Arctic Fox Facts

Arctic Fox (Vulpes lagopus)

In the wild

The Arctic fox lives in some of the coldest parts of the planet. They are to be found in coastal and inland areas in the arctic regions of Eurasia, North America, Greenland and Iceland.

To be able to survive the extremely low temperatures thanks to evolutionary traits which include: thick, warm underfur, a compact body shape (which reduces its surface area/body volume ratio), shorter limbs and snout, shorter and more rounded ears, a bushy tail, thickly furred feet and a blood circulatory system that allows for heat exchange.  They are so well adapted that they do not shiver until the temperature reaches−70 °C!

Its fur changes colour from summer to winter and there are two genetic colour (dichromatic) forms – white in winter and grey/brown in summer or ‘blue’ which is chocolate brown in summer.

Arctic foxes have good hearing enabling them to detect small animals moving under the snow. When it has located its prey, it pounces and punches through the snow to catch its victim.

The arctic fox is smaller than the red fox and are sometimes preyed upon by them. Males are 5-20% heavier than females.

Their diet includes small mammals such as lemmings and voles, birds and their eggs, marine invertebrates, fish, carcasses and placentas of marine mammals, insects and larvae, berries and seaweed.  They remain active year-round and arctic foxes are able to conserve energy when faced with food shortages in winter by reducing both activity levels and basal metabolic rate.  Food caching is common when food is abundant.

Arctic foxes are territorial during summer, with home ranges typically between four and 60km2.  However, they may move over very large distances, making seasonal and/or periodic migrations of hundreds or thousands of kilometres, travelling up to 24km per day.

Dens are used for cub-rearing and for shelter during winter. These are generally large complex structures, which often cover an area in excess of 100m2 and typically possess five to 40, and sometimes more than 100, entrances.

Arctic foxes are generally solitary outside of the mating and breeding season but have a flexible social system, sometimes forming large family groups. They are monogamous and may mate for life.   A non-breeding female may help bring food to the cubs.

Mating takes place in early spring and cubs (typically six to 12; range three to 25) are born in late spring.  They emerge from the den at three to four weeks of age and by eight weeks they begin spending time away from the den.

Cubs engage in play with each other and occasionally with adults.  Aggression between cubs is reported to be uncommon and not to cause serious injury.  They are weaned at six to seven weeks, are independent by 12-14 weeks, dispersing in early autumn, moving from a few kilometres to more than 1100km.

Conservation status

Although globally the species is widespread and may number several hundred thousand the Scandinavian mainland population is endangered, despite being legally protected for several decades. There could be as few as 200 adult arctic foxes left in all of Norway, Sweden, and Finland.

The population fluctuates in a 3-4 year cycle related to the population of lemmings and voles.

In the past, the Arctic fox targeted by the fur trade because of its high quality fur. It’s still hunted now and uncontrolled trapping has almost eradicated two subpopulations.

Arctic foxes are now also being affected by climate change. Temperatures in the Arctic are rising at twice the rate of the rest of the world and this warming is linked to many changes including reduced sea ice, melting permafrost and rising sea levels.

The Arctic Fox and The Fur Trade

Although still trapped for their fur (exact numbers are impossible to obtain due to the lack of data in Russia), it is fur factory farming that has the greatest impact on Arctic foxes.

Hundreds of thousands of Arctic fox are bred each year for their fur. They are kept in small, barren wire cages in fur factory farms, where they experience serious welfare problems.

Foxes in fur farms are not domesticated.  Fear of humans in the undomesticated foxes used by the fur industry makes them fundamentally unsuitable for farming.

Respect for Animals’ recent scientific report, ‘The Case Against Fur Factory Farming’, states: ‘There is an intractable problem in rearing foxes in a cage environment: the animals are fearful and value the availability of a nest box or shelter in which to rest and hide from approaching humans, but allowing them to do so may make them even more fearful because they are not forced to maintain regular visual contact with their keepers.  Vixens are motivate to use more than one nest site, reflecting their use of multiple den sites or large complex dens in the wild.”

On European fur farms, foxes are usually killed by electrocution- while being restrained with neck tongs.   Electrodes are applied to their mouth and rectum with a minimum voltage of 110 volts for at least three seconds (according to EU stipulations).

What Respect For Animals Is Doing

Recently, Respect for Animals published a report that scientifically details the huge welfare problems experienced by arctic foxes on European fur farms, which we sent to European legislators to increase the pressure to see fur farming banned.   You can read the report here.

We are working with retailers and running consumer campaigns aimed at reducing and eliminating the sale and wearing of fur.

In addition, we are working with colleagues in a number of countries where arctic foxes are still bred and killed for their fur to bring an end to this cruel and unnecessary practice.

It is only when people stop buying fur that the terrible suffering of these beautiful animals will end.