Arctic Fox Location: Where Do Arctic Foxes Live?

White arctic fox standing in the snow.
iStock.com/Alexey_Seafarer

Written by Kaleigh Moore

Published: May 11, 2023

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Ever wondered where the Arctic fox, lives? The answer is in the name: the Arctic. Also known as the white fox, this remarkable, highly resilient animal is able to endure the coldest and harshest environments on the planet. Its fur coat is notably thick and transforms in color throughout the seasons. It also has a fluffy tail that doubles as a blanket, allowing it to stay warm by wrapping it around its body.

The Arctic fox relies on its tremendous sense of smell to locate food buried underground or sealed in a bag. Yet, one may ponder precisely where these animals reside and how they assimilate into their surroundings. This article will explore the Arctic fox’s habitat, distribution, behavior, and more.

Background Information on Arctic Foxes

Arctic foxes, alongside dogs, wolves, coyotes, and other fox species, fall within the Canidae family. Below are some fascinating facts about these creatures:

Physical Characteristics

Arctic foxes measure around 18 to 27 inches and weigh 6-12 pounds. They sport round ears, a short muzzle, and hairy paws to adapt to the cold environment. 

Their fur is exceptionally thick and cozy and can change colors based on the season. During winter, most Arctic foxes sport a white coat that camouflages with the snowy surroundings. In summer, their fur transforms into shades of brown or gray to match the rocks and plants of the tundra. It’s worth noting that some Arctic foxes retain a white coat throughout the year – primarily in the far northern realm.

Reproduction and Growth 

Arctic fox offspring are born in burrows dug by adults in well-drained sandy soil found in low mounds and cut banks. These foxes mainly breed on the coastal plain and coastal areas of continental Canada and the High Arctic islands in North America. Most dens are south-facing and can be as deep as 6 to 12 feet underground. They often use enlarged ground squirrel burrows with numerous entrances as dens. 

Mating takes place in early March to early April, and gestation lasts around 52 days, with litters averaging about seven pups but potentially containing up to 15 puppies. In the wild, Arctic foxes form monogamous partnerships, and both parents help care for and provide food to the den and pups. The young start eating meat when they are about a month old and become fully weaned by approximately six weeks old. They venture out of the den at three weeks old and begin to hunt and explore at around three months old.

During September and October, family units slowly break up. Arctic foxes generally lead solitary lives in midwinter, except when assembling at the remains of marine mammals, reindeer, or caribou. Although Arctic foxes reach sexual maturity at around nine to 10 months old, many don’t survive past their first year.

A white arctic fox.

Arctic foxes reproduce once a year and reach full maturity at two years of age.

Arctic Foxes’ Diet

Arctic foxes are omnivorous creatures, meaning they consume plant and animal-based products. Their dietary choices are contingent on the availability of food in their habitats. A few of the common foods they consume include:

Geese and Lemmings

Geese and lemmings are the primary prey for Arctic foxes during winter. The fat and calories in geese and lemmings provide these foxes with the nourishment to survive the cold weather and accumulate energy for hunting. Lemmings, tiny rodents that live under the snow, are abundant in certain areas. Arctic foxes detect them using their sense of smell and hearing. Then, they leap on them through the snow.

Bird Eggs, Fish, and Seabirds

These protein sources become essential to Arctic foxes, particularly when geese and lemmings become scarce in summer. Arctic foxes can raid bird nests to consume their eggs or scavenge for fish and seabirds that wash up on shore. They can also catch fish by diving or breaking through ice.

Worms, Amphibians, Shellfish, and More

These are a few invertebrates that Arctic foxes resort to when other food sources become scarce. They can dig out worms and amphibians from the soil or locate shellfish and other marine animals along the coast.

Fruits, Berries, and Seaweed

These plant-based foods become a staple for Arctic foxes when they need additional vitamins and minerals. They can locate fruits and berries in shrubs and bushes or seaweed on rocks and beaches.

How Do Arctic Foxes Hunt?

