How does the Arctic Fox Survive?

Arctic foxes are unique in the way that they can adapt to their cold environments. I have often wondered how they survive in conditions that humans would not, so I decided to do some research.

The fur of an arctic fox is multilayered to insulate their bodies against the Arctic wind, changing to white in the winter to camouflage from predators. Their bodies are round, with short legs, muzzles, and ears, which gives them a low surface area to volume ratio, minimizing heat loss.

I wanted to share some great facts and information about the arctic fox with you here.

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How Does an Arctic Fox Adapt to its Environment?

The arctic foxes are located in the northern hemisphere’s arctic regions, in an icy environment. The species possess several adaptations that help them adapt to the cold seasons.


First, they have multilayered fur, which provides excellent insulation. The pelage is a thick fur that covers the Arctic fox body and consists of oily guard hair. The fur keeps moisture out as the underfur acts as an insulator to keep the animal warm.

Padded Footpads

The Arctic fox has fur on the bottom of their footpads. This not only gives them grip when walking on ice but also insulates their feet and legs. The Arctic fox is the only species of canid with fur on its footpads.

Color Morphs

They have two distinct coat colors, which are blue and white. The white coat is a seasonal camouflage, helping them to catch prey and evade predators. They change the coat to white during winter and blue/brown with some grey traces during summer. Almost all arctic foxes grow white fur, which provides the best insulation.

Body Shape

Arctic foxes are well known for their rounded body shape, short legs and muzzles, and thick ears.

These characteristics bring about a low surface area to volume ratio, another adaptation they use to survive the cold environment. The lesser the surface area exposed to the arctic cold, the less heat that escapes the body.

Want to know how other mammals adapt to winter? Find out in this article I wrote.

Physiological Adaptations

Arctic foxes reduce their metabolic rate in the winter season to conserve fat stored in the body. This also allows them to minimize the energy used, allowing the energy to be used for insulation purposes.

Arctic foxes reduce their locomotor activities helps them reserve enough fat for use during winter.

During summer, the arctic foxes keep their brains cool by the use of their noses. The cooling is made possible as their noses allow them to cool down the intake of air.

Behavioral Adaptations

Arctic foxes also stay warm by avoiding the wind and staying in their underground dens, which also serves to raise their young ones.

How Does an Arctic Fox Protect itself?

Arctic foxes have a keen sense of smell that aids them to track predators such as polar bears for their safety. Arctic foxes also have sharp teeth and claws that are effective during hunting and for self-defense against bigger predators.

Their color coats’ ability to camouflage enables them to blend with the surrounding environment and hide from the predators.

During winter, the coat turns white to blend in with the snow. This helps to spot their prey and also hide from the predators. In summer, the coat can turn to brown color to blend with the environment around it.

There are three types of mammals.  Find out what they are here

What Does an Arctic Fox Eat?

Arctic foxes generally feed on small creatures they can find around, like sea birds, voles, and lemmings. Lemmings are their most common prey, and often the amount eaten will help the body decide on the number of pups they give birth to annually.

They will also eat other rodents, hares, birds, eggs, fish, and carrion. The fox is well known for its attraction to bird’s eggs. They also feed on berries and seaweed and, therefore, may be considered omnivores. They also feed on insects to supplement their diet.

The arctic fox also feeds on carcasses left behind by the big predators such as polar bears. One of the most astonishing facts and an ingenious way to survive is that the arctic fox feeds on its feces during starvation. Arctic foxes bury their surplus foods as a reserve.

In some specific months of the year, such as April and May, that arctic foxes will prey on ringed seal pups while still in their early stage.

Foxes use the Earth’s magnetic force to navigate. Find out more here.

What Happens to an Arctic’s Foxes Fur in Summer?

During summer, Arctic foxes shed their heavy white coats and change color to brown or grey. The shedding provides cover for the fox among the summer tundra’s rocks and plants to effectively hunt rodents, birds, and even fish.

The color change protects the fox from their predators as they blend with the environment and also enables them to pounce on their prey swiftly from their hideouts.

Their coats tend to thin in summer, unlike the thick fur coats during winter. This helps them in losing heat from their body to cool down.
The arctic fox also reduces in size due to the shedding and looks quite unlike how bulky they appear in winter. This helps to cool down the body.

What are the Predators of an Arctic Fox?

Arctic foxes’ natural predators are golden eagles, polar bears, wolverines, red foxes, wolves, and grizzly bears.

How Does an Arctic Fox Behave?

Due to the cold temperatures in their surroundings, an arctic fox will sometimes fight to keep warmth around their body.

They curl up tightly, tucking their legs and head under their bodies and behind their furry tails. This enables them to reduce the amount of heat loss to keep warm.

Arctic foxes do not hibernate like some other animals during the winter seasons. Therefore they make sure they reduce their locomotor activities—this aids in fat activities that are used later to generate heat and energy throughout their bodies.

How Does the Arctic Fox Reproduce and Care for Their Young?

Arctic foxes give birth in the months of spring. At this time, they start to prepare their homes with their young ones. They live in dens situated under the surface in regions where glaciation had formerly taken place.

These dens serve as a perfect hideout for both them and the young ones from the harsh climate and predators like polar bears. The dens also are useful as they are reused for generations by different groups of foxes.

The arctic fox uses its building skills to keep warm. They build and choose dens that face southwards towards the sun to keep the den warmer. Arctic foxes prefer to build their dens in a maze-like shape. This allows for faster evasion of the predators, especially red foxes.

The parents have to relocate litters to nearby dens to prevent their pups’ predations, which is why they mostly prefer natal dens. These are typically found in ragged regions as they also act as a safe dock for the animals.

Their ability to reproduce many pups, up to eighteen, depends on the availability of food around. The more lemmings to feed on (lemmings are their primary prey in the tundra), the more the pups they give birth to.

The arctic foxes are well known to be monogamous even when taking care of their pups. Both males and females exhibit complex social structures when predators are in plentiful supply to secure their pups.

They tend to stay in large packs of both breeding and non-breeding males and females. The large packs help them to safeguard a single territory and increase their pup’s survival chances. Older offspring remain in the dens to cater to the young even in the absence of predators.

Want to know more about how fox cubs learn. Find out here.

How is their Habitat changing?

Arctic foxes alone are not yet an endangered species. However, along with other northern animals, they are facing a problem as their habitats keep on shifting due to climate change.

Arctic foxes used to have less competition with predators, but this has changed due to the north’s changing climate.

Animals attracted to warmer places have shifted to the north, posing competition to the Habitat of the arctic fox. Red foxes are the winners in this area and are the main predators.

The arctic foxes are often dominated by aggression from red foxes who take their dens, leaving them to survive without food or a home. The arctic foxes build up more dens to home themselves and also wait till the red foxes vacate to move back into their dens.

Want to know how red foxes survive winter? Find out here.

Bryan Harding

Bryan has spent his whole life around animals. While loving all animals, Bryan is especially fond of mammals and has studied and worked with them around the world. Not only does Bryan share his knowledge and experience with our readers, but he also serves as owner, editor, and publisher of North American Mammals.

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