The Arctic Fox

nature_science_you

By Al Lowe
Contributor

This is the Arctic Fox. It is the smallest of our wild dogs, about the size of a big cat or a small dog. In the winter, when the fur is thick and long, it looks quite stocky. All in all, it is a very presentable little animal.
Don’t expect to find this little fox anywhere near where you are reading this paper. In Ontario, it lives only on the shores of Hudson and James Bay. It is quite common in a lot of the Canadian Arctic from Alaska to Labrador. There are times, however, when these little animals appear to migrate south. They have been seen, once in a while, north of Lake Superior, and some have drifted on ice flows to Cape Breton and Newfoundland.
The Arctic Fox changes colour during the year. In the spring, it rapidly loses its outer white coat, and the under fur is exposed. This thick, insulating fur is mostly brown on the sides, back and legs, but the underparts are mostly yellowish. The winter coat comes in two phases - white and blue. The white one is just that - pure white. The blue phase, however is from pearl grey to almost purplish, and it fades quite a lot as the sun gets higher and higher in the sky.
The fur of the Arctic Fox commands a high price. White furs are very valuable, and good blue ones are even more. Trapping of these little foxes adds quite a bit to the income of the native hunters.
Like all of the wild dog family, Arctic Foxes are primarily carnivores. Their major food consists of the northern species of lemmings, which exist in the Arctic in huge numbers. In summer, they find ground squirrel’s, young Arctic hares, birds and their eggs, ducks and geese during the flightless season, and the sea-nesting birds. For these, they are often found clambering around, eating the young and eggs of murres, dovekies and other sea birds. They are also very keen on carrion, and have been known to follow the northern version of the Timber Wolf, to grab what’s left of a caribou. And they will follow Polar bears across the ice to get at the remains of seals.
Populations of the Arctic Fox fluctuate a great deal. The peaks seem to be about 3 to 5 years apart, and follow quite closely the rise and fall of the lemmings. When the lemming population drops (and we have all heard about their famous marches to the sea) then so does the fox population. This is when they make these so-called ‘migrations’. In 1832, a wave of these foxes swept across the whole of Sweden. They have gone across ice flows from Canada to Greenland. And in 1922, there was a very large migration to the north shore of the Gulf of St. lawrence.
Arctic Foxes make their dens in sandy soils, and with a lot of entrances, too - maybe a dozen or more. These are multiple dens and are used by generations. Only a small part of these large dens are used for the little ones.
The Arctic Fox (Alopex lagopus) is a very cute little animal, and that outer insulating fur, either white or blue, commands the best of prices among the fur dealer so the whole world.