The Arctic fox is the smallest member of the canid family in Canada. Although it is related to other foxes, wolves and dogs, it is only about the size of large house cat, usually between 75 centimetres and 115 centimetres long. Even then, one-third of its length comes from its bushy tail.
During summer, the Arctic fox’s coat is brown or grey with a lighter-coloured belly. The fur turns thick and white during winter. This change gives Arctic foxes camouflage throughout the year, making it harder for prey animals to spot them on the hunt, no matter the season. Other features, such as short legs, a short muzzle and small rounded ears, help Arctic foxes battle the cold by reducing the amount of body surface area exposed to heat loss.
The Arctic fox is both a hunter and scavenger. To find prey during the winter, the Arctic fox uses its hearing and sense of smell to detect small animals that are active underneath the snow.
In Canada, the Arctic fox is found from the very top of Ellesmere Island in the north to the region around James Bay in the south. You also find them in every other country of the circumpolar Arctic. Each Arctic fox has its own home range with sizes reaching as much as 25 square kilometres. They are very mobile and can travel large distances over both land and sea ice.
Fast Facts: Arctic Fox
Scientific name: Alopex lagopus, meaning “hare-footed fox”
Inuktitut name: Tiriganiaq
Average weight: 2.5 to nine kilograms
A female Arctic fox nurses her pups — also known as whelps — in dens that can be up to 300
years old. Some have as many as 100 entrances.
The average litter size of the Arctic fox is 11 whelps — the largest recorded litter of any wild mammal in the world.
Master of Disguise
The Arctic fox is the only member of the canid family that changes the colour of its coat from season to season.
Did you know?
The Arctic fox has the warmest pelt of any animal found in the Arctic. It can endure temperatures as low as -50 °C before its metabolism increases to provide warmth.