Arctic fox

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Polar Bear (Ursus maritimus) watching Arctic fox (Alopex lagopus). Churchill area, Manitoba, Canada.
© WWF-Canon / Michel TERRETTAZ

The most Northern of all mammals

What
The Arctic fox is an incredibly hardy animal that can survive frigid Arctic temperatures as low as -50°C in the treeless lands where it makes its home. It lives further north than any other mammal and is well adapted for the cold harsh weather of the Arctic.

About
With the exception of the nose, its entire body is covered with thick fur, even the paws. This, together with its short ears and short muzzle makes it ideally adapted to the chilly climate. Arctic foxes live in burrows, and in a blizzard they may tunnel into the snow to create shelter. They have beautiful white (sometimes blue-gray) coats that act as very effective winter camouflage. The natural hues allow the animal to blend into the tundra's ubiquitous snow and ice. When the seasons change, the fox's coat turns as well. The animals adopt a brown or gray colour appearance that provides cover among the summer tundra's rocks and plants.

Arctic fox feed primarily on small mammals, including lemmings, tundra voles, squirrels, birds, eggs, berries, fish and carrion. They are scavengers, and will eat almost anything. Some even follow polar bears around to finish what is left behind when they have feasted. When food is plentiful they will bury it for later by creating a store of food over the summer months and freezing it in the permafrost. The male fox brings food for the family and guards the den.

Why
The Arctic fox has the warmest fur of any mammal, even warmer than the polar bear and arctic wolf. Arctic fox walk along on top of the snow listening for the small creatures under the snow. When they hear prey, they jump up and down to break through the snow with their front paws. Once the snow is broken they can claim their prize.

Your chances of seeing one in the wild
The Arctic fox has a circumpolar range, meaning that it is found throughout the entire Arctic. The conservation status of the species is good, except for the Scandinavian mainland population. It is acutely endangered there, despite decades of legal protection from hunting and persecution. The total population estimate in all of Norway, Sweden and Finland is a mere 120 adult individuals. The world population is thus not endangered, but 2 arctic fox subpopulations are.

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