Around the size of a large domestic cat, the arctic fox is best known for its distinctively white winter coat, which renders the animals practically invisible amidst their snowy surroundings. During the warmer seasons, however, their fur turns into a coat of various shades of browns and grays, allowing them to blend in with the surrounding rocky tundra after the snow has melted. As a member of the Family Canidae, the arctic fox belongs in the same family as dogs and wolves, though it is much smaller than its distant relatives. Arctic foxes vary in size depending upon their respective genders. Male foxes can grow to reach 33 to 43 inches (83 to 110 centimeters) in length, and weights between 7 and 21 pounds (3.2 and 9.4 kilograms). Female foxes, meanwhile, range between 28 and 35 inches (71 and 85 centimeters) in length, and only weigh between 3 and 7 pounds (1.4 and 3.2 kilograms).
Given its harsh living environment, the arctic fox both hunts and scavenges for whatever it can find. Lemmings make up a large part of their diets, but Arctic foxes will also eat birds and their eggs, baby ringed seals, and whatever carcasses larger predators have left behind. As an omnivore, they have also been seen to eat berries, seaweed, and other vegetation. An arctic fox, with the intention of scavenging, may follow other nearby predators and wait for them to leave after a successful hunt. Otherwise, they rely on their keen senses of hearing and smell to ambush animals beneath the snow.
Habitat and Range
The arctic fox is spread out across the arctic tundra. Their diaspora spans from Alaska and Canada, all the way across the northern climes of Greenland, Scandinavia, and Russia. They have been seen as far north as the sea ice approaching the North Pole. They typically live in burrows, and may hide in tunnels and makeshift shelters during blizzards. Numbering at several hundred thousand globally, arctic foxes are considered as a species of "Least Concern" under the most recent International Union for the Conservation of Nature's (IUCN's) Red List of Threatened Species. Despite this, they do suffer from diseases like sarcoptic mange, and from hunters both for their fur (especially for foxes with rare gray-blue winter coats), and those pushing bird conservation efforts on some of the Aleutian Islands off the Alaskan coast.
Due to how widespread and sporadic their food may be, Arctic foxes are always on the move. They are active all year round, and do not hibernate as some other arctic animals do. During the colder seasons, an arctic fox uses its thick, bushy tail as a blanket to protect it from the cold and, like a cat, its tails also helps provide balance when it runs and hunts. One thing that sets arctic foxes apart from other animals is how it hunts. When it senses an animal beneath the snow, it will use its ears to pinpoint its prey’s location and pounce, breaking through layers of snow with its front paws to reach its next meal.
Although they mostly lead solitary, nomadic lives, monogamous mating pairs will come together during the warmer seasons in order for mating to take place. Arctic foxes’ dens normally consist of three mature foxes. These include the mating pair themselves and a non-breeding female from the previous year’s litter, which provides its parents with additional assistance. A vixen’s pregnancy will last from 51 to 57 days, and the pair will remain together throughout the season to rear their young. A litter normally has an average of 11 pups, though they can range anywhere from 5 to 14 young in size. The pups reach maturity at 9 to 10 months, so that by the time winter season comes the family unit will have dispersed, and its members will have gone back to their solitary ways.