Arctic fox

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Arctic Fox
Conservation status: Lower risk
Arctic Fox
Scientific classification
Species:A. lagopus
Binomial name
Alopex lagopus
(Linnaeus, 1758)

The Arctic fox (Alopex lagopus or Vulpes lagopus) is a small fox native to cold Arctic regions of the Northern Hemisphere. Although some authorities have suggested placing them in the genus Vulpes, they have long been considered the sole member of the genus Alopex.


Arctic foxes have coats that come in two distinct color schemes. Foxes of the white scheme are white in the winter and in the summer are dull brown, remaining whitish underneath. Foxes of the blue scheme are light gray in the winter, and in the summer are gray with a bluish tint.

Arctic foxes tend to be 50 to 60 cm long, not including a 30-cm tail. They are 20 to 30 cm tall at the shoulder, and usually weigh from 3 to 6 kg. Thus, they are about the size of a domestic cat.

The species name, lagopus, means "rabbit foot," a reference to the thick hair on the pads of the animal's feet. The hair helps reduce heat loss into snow and ice, and it improves traction.


Arctic foxes eat a wide variety of things, including lemmings, arctic hare, birds and their eggs, carrion, and plants. The most important of these foods is the lemming. A family of foxes can eat dozens of lemmings each day. During April and May, arctic foxes also prey on ringed seal pups when the young animals are confined to a snow den and are relatively helpless. When their normal prey is scarce, Arctic foxes scavenge the leftovers of larger predators, such as polar bears, even though polar bears' prey includes the Arctic fox itself.

The foxes tend to form monogamous pairs in the breeding season. Litters of about half a dozen to a dozen whelps are born in the early summer, a very large litter size for mammals. The parents raise the young in a large den.

Population and distribution

Arctic foxes have a circumpolar range, meaning that they are found throughout the entire Arctic, including Russia, Canada, Alaska, Greenland and Svalbard, as well as in sub-Arctic areas, such as Iceland and parts of Norway. They are plentiful in most areas, although a few isolated populations are struggling.

The abundance of Arctic foxes tends to fluctuate in a cycle along with the population of lemmings. Because the foxes reproduce very quickly and often die young, population levels are not seriously impacted by trapping. They have, nonetheless, been eradicated from many areas where humans are settled.

The Arctic fox is frequently losing ground to the larger red fox. Historically, the Grey Wolf has kept the number of red foxes down, but as wolves have been hunted to near extinction, the red fox population has grown larger, taking over the niche of top predator. In areas of northern Europe there are programs to hunt red foxes in the Arctic fox's previous range.


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