The Arctic fox (Vulpes lagopus) is a small fox native to the Arctic regions of the Northern Hemisphere and common throughout the Arctic tundra biome. It is well adapted to living in cold environments and is best known for its thick, warm fur that is also used as camouflage. In the wild, most individuals do not live past their first year but some exceptional ones survive up to 11 years.
The Arctic fox has deep thick fur which is white in winter and brown in summer. It can stay warm in winter not just because of its thick coat but because of its generally rounded body shape with short legs, bushy tail, small rounded ears, and short muzzle.
Arctic foxes live in the Arctic and Subarctic regions of Russia, Europe, and North America. Their range includes Greenland, Iceland, Fennoscandia, Svalbard, Jan Mayen (where they were hunted to extinction), and other islands in the Barents Sea, northern Russia, islands in the Bering Sea, Alaska, and Canada as far south as Hudson Bay. Arctic foxes mostly inhabit tundra and pack ice, but are also present in Canadian boreal forests (northeastern Alberta, northern Saskatchewan, northern Manitoba, Northern Ontario, Northern Quebec, and Newfoundland and Labrador) and the Kenai Peninsula in Alaska. They have also been seen on sea ice close to the North Pole.
Arctic foxes are diurnal animals. They live in a family consisting of one adult male, the young, and two vixens - one a non-breeding female born the year before that helps look after the next litter. Arctic foxes live in dens that they make far beneath the surface of the ground. Their dens have a number of entrances and have been lived in by generations of foxes for centuries. Arctic foxes survive harsh winters and food scarcity by either hoarding food or storing body fat. To locate prey during winter, the fox uses its sense of smell and hearing to find animals moving through tunnels underneath the snow. Arctic foxes are nomadic animals. During the winter, 95.5% of Arctic foxes utilize commuting trips, which remain within the fox's home range. Commuting trips in Arctic foxes last less than 3 days and occur between 0-2.9 times a month.
Arctic foxes are omnivores and scavengers. They will eat almost any animal, dead or alive. They prefer small mammals but will eat berries, insects, carrion, and even animal or human stools. In winter they usually eat sea mammals and birds, invertebrates, fish, and seals.
Arctic foxes tend to form monogamous pairs in the breeding season and maintain a territory around the den. Breeding is usually in April and May, with a gestation period of about 52 days. Between 6 and 19 cubs are born. They drink milk until they are able to eat solid food, starting to eat after 6 weeks. The young emerge from the den when 3 to 4 weeks old and are weaned by 9 weeks of age. They are usually dependent on their parents from summer to autumn. Both male and female parents take care of the cubs, with the female raising the young while the male hunts for food. At one year old they are reproductively mature.
Arctic foxes are threatened by the fur trade and diseases caught from domestic dogs. Climate change is another threat, as the snowline shrinks further and further north, reducing the range of the arctic fox and giving way to the red fox, advancing northward.
According to IUCN Red List, the world population of Arctic foxes is in the order of several hundred thousand animals. The Arctic fox is common in the tundra areas of Russia, Canada, coastal Alaska, Greenland, and Iceland. Despite legal protection, the adult population in Norway, Sweden, and Finland is estimated to be fewer than 200 individuals, so it is acutely endangered. Overall, currently, Arctic foxes are classified as Least Concern (LC), and their numbers today remain stable.
The Arctic fox helps to keep the environment clean by keeping the rodent population down and by eating dead animals.
Arctic foxes are now popular as pets. This is the result of a Russian project run by Professor D. K. Belyaeve at a breeding farm at Novosibirsk. Foxes that were the tamest were interbred until some changes in color and features took place. They were bred to have slightly different genes from the original species. Arctic foxes need to be groomed carefully every day due to their heavy coat. Their character might be aloof, similar to some cats, or loyal and friendly like a dog.