If you’ve been here before, you probably know I love domesticated foxes (enough to write a book about them), but arctic foxes will always have a special place in my heart. One reason is that I spent 6 years studying them (and wolves) for my PhD. The other reason is that arctic foxes are COOL. Here’s why.
1) Look at that little face! Notice how the nose and ears are stubby compared to other foxes. Those are adaptations that help keep the heat in during a frigid arctic winter.
2) Arctic foxes also have fur on their toe pads (not just in between their toes). They are the only member of the canine family with furry feet.
3) They can withstand temperatures of -70 C without shivering.
4) One time, in Svalbard, an arctic fox kept warm by hollowing out a reindeer carcass and crawling inside. Kind of like Luke Skywalker in a Tauntaun.
5) Arctic foxes are highly adaptable generalists. They have to be, because in most parts of the arctic, their primary food is lemmings. Every four years(ish) the lemming population crashes, and foxes have to find other food supplies. Like polar bear leftovers.
6) Fox mothers adjust the size of their litters – in the womb – to match available food resources. In a good lemming year, they can have as many as 24 pups.
7) On Mednyi Island, where female pups inherit their mom’s territory and male pups disperse to find their own, fox mothers can adjust the sex ratio of their litters depending on food resources. Moms in good territories have more girls, and moms in poor territories have more boys.
8) One of my own studies showed that, in some conditions, fox moms share dens so they have extra adults to care for their pups. One mom can also have a mixed litter of pups with different fathers. This helps increase genetic diversity in the young, a good strategy when environmental conditions are changeable.
9) Foxes can travel up to 2300 km (1429 miles) in a single winter, which is pretty impressive when you consider how short their legs are.
10) Arctic foxes grow gardens! Like beavers and elephants, they are ecosystem engineers, changing their habitats in ways that affect a lot of other species. Prey carcasses and fox droppings collect around dens, leading to plant growth so lush, scientists can spot dens from the air. The gardens are also prime lemming habitat, giving fox moms a convenient source of take out.
Do you have a favourite fox? What’s your favourite animal, and why? Share in the comments!
Want more cool facts about foxes? Check out my award-winning children’s book, Fox Talk.