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The Arctic Fox
The Arctic fox, also known as Alopex lagopus, is an omnivorous mammal that is found in the frigidly cold tundra and coastal regions around the Arctic circle, mainly Alaska, Canada, Iceland, Russia and Greenland. The animal is a member of the dog family, and is notable for being the only member that undergoes a change of coat color annually. In the winter, the Arctic fox has a thick, pure white or bluish-white fur coat which turns to greyish-brown in the summer months.
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The thick, distinctive coat of the Arctic fox provides it with protection against the biting Arctic cold and also serves as an excellent camouflage while it is hunting or if it needs to escape detection by attackers. The fox has fur on its paws to protect them and to provide it with good traction on ice. Its bushy tail is as much for providing warmth when the fox curls up as for providing balance when it walks or runs. The Arctic fox is small in size; males usually average about 86 cm (33.85 inches) from head to the tip of the tail, and females measure 83 cm (32.67 inches), and are generally between 25 cm (9.84 inches) and 30 cm (11.81 inches) in height. The foxes have a short muzzle and small ears, and their small size helps them better retain their body heat.
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The foxes are nomadic and do not hibernate in the winter. They live in dug-out dens in a hillside, a cliff side, a river bank or a snow bank, and these dens generally have multiple entrances to allow the fox a quick getaway when necessary. It is common for the foxes to exist in a group called a leash or a skulk, consisting of males, females and kits.
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These animals reach sexual maturity at 10 months, and generally mate for life. The kits are produced in the spring, usually in litters of up to 14 kits, and both parents look after the young. The foxes communicate with each other with yowls or high-pitched barks. The kits become independent by fall and generally have a life span of three to six years.
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The Arctic fox is a very cunning hunter, employing camouflage tactics as well as its keen sense of hearing and its speed. Some foxes have been known to have the ability to run 30 mph. An interesting Arctic fox fact is how this fox tracks small animals that are scurrying under a snowy bank. It will see its prey, then at the right moment, the fox will smash through the snow with its front paws and swiftly seize the prey.
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The Arctic fox mainly hunts smaller creatures that live in the Arctic, like hares, lemmings, squirrels, voles, baby seals, shellfish, sea urchins and birds. It also scavenges bird eggs, dead seals, dead whales, dead fish and leftover scraps from a polar bear's kill. Being an omnivorous animal, the fox can also subside on berries, fruit and other vegetation when required. In the winter months, when food supply in the tundra gets scarce, it may burrow any excess available food in the snow for later eating.
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Status in the Wild
The main enemies of the Arctic fox are humans, polar bears, grizzly bears, wolves, and snowy owls. These foxes are not listed amongst the endangered species in the tundra at present, but their habitat is certainly being encroached upon and this may affect future populations.
Together, these Arctic fox facts make this unique creature an interest for many researchers, old and young. The more we know about them, the more we can help to prevent their endangerment.
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Foraging behaviours and population dynamics of arctic foxes by Gustaf Samelius, Publisher - ProQuest, 2007
Arctic Foxes by Emily Rose Townsend, Gail Saunders-Smith, Publisher - Capstone Press, 2004
Arctic Fox at NatureWorks - http://www.nhptv.org/natureworks/arcticfox.htm
Arctic Fox on BBC - http://www.bbc.co.uk/nature/life/Arctic_Fox
Arctic Fox at Seaworld - http://www.seaworld.org/animal-info/animal-bytes/animalia/eumetazoa/coelomates/deuterostomes/chordata/craniata/mammalia/carnivora/arctic-fox.htm
Arctic Fox on Tundra Animals - http://www.tundraanimals.net/tundraanimals/arcticfox.html
Terianniaq qaqortaq (Arctic Fox), photographed in Kulusuk, Greenland, Photograph by Algkalv, URL - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Terianniaq-Qaqortaq-arctic-fox.jpg
Arctic fox in summer coat, Source: U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, Photograph by Brian Anderson, URL - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Alopex_lagopus_stretching.jpg