Arctic fox

Arctic fox due to its appearance — very memorable creation. They look like pets, only very white. In the snow, such an animal may not be noticed, especially if the Arctic fox closes its nose and eyes. This is not only its special feature, which causes increased interest in humans, but also its main adaptation to life in polar conditions.

Origin of the species and description

Photo: Arctic Fox

Photo: Arctic Fox

Arctic foxes belong to the canine family, but the actual genus of arctic foxes is represented by only one single species. These animals are often called foxes, and more specifically — polar, arctic or white foxes. Arctic foxes are divided into two types based on the color of their fur.

Video: Arctic fox

White foxes change the density and color of their fur throughout the year. In winter, they wear the snow-white most magnificent and thick fur coat — it is she who is most valued in the fur markets. After a long molt in spring, they become more brown and not so fluffy.

But blue foxes in general have a far from white coat color. All year round they wear a brownish, brownish or gray fur coat. From the season it changes its density.

Nature rewarded them with very thick fur and undercoat. The climate they live in is so harsh that the only way to survive — it is a year-round warm coat and fat reserve. Moreover, animal hair is even on the paws, right on the fingertips. It is for this that Arctic foxes got their name, because in translation it means «hare’s paw».

Appearance and features

Photo: Animal Arctic Fox

Photo: Animal Arctic Fox

At first glance, foxes are most similar to foxes, only they are white. Also, these animals are shorter in stature: their legs are shorter than those of ordinary foxes, and therefore they look slightly mundane or underestimated. Arctic foxes — small animals, the largest individuals reach 9 kg, but this is rare. Mostly arctic foxes are three- or four-kilogram small animals. Outwardly, the fur makes them a little more voluminous.

The average length of the body is about fifty to seventy centimeters, and the height of the animals is about thirty centimeters. This disproportionate ratio is a bit like the shape of the body of a dachshund. Such a body structure allows the animal to spend heat more economically, and it is located lower to the ground, where there are less winds.

The tail of Arctic foxes is very beautiful. It grows up to thirty centimeters in length, and the fur is covered with the same lush and thick fur as the body.

The muzzle of the animal is different from the fox, it is short and wide, while very compact, and the ears are also short and rounded. Such a difference is necessary in living conditions, this excludes the possibility of frostbite of too long a part of the body. So in foxes everything is compact and covered with a fur coat, and they also have well-developed sense organs: good hearing and excellent sense of smell.

Arctic fox eyes have an interesting device: they are covered with a protective layer from too bright light, which can be reflected from snowy surfaces on clear days. However, Arctic foxes do not have sharp eyesight.

Where does the Arctic fox live?

Photo: Arctic fox in the tundra

Photo: Arctic fox in the tundra

Arctic foxes inhabit the north pole and the latitudes of the tundra and forest-tundra around it. Moreover, they live on all northern islands, continents and even drifting ice floes. White foxes mainly inhabit the territories of contingents: North America, northern Europe and Asia. But blue foxes prefer the adjacent islands, and on the mainland they can be found quite rarely.

Arctic foxes are adapted to such a harsh northern climate, polar nights and frosts. However, they are dependent on food. And, in case of a shortage of prey, they can change their place of residence, making huge distances. The arctic fox is able to run almost a hundred kilometers in a day with its shortened paws on permafrost and snow. So, animals are not tied to a specific habitat and are always ready to change their place to a more satisfying one.

According to the habitat, it is customary to highlight several subspecies of the arctic fox:

  • Arctic foxes living on the island Iceland, besides them there are no more mammals, they are given the name Alopex lagopus fuliginosus.
  • Arctic foxes of Bering Island. This subspecies stands out among relatives with its dark fur. Not everyone knows such foxes, because they are not white at all, but closer to black. In addition, the largest individuals belong to this subspecies. Their name is Alopex lagopus beringensis.
  • One of the rarest — Mednovskiye arctic foxes, from the name of the habitat, Medny Island. There are only about a hundred left.

What does the Arctic fox eat?

