Meet Our Species of the Month: the Arctic fox!

This blog series on Canadian wildlife explores key facts, threats and what WWF is doing to conserve these species. These Canadian species are also featured in the TELUS 2014 calendar. Check out the digital calendar and you can follow along with fun activities, download beautiful desktop wallpapers, colouring pages and more.

Arctic fox (Alopex lagopus) standing in a snow-covered landscape. Canada © Howard Buffett / WWF-US
Arctic fox (Alopex lagopus) standing in a snow-covered landscape, Canada
© Howard Buffett / WWF-US

The warmest fur of any mammal, the Arctic fox (Alopex lagopus) is very well adapted to the extreme cold of the Arctic environment. With the exception of the nose, its entire body is covered with thick fur, even the paws. This, together with its short ears and short muzzle makes it ideally adapted to the chilly climate. In winter, the Arctic fox has a white camouflage coat, but in the summer its coat becomes thinner and changes to a brown and yellow colour.
Did you know…

  • The Arctic fox, also known as the polar fox, was one of the first mammals to colonise Sweden and Finland at the end of the last Ice Age.
  • The Arctic fox is an incredibly hardy animal that can survive frigid Arctic temperatures as low as -50°C in the treeless lands where it makes its home.
  • They are great scavengers, and will eat almost anything including, Arctic hares, some birds and eggs. Their main source of food is the lemming.
  • Some Arctic foxes even follow polar bears around to finish what is left behind when they have feasted. When food is plentiful they will bury it for later by creating a store of food over the summer months and freezing it in the permafrost.

Arctic Fox (Alopex lagopus) Churchill, Canada, François Pierrel / WWF-Canon
Arctic Fox (Alopex lagopus) Churchill, Canada © François Pierrel / WWF-Canon

Why is the Arctic fox at risk?
Historically, the Arctic fox has been threatened by hunting, although this has decreased with the decline of the fur trade. The Arctic fox remains the single most important terrestrial game species and is still hunted by Indigenous peoples.
The major threats for this fox species are lack of rodents, and increased competition from the red fox which takes over dens and kills the Arctic fox. The increased abundance of red fox in the tundra in northern regions is most likely caused by climate change. Arctic wildlife are beginning to live altered lives due to a warming climate in the Arctic and this is an indirect threat to the Arctic fox.
The conservation status of the species is good, except for the Scandinavian mainland population where it is endangered. The total population estimate in Finland, Norway and Sweden is a mere 120 adult individuals.
Arctic fox (Alopex lagopus) standing in a snow-covered landscape. Canada © Howard Buffet/WWF-US
Arctic fox (Alopex lagopus) standing in a snow-covered landscape, Canada © Howard Buffet/WWF-US

 What is WWF doing?

  • WWF’s work in the Arctic region aims to ensure the fragile ecosystems are supported and protected.
  • WWF’s work to mitigate the effects of climate change aims to ensure that species such as the Arctic fox are not adversely affected by changes to the climate.
  • Without the conservation work of WWF, this species would most likely have gone extinct in the region.

You can read more about WWF’s work in the Arctic here.
WWF-Canada and TELUS are partnering to support the conservation of Canadian wildlife and their habitats through a new $1 million, four-year partnership. Click here to learn more.