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Everything about arctic foxes

by morfett ben phillip about a month ago in Nature
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Everything about arctic foxes

Image courtesy of Pixabay

Many animal species have made their homes in the Arctic. Arctic foxes, among other animals, live in the freezing north. Learn how these critters, which are about the size of a domestic cat, deal with such severe conditions on a regular basis.

Food gathering is a vital action for all animals. However, not many organisms are forced to complete this work in such harsh conditions. Despite appearances, this is a life-or-death hunt for seal pups in the Svalbard archipelago. The fox first finds a snow hole, then leaps up and dives into the powder.

For months it lives on the verge of starvation. In the simple Arctic system it plays the thankless role of a small predator, scavenger and garbage collector. If he is not lucky enough to belong to a population living near large bird colonies, he is doomed to walk tens of kilometers a day along the coast or follow the tracks of bears on the frozen sea, hoping for leftovers from their hunt. It is chased away not only by bears, but also by pale gulls, otters and even terns.

What does the arctic fox look like?

The arctic fox is extremely hardy in cold temperatures. It does not go into winter sleep, and it lives an active life, even in freezing temperatures of up to 70 degrees Celsius. Like all mammals living in polar climates, it has relatively smaller body parts that are exposed to rapid heat loss. Compared to the red fox it has much shorter paws and snout, smaller ears and a shorter, but beautiful and fluffy tail. The whole is also noticeably smaller, only 30 cm high at the withers, and weighs from 2.5 to 6 kg.

With the exception of his black nose, his entire body is covered with extremely abundant, long and fluffy fur. Even the pads of its feet. Hence the Latin name Alopex lagopus — or fox with furry feet. It is not easy to spot it, it camouflages perfectly in snowy surroundings. Apart from white-coated foxes, there are also so-called blue foxes which belong to the same species but are much rarer. Their fur is dark grey with a blue tinge. They are more common in coastal areas, which are ice-free in winter.

Image courtesy of Pixabay

White fox — occurrence and threats

White foxes inhabit the entire Arctic: vast areas of Canada, Alaska, Siberia, Greenland, Iceland, Spitsbergen and northern Scandinavia. During the last glaciation they had a much larger range, their remains were found in many Pleistocene sites in almost all Europe.

Foxes have almost no natural enemies, except man hunting them. In parts of the Canadian tundra their competitor is the red fox, whose range partially overlaps here. In some areas they are also threatened by wolves. The greatest enemy, however, is hunger.

The population of arctic foxes ranges from several to even several hundred thousand and depends mainly on the number of lemmings — rodents slightly larger than hamsters, which are their main food. Lemings reproduce very intensively, and their numbers fluctuate widely. In successive years, the population fluctuates by a factor of 10, but sometimes it increases by up to 100 times.

This is a happy time for foxes. Many more individuals survive the winter then, and later litters are more numerous. In areas where there are no lemmings, such as Spitsbergen, in summer foxes feed mainly on birds, their eggs, ground squirrels and berries. In winter — leftovers left by bears and carrion from their own supplies buried in the summer.

They also hunt for seal newborns hidden in snowy caves. To get to them, they dig through the snow with their sharp claws, then jump up as high as if they had springs in their paws, and while falling, they stick their mouths into a seal hole. It almost looks like they are diving. These are very nice animals.

They are not only pretty, but also very smart and not shy, you can approach them even at several meters. You would like to catch them, hug and stroke, real cuddly toys of the north. Curious, they will look everywhere, penetrate everything, they are excellent observers. They use every opportunity to eat something. They are very clever at stealing food from people, not once they made life difficult for polar explorers. Their behavior reminds us a bit of our dogs, they belong to the family of pets.

In winter foxes have a hard life — in the extreme Arctic conditions many of them die. Therefore, before its arrival, they viciously bury the remains of hunted animals. Those that live near large seabird colonies catch hundreds of them and bury them. And then they steal these supplies from each other. Hardly does one hide something, the other digs it up and buries it in his place. And then another comes along. And so on and so forth.

In May, as the snow begins to melt, the foxes lose their thick white fur and are almost bald for two or three weeks, so they look ugly, but then they are paired off. Then comes the summer fur, thin and better masking its owner among the gray rocks. White foxes turn brown with a whitish-gray underbelly, while blue ones turn chocolate brown.

Courtship begins in March or April, two months before the end of winter. It consists of long, joyful, barking chases and sham fights. Before the pups are born, the prospective parents search for a burrow, clean it, and dig one or two new entrances. The burrows, often located on the slopes of hills or on the steep banks of lakes or rivers, form a complex system of underground passages with many branches and dozens of entrances. They are used for successive generations, even for 300 years!

Arctic fox offspring

In late May or early June, cubs are born. There are many of them, often a dozen, but it happens even 20 in one litter. Covered with sparse fur, blind and helpless, they weigh just over 50 grams. When the female feeds the little ones, the male brings her food. The fox is a very attentive father, and probably the best food provider among the canids.

After six weeks, to keep up with the growing needs of their brood, the parents begin hunting together and are very busy. An average litter of 11 pups initially requires the capture of 30 lemmings per day, but as many as 100 just before leaving the burrow. The sun makes the task somewhat easier by staying high above the horizon around the clock during this time.

When the parents bring food, the little ones leap out of the burrow like rockets and momentarily tear into a bird or lemming. Then each pulls his piece to the side to eat it quietly by himself. The little ones are almost constantly playing, wrestling, and jumping high into the air. In July, when everything around them is blooming and bustling with life, they leave their burrows and slowly begin the hard life on their own. Soon their surroundings will change beyond recognition, the first Arctic winter in their lives will begin. For many of them, it will also be their last.


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morfett ben phillip

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