Photo: Arctic fox in winter

Photo: Arctic fox in winter

It is hard for such northern inhabitants to live. But they are not picky about food and are ready to get enough of what they have, so as not to die. Arctic foxes prey on small rodents, mainly lemmings. They are also attracted to bird eggs and the chicks themselves. Baby marine animals also often become their prey. They are able to bite a small seal or walrus.

Common food for arctic foxes in the summer are some types of fish, molluscs, crustaceans and even sea urchins. From plant food, the arctic fox also consumes almost everything. There is little vegetation in the tundra, so there is no choice. The diet includes berries, scant plants, soft branches of shrubs, algae.

They will not cope with large animals, however, if the animal died a natural death or was killed by another, larger animal, then the foxes will not disdain to eat the remains. It happens that polar foxes specially attach themselves to bears or wolves in order to finish their prey.

In general, the winter diet of arctic foxes for the most part consists of carrion, so carrion is more accessible. Polar foxes eat dead marine mammals: whales, walruses, fur seals, sea otters, seals and some others. They can even satisfy their strong hunger with the droppings of ungulates. The dead individuals of the foxes themselves also serve as food for their closest brethren. In this sense, these animals have developed cannibalism.

Character and lifestyle features

Photo: Fox fox

Photo: Fox Fox

In summer, the Arctic fox is active for a long time — almost around the clock, due to the long daylight hours. At this time of the year, he is constantly looking for food necessary to feed his family. During the summer, the Arctic fox must accumulate fat and nutrients in his body, otherwise he will not survive the cold winter. In autumn and winter, the polar fox prefers to go out in search of food at night.

In summer, animals rest mainly in their burrows, but sometimes they can relax in the open. But in winter, the arctic fox prefers to dig a new lair right in the snowdrift and hide there. He can hide for several days in a row from a snowstorm or during severe frosts.

In general, arctic foxes are very well adapted to tundra conditions. But even despite the adaptability to harsh conditions, every autumn animals roam along the sea coasts or rivers towards the south? to the most conformal regions, which may be several hundred kilometers away. In the spring, they gradually return back.

The family way is very similar to foxes. They can also stay alone in winter, although very often they gather in several pieces around large prey. And in the spring they already form pairs, and then raise offspring by joint efforts.

By nature, arctic foxes are cautious and unnecessarily prefer not to take risks. At the same time, they are characterized by perseverance and even arrogance. When meeting with larger predators, they do not run away, but simply move away for some distance, and if possible, they try to snatch a piece from its prey. In general, arctic foxes combine both strategies for finding food — and active hunting and freeloading.

Very often you can see how a polar bear eats, and at this time it is surrounded by several arctic foxes, waiting for their turn. In those places where arctic foxes are not hunted, animals are not afraid of humans and calmly approach their homes. They are quite resourceful. For example, hungry foxes can enter human homes or barns, where food is often stolen. They can also steal food from dogs.

Social structure and reproduction

Photo: Arctic fox cub

Photo: Baby Arctic Fox

Arctic foxes — they are monogamous animals. Almost always they form strong couples and live in families. Each family usually includes two adults — male and female, their cubs of the current litter in the amount of three to ten puppies, and sometimes a few more young females from the previous litter. Some animals can live in colonies of several families. Very often, females bring up adopted children. Sometimes two or three families can join in adjacent burrows connected by a passage.

Typically, the area of ​​​​the habitat of a family of arctic foxes is from 2 to 30 square kilometers. However, in famine years, polar foxes can run far beyond their territory, up to tens of kilometers.

Before having offspring, adult arctic foxes dig minks for themselves. A place for a hole is always chosen on elevated places, since on the plain there is a risk of flooding with melt water. Usually burrows dig in soft soil, among stones, which are needed for protection. A well-placed burrow suitable for breeding offspring can be passed down by foxes from generation to generation. But more often the old mink is abandoned by the new generation, and a new depression is built next to it. It is often connected to the parent house by a tunnel. Sometimes you can find whole labyrinths, reaching 50-60 entrances.

