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Arctic fox (Vulpes lagopus, formerly Alopex lagopus)

On the Nor­we­gi­an main­land, their num­bers have fal­len so shar­ply that they are rea­red in cap­ti­ve bree­ding pro­gram­mes and released into the wild again. On Spits­ber­gen, on the other hand, their popu­la­ti­on is sta­ble. And this des­pi­te the fact that the curious Arc­tic foxes were inten­si­ve­ly hun­ted becau­se of their fur for cen­tu­ries.

Arctic fox in summer coat, Engelskbukta

Arc­tic fox in sum­mer coat, Engelskbuk­ta

Descrip­ti­on: Adult Arc­tic foxes are about 60 cm long and 2.5- 5 kg in weight. They have a very den­se, thick, usual­ly com­ple­te­ly white win­ter fur, that is brown during the sum­mer; moul­ting is from May to ear­ly July and Sep­tem­ber to Decem­ber. Addi­tio­nal­ly, the­re is a small pro­por­ti­on that remains dark brown throughout the year. The­se types belong to the same spe­ci­es, but it is the dark morph, the so-cal­led “blue fox”, which is very rare in Spits­ber­gen, about 3 % of the total popu­la­ti­on.

Blue fox

»Blue fox« with dark fur all year round.

Dis­tri­bu­ti­on / Migra­ti­ons: Arc­tic foxes have a cir­cum­po­lar dis­tri­bu­ti­on. They roam over lar­ge are­as, pre­ven­ting sub-popu­la­ti­ons from being iso­la­ted. In Sval­bard, Arc­tic foxes appe­ar on all the islands and in all habi­tats from the drift ice at sea to moun­tains, alt­hough they pre­fer the tun­dra in the vicini­ty of bird cliffs during the sum­mer. In favoura­ble are­as with good food avai­la­bi­li­ty an Arc­tic fox may mana­ge with a ter­ri­to­ry of less than 10 sq km, other­wi­se 10-20 sq km.

Bio­lo­gy: Arc­tic foxes eat pret­ty much ever­ything they can get hold of, typi­cal­ly eggs and chicks during the sum­mer. They have to make do without rodents in Sval­bard, as the­se do not occur in this regi­on. Food avai­la­bi­li­ty during the sum­mer is gene­ral­ly good, but the win­ter is a meag­re sea­son, during which Ptar­mi­gans, car­r­i­on, hid­den stocks and, near sett­le­ments, rub­bish are important items on the menu. Some Arc­tic foxes fol­low Polar bears out onto the drift ice and feed on the left-overs of their meals. Star­va­ti­on during the win­ter seems to be the main cau­se of death.

During the mating sea­son, Arc­tic foxes have a ter­ri­to­ry, the size of which depends on food avai­la­bi­li­ty: The more food that is avail­ab­le, the smal­ler the ter­ri­to­ry. Mating is in March, and the fema­le will give birth in a den, often under lar­ge rocks, in late May or ear­ly June. Five or six cubs, even more in good years, are born to enjoy the rich, ear­ly arc­tic sum­mer, but many will die during the first win­ter. Tho­se who sur­vi­ve have a good chan­ce to reach an age of three or four or, in excep­tio­nal cases, even ten years or more.

Mis­cel­la­ne­ous: The popu­la­ti­on is sound and sta­ble in Sval­bard des­pi­te cen­tu­ries of inten­se hun­ting. Out­side the pro­tec­ted are­as, locals are still allo­wed to hunt during a cer­tain peri­od in the win­ter. Arc­tic foxes have tra­di­tio­nal­ly been caught during the win­ter with woo­den traps that kill the fox with a hea­vy weight of stones without dama­ging the pre­cious fur which pro­vi­ded a very important inco­me for trap­pers.

Nevertheless, Arc­tic foxes are often qui­te inqui­si­ti­ve and with a bit of luck you may obser­ve them from a clo­se distance. Remem­ber, howe­ver, that they can have rabies or tape­worms in Sval­bard. Both can be very dan­ge­rous for humans, so don’t touch unna­tu­ral­ly friend­ly or dead foxes or fox excre­ment.

»White fox« with white winterfur.

»White fox« with white win­ter­fur.

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last modification: 2018-09-06 · copyright: Rolf Stange
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