Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium

Arctic fox

(Vulpes lagopus)

Habitat and Distribution: Found in treeless tundra extending through the Arctic regions (usually in coastal areas), including Eurasia, North America, Greenland and Iceland.

Size: 21-22 inches long; 6-20 pounds; tail averaging 15 inches

Wild Diet: Small mammals (especially lemmings), insects, berries, carrion, marine invertebrates, sea birds and fish.

Predators: Polar bears, wolves, golden eagles, grizzly bears, and humans

Lifespan: About 5 years in the wild; up to 15 years in zoos

Reproduction: Arctic foxes are monogamous and usually mate for life. Breeding season lasts from February-May. Females give birth each spring (late May/early June) to a litter of about 5-10 pups; the number of pups per litter varies with food availability. Pups are raised in the safety of their parents' burrow and are independent within about 6 months.

Behavior: Arctic foxes live in social groups consisting of one mating pair, their litter, and usually a few non-breeding helper females. They take shelter in burrows that have multiple entrances. During the summer months when food is plentiful, they store surplus food in their burrows for later consumption. In blizzards, they tunnel under the snow to keep warm.

Conservation

IUCN Status: Least Concern

The decline of the fur-hunting industry is great news for the Arctic fox, but their long-term existence is still in jeopardy. Because they have so many pups per litter, populations can withstand a high level of hunting, but this does not allow for hunting when population numbers are low.

Did you know?

  • A group of foxes is called a “skulk” or a “leash.”
  • The fur of the Arctic fox changes twice yearly. The winter fur is thicker and entirely white, providing camouflage against snow and ice; the summer coat is gray and brown, blending in with the tundra and grassy hills.
  • Their thick, heavy tails provide cover in cold weather.