... ...
All Creatures,

Episode 197: The Adaptable Arctic Fox

December 08, 2020

As we continue our winter (summer in Southern Hemisphere) we celebrate with a true survivor. The Arctic Fox is one of the most adaptable small mammals on our planet. Surviving in the harsh extremes of the Arctic, these special canids are built to survive. From their physiology to behavior, the Arctic Fox is a pure joy to learn about.

Arctic Fox Natural History

The Arctic Fox is a member of the Canidae Family. They are from the genus Vulpes. Within Vulpes there are 12 species of “true” species, with another 25 species that are “fox like.” The Arctic Fox’s scientific name is Vulpes lagopus.  Within the Arctic Fox, there is the general species, with 4 subspecies:

  • Bering Islands Arctic fox, V. l. beringensis
  • Greenland Arctic fox, V. l. foragoapusis
  • Iceland Arctic fox, V. l. fuliginosus
  • Pribilof Islands Arctic fox, V. l. pribilofensis

Foxes, and other canids, evolved from the Myacids nearly 35 million years ago. Foxes emerged around 10 million years ago and spread across the planet. Over a few hundred of thousands of years, foxes adapted to the environments they called home. This is how you can have the Arctic Fox in some of the coldest environments on Earth, to the Fennec Fox living in the one of the hottest and driest parts of the planet.

Arctic Fox Physiology

Most Arctic Foxes do not live past their first year. Testament to the harsh biome they live in. Once past their first year they can live up to 11 years but generally average 5-7 years.

Arctic foxes have heightened senses. They have exceptional hearing and eyesight. In addition, they have great sense of smell. So much so, they can smell a carcass of nearly 40 km away. Arctic foxes also are thought to use their sense of smell to follow polar bears to scavenge.

One of the great adaptations of the Arctic fox is their fur. During the summer their fur goes grey and tan, then switches back to white in the winter. This is an important adaptation for camouflage. Similar to polar bears, the white hairs on the Arctic fox are follow to help with insulation. They also use their bushy tails to wrap themselves to keep warm. The fur of an Arctic Fox also is long near their pads. These foxes have adapted special abilities to regulate blood flow to their feet, keeping enough blood flowing to keep their feet from freezing.

Arctic Fox Conservation

The Arctic Fox is classified as Least Concern. There are estimated hundred of thousands of these foxes roaming the great white north. However, as the poles warm, these undoubtedly will impact them.

Article on Biological Diversity Evokes Happiness

Organization

The Nature Conservancy Island Fox Program 

Scroll to top