Arctic foxes boast a range of adaptations that facilitate their hunting in their environment. These include the following:

  • Camouflage: Arctic foxes’ fur shifts colors with the seasons, transforming from white in winter to brown or gray in summer. This adjustment allows them to blend in seamlessly with their surroundings.
  • Hearing: Arctic foxes’ exceptional hearing allows them to detect sounds under the snow or ice. They can hear the movements of lemmings, fish, or other creatures.
  • Smell: With a keen sense of smell, Arctic foxes can identify food sources or track prey. They can smell geese or other birds in their nests, fish or seabirds on the shoreline.
  • Jumping: Equipped with powerful legs, Arctic foxes can jump high and far, leaping over obstacles or gaps in the ice or attacking prey from above.
  • Digging: Sharp claws enable Arctic foxes to dig through snow or soil. They can unearth geese or other animals from their dens or excavate the ground to locate worms or amphibians.
  • Storing: Arctic foxes possess a unique habit of keeping excess food for later use. They bury food items under snow or soil to help them survive when food is scarce or when they need to nourish their young.
An arctic fox on the hunt.

Arctic foxes are expert hunters, relying on their excellent sense of smell and hearing to locate prey.

Where Do Arctic Foxes Live?

The Arctic fox’s distribution is circumpolar, indicating that it occurs throughout the Arctic. It resides in Arctic tundra habitats in northern Europe, northern Asia, and North America. Tundra habitats are cold, dry, and treeless regions of the world. The Arctic fox is Iceland’s only native land mammal. These foxes can travel vast distances across the pack ice, occasionally shadowing polar bears to scavenge their prey.

The population and range of the Arctic fox fluctuate based on prey availability, particularly lemmings. Lemmings are diminutive rodents that experience cyclical population booms and declines every few years. When lemmings are abundant, Arctic foxes can breed more efficiently and expand their territory. 

Can You Domesticate an Arctic Fox? 

The answer is yes but with some caveats. Arctic foxes are not domesticated animals like dogs or cats. They have specific needs and challenges you should be aware of before adopting one. Here are four reasons that make an Arctic fox a great pet and some tips on caring for them:

1. They are Intelligent and Playful

The ability of these animals to identify their name and demonstrate proficient litter box use is astounding. They experience gratification through interaction with toys, specifically ones that emit auditory stimuli. Therefore, it is imperative to encourage the participation of Arctic foxes in activities that challenge their cognitive faculties.

2. They are Social and Affectionate

Arctic foxes are social animals that bond strongly with their owners and other pets. They like to cuddle, groom, and sleep with their human companions, and they can get along well with dogs if they are raised together. You will need to socialize your Arctic fox from a young age and give them lots of attention and interaction.

3. They are Adaptable and Hardy

The Arctic fox can endure a wide array of harsh habitats. The enclosure, being the primary residence of the Arctic fox, must offer ample protection from potential predators while fostering a conducive setting that caters to the animal’s physical and behavioral well-being.

Please observe the unique needs of the Arctic fox, such as their instinctual inclination to burrow and hunt, which require meticulous attention. Failure to provide for these needs could induce severe stress, aggression, and potentially fatal health complications for the animal. Hence the utmost care and attention are vital.

4. They are Unique and Beautiful

Their distinctive appearance sets them apart from other foxes, with their large ears, fluffy tail, and changing coat color. You will need to appreciate your Arctic fox’s natural beauty and behavior and not try to change them or treat them like a dog or cat.

A cute little arctic fox pup stands in the snow.

This adorable arctic fox pup is ready to take on the world.

In the United States, owning a fox is generally prohibited in most regions. However, in 15 states, it is legal to own a fox, provided the owner has the required permits. These states include:

  1. Arkansas
  2. Delaware
  3. Florida
  4. Indiana
  5. Michigan
  6. Nebraska
  7. Oklahoma
  8. Pennsylvania
  9. Rhode Island
  10. South Carolina
  11. Texas
  12. Utah
  13. West Virginia
  14. Wisconsin
  15. Wyoming

Even though fox ownership is allowed in these states, the specific requirements to own one can differ. In Arkansas, for instance, a Fur Stocking Permit is required, while in Texas, the owner must obtain a domestic animal permit and ensure that the fox is vaccinated against rabies. Some states may have additional conditions, such as mandating the animal be kept in an enclosure that prevents escape or contact with wildlife or attending educational sessions on proper care for the animal. 

In Wisconsin, owners must register their fox ownership with a local veterinarian within a month of purchase. At the same time, Pennsylvania requires evidence of appropriate housing and good health from veterinarians before a fox can be bought. These varying rules highlight the importance of prospective fox owners researching the regulations of their specific state before getting one of these animals. 

