, which means “foot.” Together the scientific name translates to “hairy-footed fox.”

In 1758, the father of taxonomy, Carl Linneaus, assigned the species two names: Alopex lagopus and Canis lagopus. Since then, scientists have gathered more genetic information and changed it to Vulpes lagopus.

Arctic foxes are also known as white foxes, polar foxes, and snow foxes. Adult males are called “dogs” and females “vixens.” A group of these foxes is known as either a “skulk” or “leash.”

Tiriganiarjuk is the Inuit word for Arctic fox, which translates to “the little white one.” In other native languages, the species’ name translates to “the one who walks a lot.”

Arctic Fox Appearance and Behavior

Arctic Fox Appearance

The male foxes are slightly larger than females of the species. Large individuals are about the size of Jack Russell terriers; smaller ones are the size of chihuahuas.


Articles Mentioning Arctic Fox

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Gender Average Size Average Height Average Weight
Female 20 inches (52 centimeters) 9.8 to 11.8 inches (25 to 30 centimeters) 3.1 to 7.1 pounds (1.4 to 3.2 kilograms)
Male 22 inches (55 centimeters) 9.8 to 11.8 inches (25 to 30 centimeters) 7.1 to 20.7 pounds (3.2 to 9.4 kilograms)

Adaptations That Keep Arctic Foxes Warm

Arctic foxes are animals that present in two color morphs: white and blue. Ninety-nine percent have the white color morph, meaning their fur is white in winter to blend in with the ice and brown in summer to camouflage with cliffs and rocks. The other one percent — mainly in coastal regions — has the blue morph, meaning they have rock blue-ice coloring in the winter and gray-blue in the summer. These color adaptations help them blend into the environment and evade predators.

Both male and female fox tails — aka “brushes” — measure about 12 inches (30 centimeters). More than just a balance aid, they also serve as blankets. It’s one of several adaptations that allow them to survive sub-zero winters. In addition to their long and warm tails, Arctic foxes also have fur-covered paws that work to keep their bodies toasty warm in the winter.

Thick ears, short muzzles, and multilayer pelage also help Arctic foxes survive freezing environments. Their fur is the warmest of any mammal, and their compact bodies optimally conserve heat. Better yet, they can separately control their paw and core temperatures — which makes for comfortable ice walks!

Ideally engineered to withstand harsh climates, they don’t start shivering until the mercury reaches -94 °F (-70 °C). Learn about the toughest animals in the world here.

Arctic Fox Behavior

Arctic foxes are animals that can be active round the clock. During the autumn and winter, they lead more solitary lives and reduce activity to preserve insular fat — but they don’t hibernate. In the spring and summer, these foxes convene to live as families, breed, and raise pups.

When not out hunting, foraging, or teaching pups survival tactics, arctic foxes hang out in gigantic, maze-like dens that typically face southward to best harness the sun’s heat. In warm weather, they sleep outside; during the harsh winters, they slumber inside.

Arctic fox dens are constructed for maximum predator evasion and pup protection. Some are so complex that they have more than 100 entrances! Appreciative of their ancestors’ burrowing efforts, the foxes preserve dens instead of building new complexes every year. In fact, some are hundreds of years old!

Pair of Arctic Foxes standing together on snowhill, alert
Pair of Arctic Foxes standing together on snowhill, alert

Arctic Fox Habitat

Where can you find Arctic foxes? The species populates the Northern Hemisphere’s Arctic Circle where summer temperatures range between 14 and 86 °F (-10 and 30 °C), and the winter thermometer hovers around -30° F (-34°C).

Communities are scattered throughout the treeless tundra regions of North America, Asia, Europe, Greenland, and Iceland, with most populations living in pack-ice areas. However, some Canadian Arctic foxes inhabit boreal forests filled with pines and spruces.

To date, scientists have identified four subspecies.

Subspecies Location Arctic Fox Subspecies Scientific Name
Bering Islands Arctic fox V.I. beringensis
Greenland Arctic fox V.I. foragoapusis
Iceland Arctic fox V.I. fuliginosus
Pribilof Islands Arctic fox V.I. pribilofensis

Arctic Fox Diet: Prey

What do Arctic foxes eat? Their meals of choice are lemmings, voles, hares, and other small rodents. When their preferred meat is unavailable, Arctic foxes chow down on fish, snow geese eggs, ptarmigan, grouse, puffins, ringed seal pups, and reindeer. When things are truly scarce, they turn to berries and seaweed.

And yes, when faced with starvation, they eat their own feces!

During the summer and autumn, aided by their sharp smell and sight senses, they hunt prey. They can sniff out seal lairs from over a mile away and hear lemmings burrowing several inches below ground. On a good day, a family of foxes can down dozens of rodents. When lucky enough to have a surplus of food, the foxes bury it for a rainy day.

