Vulpes lagopusArctic fox

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Geographic Range

Arctic foxes are found in the treeless tundra extending through the arctic regions of Eurasia, North America, Greenland, and Iceland. (Angerbjörn, et al., 2005)

Habitat

Arctic foxes are found mainly in arctic and alpine tundra, usually in coastal areas.

  • Terrestrial Biomes
  • tundra
  • icecap

Physical Description

  • Average mass
    5200 g
    183.26 oz
    AnAge
  • Average basal metabolic rate
    7.665 W
    AnAge

Reproduction

Arctic foxes are monogamous and usually mate for life.

Mating occurs from April to July, births take place from April through June for the first litter, and July or August for the second litter. The average gestation period is about 49-57 days. The number of young per litter varies with the availability of food, especially lemmings. The usual litter size is 5-8 cubs, although as many as 25 have been known. The young are weaned at about 2-4 weeks and emerge from the den. They reach sexual maturity in as little as ten months. The male parent stays with the cubs, helping to feed them. He mates with the female a few weeks after the first litter is born.

  • Key Reproductive Features
  • gonochoric/gonochoristic/dioecious (sexes separate)
  • sexual
  • Range number of offspring
    1 to 5
  • Average number of offspring
    2.8
  • Average number of offspring
    9
    AnAge
  • Range gestation period
    46 to 58 days
  • Range weaning age
    28 to 60 days
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
    Sex: female
    304 days
    AnAge
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male)
    Sex: male
    304 days
    AnAge
  • Parental Investment
  • altricial
  • post-independence association with parents
  • extended period of juvenile learning

Lifespan/Longevity

  • Average lifespan
    Status: captivity
    16.3 years
    AnAge

Behavior

The foxes live a communal and nomadic life, often forming small bands to scavenge the countryside for food. They do not hibernate during the winter months. Foxes also construct homes called dens, often in cliffs at least 1.6 km apart, in which a family social group inhabits. This group consists of one adult male, the litter, and two vixens--one of the vixens a nonbreeding animal born the previous year that stays to help care for the next litter. An arctic fox generally makes its den in a low mound 1-4 meters high in the open tundra, or in a pile of rocks at the base of a cliff. These dens have 4-8 entrances and a system of tunnels covering about 30 square meters. Some of these dens have been used for centuries by generations of foxes.

Communication and Perception

Food Habits

The arctic fox is an opportunistic feeder, eating practically any animal, alive or dead. Although it prefers small mammals, it will eat insects, berries, carrion, and even the stool of animals or human beings. Generally, its winter diet consists of marine mammals, invertebrates, sea birds, fish, and seals. For populations living more inland and in the summer, the diet consists mostly of lemmings. During the summer months, when food is much more readily available, arctic foxes collect a surplus amount of food and carries it back to their dens, where it is stored under stones for later use.

  • Primary Diet
  • carnivore
    • eats terrestrial vertebrates
  • Animal Foods
  • birds
  • mammals
  • fish
  • eggs
  • carrion
  • insects
  • Plant Foods
  • fruit
  • Other Foods
  • dung

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

The fur of the arctic fox is prized by the fur industry, and these foxes have been intensively trapped. On the Pribiloff Islands of Alaska, arctic foxes have been regularly farmed for their fur since 1865, and they have long been important to the economy of the native people living withing their range.

  • Positive Impacts
  • body parts are source of valuable material

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

In Iceland, arctic foxes sometimes take lambs from sheep flocks. Farmers have been encouraged since the late thirteenth century to shoot and/or kill these predators in order to protect their livestock.

Conservation Status

The arctic fox has been driven out of some regions, such as northern Scandinavia, because of predators like the red fox. The arctic fox has been hunted by humans for its pelt, and also hunted in Iceland because of being a pest to sheep farmers. Humans also keep arctic foxes in captivity in fur farms. Nevertheless, populations have remained relatively stable.

Other Comments

The arctic fox's paws are sheathed in dense fur during the winter,unlike other canids and giving it the name " lagopus" (which means " the rabbit footed"). The fur of the arctic fox changes twice every year. The winter fur is entirely white, and the summer coat ranges from grey to brown on the back, to somewhat lighter on the belly. Foxes may retain their darker coat throughout the year in areas of less severe climate.

Contributors

Tanya Dewey (author), Animal Diversity Web.

Candice Middlebrook (author), University of Michigan-Ann Arbor.

Glossary

Nearctic

living in the Nearctic biogeographic province, the northern part of the New World. This includes Greenland, the Canadian Arctic islands, and all of the North American as far south as the highlands of central Mexico.

World Map

Palearctic

living in the northern part of the Old World. In otherwords, Europe and Asia and northern Africa.

World Map

altricial

young are born in a relatively underdeveloped state; they are unable to feed or care for themselves or locomote independently for a period of time after birth/hatching. In birds, naked and helpless after hatching.

bilateral symmetry

having body symmetry such that the animal can be divided in one plane into two mirror-image halves. Animals with bilateral symmetry have dorsal and ventral sides, as well as anterior and posterior ends. Synapomorphy of the Bilateria.

carnivore

an animal that mainly eats meat

carrion

flesh of dead animals.

chemical

uses smells or other chemicals to communicate

endothermic

animals that use metabolically generated heat to regulate body temperature independently of ambient temperature. Endothermy is a synapomorphy of the Mammalia, although it may have arisen in a (now extinct) synapsid ancestor; the fossil record does not distinguish these possibilities. Convergent in birds.

holarctic

a distribution that more or less circles the Arctic, so occurring in both the Nearctic and Palearctic biogeographic regions.

World Map

Found in northern North America and northern Europe or Asia.

monogamous

Having one mate at a time.

motile

having the capacity to move from one place to another.

native range

the area in which the animal is naturally found, the region in which it is endemic.

nomadic

generally wanders from place to place, usually within a well-defined range.

polar

the regions of the earth that surround the north and south poles, from the north pole to 60 degrees north and from the south pole to 60 degrees south.

sexual

reproduction that includes combining the genetic contribution of two individuals, a male and a female

social

associates with others of its species; forms social groups.

stores or caches food

places a food item in a special place to be eaten later. Also called "hoarding"

tactile

uses touch to communicate

terrestrial

Living on the ground.

tundra

A terrestrial biome with low, shrubby or mat-like vegetation found at extremely high latitudes or elevations, near the limit of plant growth. Soils usually subject to permafrost. Plant diversity is typically low and the growing season is short.

References

Grzimek. 1990. Grzimek's Encyclopedia of Mammals, Volume IV. McGraw Hill Publishing Co. NewYork.

Angerbjörn, A., P. Hersteinsson, T. Tannerfeldt. 2005. "Arctic fox (Vulpes lagopus)" (On-line). IUCN Canid Specialist Group. Accessed September 27, 2007 at http://www.canids.org/species/Alopex_lagopus.htm.