Note that Arctic foxes are exclusively native to the Arctic tundra and cannot thrive in warmer environments. Thus, without artificial cooling, it is improbable that they could survive in hot regions.

Are Arctic Foxes Endangered?

As per the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List, hundreds of thousands of Arctic foxes are worldwide. In Finland, Norway, and Sweden, the adult population is believed to be fewer than 200 animals, rendering the species critically endangered. However, the Arctic foxes are classified as Least Concern (LC), indicating their overall population is stable.

What are the Natural Predators of Arctic Foxes?

The Arctic fox faces many threats from other animals wanting to eat or compete with it for food. Let’s look at the natural predators of Arctic foxes and how they affect their population and behavior:

1. Red Foxes: The Main Rival

The red fox, a larger and more aggressive predator, poses a significant threat to Arctic foxes. 

Climate change has caused the red fox to move further north, encroaching on the Arctic fox’s territory and competing for resources like lemmings, voles, birds, and eggs. Intraguild predation (IGP) is the term used to describe this competition between predator species.

Red foxes also jeopardize Arctic fox breeding success by killing their young when they discover their dens. This makes them more susceptible to population decline.

A red fox standing in a grassy field.

Red foxes are fierce competitors in the Arctic, and can often be found hunting together with Arctic foxes.

2. Bears: The Opportunistic Hunters

Polar bears may resort to hunting foxes when alternative food sources are scarce. This presents a constant danger for the small Arctic foxes who frequently trail polar bears to scavenge from their kills, as they may become the target of a sudden and ferocious attack.

Grizzly bears, by contrast, prey on Arctic foxes in inland areas. To evade detection by these powerful predators, Arctic foxes hide within their burrows or employ their natural camouflage to seamlessly blend into the snowy landscape.

A polar bear in its natural environment.

Polar bears are highly skilled hunters. They may resort to hunting arctic foxes in times of food scarcity.

3. Eagles: The Aerial Attackers

With razor-sharp talons and a beak crafted for lethal precision, the golden eagle reigns as one of the most dominant aerial hunters in the skies above our planet. When their young demand sustenance, mostly during spring and summer, these masterful predators target Arctic foxes with deadly efficiency. These winged beasts can spot their prey from incredible distances and launch a swift, deadly assault.

But the golden eagle is far from the sole threat to the Arctic fox. A diverse array of winged hunters, including white-tailed eagles, snowy owls, jaegers, and large hawks, constantly pose a significant danger to these vulnerable creatures.

A golden eagle on the hunt.

With its superior speed and agility, a golden eagle is well-suited to hunting arctic foxes. They are able to use their wings and talons to outmaneuver their prey.

4. Humans: The Ultimate Predator

Humans have pursued the Arctic fox for their highly coveted fur, meat, and other valuable by-products for generations. These creatures’ rich and savory meat has long played a crucial role in sustaining and clothing numerous indigenous communities who call the Arctic region their home.

Yet despite these myriad benefits, human hunting has taken a heavy toll on the Arctic fox population in many regions, driving their numbers perilously close to extinction. The impact of human hunting on Arctic foxes extends well beyond direct harm and can create a host of indirect threats.

The most pressing of these indirect threats stems from the devastating impact of climate change on the Arctic ecosystem. As global temperatures continue to soar, snow cover and ice extent in the Arctic region are rapidly dwindling, thereby impairing the mobility and camouflage of the Arctic foxes. This makes it increasingly difficult for these creatures to effectively hunt and evade predators, rendering them even more vulnerable to harm and extinction.

A hunter aiming his gun at a prey.

Hunting is one of the major threats to Arctic fox populations. Each year, thousands of Arctic foxes are killed for their fur or other parts.

Final Thoughts: Living Alongside Arctic Foxes

While demand for Arctic fox fur has recently declined, selling their pelts remains an essential source of income for many coastal native communities. Compared to their close relatives, the red foxes, Arctic foxes are generally less cautious around humans and may become troublesome when fed.

Arctic foxes can contract rabies and canine distemper, transmitting the former to humans and dogs via bites. Foxes that display aggression or don’t seem to fear humans may be infected with rabies and should be put down and reported to wildlife officials.


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