But life gets a lot tougher in the winter. Meat is much harder to find, and vegetation is dormant. To survive, these foxes stalk polar bears and dine on their scraps. But it’s a dangerous endeavor because polar bears prey on foxes!

Arctic Fox Predators and Threats

What animals prey on Arctic foxes? The species’ main predators are polar bears, wolves, wolverines, brown bears, red foxes, and humans. They also must keep an eye out for fast golden eagles, bald eagles, and snowy owls that swoop down and snatch baby foxes.

But these days, natural predators aren’t their worst threat — climate change and offshore drilling are fast becoming the species’ main nemesis. Arctic temperatures are skyrocketing — which leads to reduced sea ice and rising sea levels. Add some destructive oil extraction off the coast, and it’s an ecological tinderbox on the brink of explosion.

Plus, even though the foxes are still plentiful in most regions, other animals are dying off and creating food shortages. Moreover, due to rapidly melting ice, their lighter coats are becoming a liability, not an advantage. To complete the perfect storm, increasingly, these foxes are losing ground to the larger red fox.

Native Arctic peoples still retain the right to hunt polar foxes for sustenance, but commercial hunting of the species is now off-limits.

Arctic Fox Reproduction, Babies, and Lifespan

Arctic Fox Reproduction

When the snow melts and the sun comes out of hibernation, these foxes gather for the mating season between late February and May. In food-insecure populations, these foxes form monogamous pairs for the season. In communities where food is abundant, they’re more promiscuous and form complex social structures where multiple individuals look after each others’ newborns.

Typically, inland populations are more monogamous than coastal ones — the exception is Icelandic Arctic foxes. The subspecies exhibits strong familial ties, and offspring will often stick around their parents’ territories for a long time, even in times of famine when food can be found elsewhere.

Females gestate for about 52 days and give birth between April and July to litters ranging between five and 25, the most of all carnivore species.

Arctic Fox Babies

Baby Arctic foxes are called “kits.” They’re born with dark fur and enjoy the care and attention of both parents. Kits nurse for about 45 days and begin to emerge from the den after three weeks. By week nine, the pups are usually ready to make it on their own. At nine months, they’re sexually mature and ready to start mating.

Arctic Fox Lifespan

Arctic foxes don’t live long. Though fast, in the wild most become bear prey between three and six years old. But even in captivity, they usually only make it to ten or eleven.

Arctic Fox Population

Currently, several hundred thousand these foxes live in the wild, and the International Union for the Conservation of Nature categorizes the species under Least Concern on its Red List. But that doesn’t tell the whole story.

Climate change is rapidly damaging Arctic fox habitats, and if things don’t change over the next decade, the species could become a global warming casualty.

Already, the Scandinavian population is Endangered. Less than 200 individuals remain, and severe inbreeding further threatens its survival. Conservationists are in the process of introducing new individuals of breeding age into the area, but will their efforts work? It remains to be seen.

Arctic Foxes In United States’ Zoos

Below is a partial list of U.S. zoos with these foxes.

Detroit Zoo: Moxie and Alex, two females, live in the Detroit Zoo’s state-of-the-art Arctic Ring of Life habitat.

San Diego Zoo: Despite being in sunny California, the San Diego Zoo is home to two of these foxes named Isiq and Kaniq that live in the Polar Bear Plunge enclosure.

Stone Zoo: Stone Zoo, in Stoneham, Massachusetts, cares for two fast Arctic foxes that love to whiz around their enclosure.

Point Defiance Zoo: Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium in Tacoma, Washington maintains a large exhibit for two of them.

North Carolina Zoo: The Rocky Coast exhibit at the North Carolina Zoo is home to two of the foxes.

Other stateside zoos with these foxes include:

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Arctic Fox FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) 

Are Arctic Foxes Carnivores, Herbivores, or Omnivores?

Arctic foxes are omnivores, meaning they eat both meat and plants.

Are Arctic Foxes Dangerous to Humans?

Arctic foxes are small and fast — but not a massive threat to humans. However, always be cautious around wild animals and keep your distance if not trained to interact with them.

What Eats Arctic Foxes?

Arctix fox predators include polar bears, wolves, wolverines, brown bears, and red foxes. They also have to keep an eye out for eagles and snowy owls.

What Do Arctic Foxes Eat?

Arctic foxes prey on lemmings, voles, hares, fish, snow geese eggs, ptarmigan, grouse, puffins, ringed seal pups, reindeer, berries, and seaweed. In times of extreme famine, Arctic foxes will even eat their own feces!

Where Does the Arctic Fox Live?

Arctic foxes live in tundra and taiga regions of Asia, Europe, Greenland, Iceland, and North America.

How Big Is an Arctic Fox?