These animals reach sexual maturity by nine or eleven months. In March or early April, female foxes begin estrus, which usually lasts no more than two weeks. At this time, a period called the hunt passes. During the period when the female can become pregnant, there are fights between male rivals. By fighting, they draw the attention of the female to themselves. The flirting of the male can also occur in another way: he runs in front of the chosen one with a stick, with a bone or with another object in his teeth.

Pregnancy usually lasts 52 days, but this value can range from 49 to 56 days. Towards the end, when the pregnant female feels that she will give birth soon, usually within 2 weeks, she begins to prepare the house — digs a new hole, clears the old of leaves. If for some reason there is no hole, then it can give birth in the bushes. From the moment the female breeds the cubs, the male polar fox becomes the only breadwinner for the whole family.

The female takes full care of the offspring. For about 10 weeks, little puppies are fed milk. Then, having already reached three or four weeks of age, they gradually begin to leave the hole. Their mother not only feeds them, but also teaches them to hunt, teaches them to survive frosts by digging holes in snowdrifts.

Natural enemies of Arctic foxes

Photo : Arctic fox

Photo: Arctic fox

Despite the fact that the arctic fox itself is a predator, this animal also has enemies. Cubs are especially at risk. Arctic foxes can be preyed upon by wolverines, raccoon dogs, foxes, and wolves. Occasionally, a polar bear can also attack, although more often the arctic fox is of no interest to him because of his small size.

But young arctic foxes can become prey for birds of prey, such as:

  • white owl;
  • golden eagle;
  • skua;
  • white-tailed eagle;
  • raven;
  • eagle owl ;
  • large species of gulls.

But more often, polar foxes die not as victims of predators, but from starvation due to lack of food resources. Therefore, under natural conditions, the magnitude of animal mortality (as well as reproduction) varies greatly from year to year. Also limiting factors are diseases, mainly scabies, distemper, arctic encephalitis and helminthiases.

For the polar fox, direct competitors in food are animals such as ermine or weasel. But these species are few in number and therefore do not cause significant damage to the fox. Also, over the past decades, a shift of the southern border of the polar fox habitat to the north has been noted. A number of scientists consider this to be a consequence of the settlement of the forest-tundra strip by the fox. But there is also an opinion that the shift is due to the effect of heat on the soil and soil, on its moisture, which changes the duration of the snow cover, the microclimate of holes and changes in the distribution of the food supply.

Population and species status

Photo: Arctic Fox Red Book

Photo: Arctic Fox Red Book

The number of arctic foxes is subject to strong fluctuations depending on the availability of food resources, especially lemmings. Animal migrations also have a great influence on the number of populations. As every autumn, the animals that inhabit the tundra begin to roam along the sea coasts, as well as river valleys towards the south, and return back in the spring, not all animals withstand migration, and some of them die, especially in famine years.

In the tundra zone in different years, the number can range from several tens of thousands of individuals to several hundred thousand animals. Arctic foxes are most numerous in the Bolshoi Zemlya, Yenisei, Ustyan, Yamal, and Lena tundras.

In the past, people hunted Arctic foxes a lot because of their beautiful coats. This led to a significant decline in numbers. Therefore, today the hunting season is strictly regulated — it is limited to the autumn period, and only adults can be harvested. And the smallest, and endangered, with a very small population, the Commander subspecies of the blue fox (aka the Mednovian arctic fox) has the status of an endangered species and is listed in the Red Book of Russia.

Protection arctic fox

Photo: Arctic fox from the Red Book

Photo: Arctic fox from the Red Book

В Currently, active work is underway to increase the number of polar foxes. Feeding animals during the hungry period is organized. Due to the easy domestication of arctic foxes, they began to be bred in captivity. The leaders in selection and captive breeding of arctic foxes are Finland and Norway.

The honey fox listed in the Red Book of Russia is protected in the Commander Biosphere Reserve. The fishing of the Mednovsky Arctic fox was completely stopped in the 60s. Sometimes attempts are made to treat sick fox puppies from infections, which leads to an increase in their survival rate.

In order to prevent and reduce the death of animals in the winter, as well as during the breakup of broods, attempts were made to limit the importation to Medny Island dogs, as well as attempts to create a nursery for breeding polar foxes of this species in captivity.

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