Small Arctic foxes are about half the size of a school ruler; larger ones are about the size of two and a half new pencils.

How Many Arctic Foxes Are Left?

Hundreds of thousands of Arctic foxes currently roam the Earth. But due to climate change and reckless oil drilling, their numbers are declining. Populations in Norway, Sweden, and Finland are already Endangered.

What Kingdom do Arctic Foxes belong to?

Arctic Foxes belong to the Kingdom Animalia.

What phylum do Arctic Foxes belong to?

Arctic Foxes belong to the phylum Chordata.

What class do Arctic Foxes belong to?

Arctic Foxes belong to the class Mammalia.

What family do Arctic Foxes belong to?

Arctic Foxes belong to the family Canidae.

What order do Arctic Foxes belong to?

Arctic Foxes belong to the order Carnivora.

What genus do Arctic Foxes belong to?

Arctic Foxes belong to the genus Vulpes.

What type of covering do Arctic Foxes have?

Arctic Foxes are covered in Fur.

What are some distinguishing features of Arctic Foxes?

Arctic Foxes have thick fur that changes color with the seasons.

What is the average litter size for an Arctic Fox?

The average litter size for an Arctic Fox is 5.

What is an interesting fact about Arctic Foxes?

Arctic Foxes have extremely thick winter fur!

What is the scientific name for the Arctic Fox?

The scientific name for the Arctic Fox is Vulpes lagopus.

What is the lifespan of an Arctic Fox?

Arctic Foxes can live for 7 to 10 years.

What is a baby Arctic Fox called?

A baby Arctic Fox is called a kit.

How fast is an Arctic Fox?

An Arctic Fox can travel at speeds of up to 30 miles per hour.

How to say Arctic Fox in ...
Bulgarian
Полярна лисица
Catalan
Guineu àrtica
Czech
Liška polární
Danish
Polarræv
German
Polarfuchs
English
Arctic Fox
Esperanto
Arkta vulpo
Spanish
Alopex lagopus
Estonian
Polaarrebane
Finnish
Naali
French
Renard polaire
Hebrew
שועל שלג
Croatian
Arktička lisica
Italian
Alopex lagopus
Japanese
ホッキョクギツネ
Latin
Vulpes lagopus
Dutch
Poolvos
English
Fjellrev
Polish
Lis polarny
Portuguese
Raposa-do-ártico
Slovenian
Polarna lisica
Swedish
Fjällräv
Turkish
Kutup tilkisi
Chinese
北極狐
Sources
  1. David Burnie, Dorling Kindersley (2011) Animal, The Definitive Visual Guide To The World's Wildlife
  2. Tom Jackson, Lorenz Books (2007) The World Encyclopedia Of Animals
  3. David Burnie, Kingfisher (2011) The Kingfisher Animal Encyclopedia
  4. Richard Mackay, University of California Press (2009) The Atlas Of Endangered Species
  5. David Burnie, Dorling Kindersley (2008) Illustrated Encyclopedia Of Animals
  6. Dorling Kindersley (2006) Dorling Kindersley Encyclopedia Of Animals
  7. David W. Macdonald, Oxford University Press (2010) The Encyclopedia Of Mammals
  8. Qui, J. (2014) Origins of Arctic fox traced back to Tibet - https://www.nature.com/news/origins-of-arctic-fox-traced-back-to-tibet-1.15398
  9. Icelandic Institute of Natural History. Mammals. Náttúrufræðistofnun Íslands, Available here: https://en.ni.is/fauna/mammals
  10. Center for Biological Diversity. ARCTIC FOX (Alopex lagopus). Arctic fox, Available here: https://www.biologicaldiversity.org/programs/climate_law_institute/the_arctic_meltdown/slideshow_text/arctic_fox.html
  11. Brears, R. C (1970) Arctic Foxes: Constant Gardeners of the Arctic. Oceanwide Expeditions. https://oceanwide-expeditions.com/blog/arctic-foxes-the-constant-gardeners-of-the-arctic
  12. Matias, D. (2019) Arctic Fox Sets Record In Walking From Norway To Canada. NPR. https://www.npr.org/2019/07/02/737993673/arctic-fox-sets-record-in-walking-from-norway-to-canada
  13. Canada's Arctic. Tiriganiarjuk — Arctic Fox . Anirniliit - those which breathe, Available here: http://www.arctic.uoguelph.ca/cpl/Traditional/traditional/animals/fox.htm
  14. Bragg, R. (1970) Which Arctic Animal Has the Warmest Fur? Animals.mom.com. https://animals.mom.com/arctic-animal-warmest-fur-11195.html
  15. Noren, K; et al (1970) "From monogamy to complexity: social organization of arctic foxes (Vulpes lagopus) in contrasting ecosystems". Canadian Journal of Zoology. 90 (9): 1102–1116

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