Arctic Fox

Quick Facts

Scientific name:
Vulpes lagopus
Indigenous name:
tiriganiaq (North and South Qikiqtaaluk, Aivilingmiutut, Paallirmiutut), tiriganniaq (Inuinnaqtun), tiriŋaniaq (Nattilingmiutut), tigiganniak (Nunatsiavummiutut), tigiganniaq (Inuvialuktun), tiġiganniaq (Iñupiatun)
IUCN conservation status:

Least concern (assessed June 20, 2014)

Genome sequenced?
No. of chromosomes:
25 x 2
Size of genome:

Did You Know?

  • The Arctic fox is the single most important terrestrial game species in the Arctic. Indigenous people use their fur as a source of income.
  • Due to the Arctic foxes high reproductive rate they can maintain their population rates even under extreme hunting pressures.
  • Arctic foxes change their fur color depending on the season, in the winter their coat is a thick white color and in the summer as the snow melts their coat turns to a thinner dark or light gray color or even brown.
  • Similar to polar bears, Arctic foxes have a dark skin pigmentation underneath their fur. This darker pigmentation is good for retaining and absorbing heat in the extreme cold of the Arctic.
  • There are eight recognized sub-species of the Arctic fox.
  • Lemmings, a type of arctic rodent, are the Arctic foxes main food source in inland areas and their populations fluctuate based on the number of lemmings.
  • The Arctic fox is much smaller and more compact than other members of the fox family, their lower amount of body mass and surface helps to reduce heat loss as well as the thickness of their fur.
  • The Inuit word for Arctic fox is “Tiriganiarjuk” which translates to “The Little White One”.
  • Arctic foxes can reach a top speed of 30 mph (~48.3 kph).
  • The Arctic fox species diverged from domesticated dogs 12 million years ago.
  • Individual Arctic foxes can travel up to 96.3 mi (~155 km) in a single day.

Life History

The Arctic fox is a mammal belonging to the Canidae family. They live in all arctic tundra habitats and sea ice in and around surrounding islands. They have a thick fur coat with hollow hair shafts that trap the warm air and keeps their body temperature at 104°F (40°C) and a tail that acts as a blanket to wrap around their body while they sleep. The Arctic foxes diet consists of small rodents like lemmings however they are omnivores and will eat whatever is available in times of need including polar bear excrement. If food is scarce the Arctic fox will dig a den and can slow its metabolism and heart rate for up to two weeks. Once their “hibernation” is complete they will emerge ready to hunt again. The Arctic fox is a very small mammal weighing 6–10 lb (~2.7–4.5 kg) and is the size of a cat. Their white fur provides excellent camouflage into their arctic environments during the winter months, as the snow melts a pigment called melanin provides the fox with its brown coat during the summer months. Their small compact bodies, unique fur coat, and varied diet allows the species to survive in the most extreme winters on the planet. A couple months before the end of winter the foxes will begin to mate, they get into pairs and live in dens for the 51–57 days of gestation. Arctic foxes give birth to a litter of about 7–10 pups and the pair stays together to raise the litter until fall when the family unit breaks up.

Importance in Indigenous Culture

Arctic fox were occasionally eaten by Inuit and later became an important economic resource once trading posts were established. In the 1960’s the Arctic fox was an important resource and the Inuit would trade their pelts/fur and tails as neck warmers for cash from trading companies such as the Hudson Bay Trading Company. Inuit only used fox meat as an emergency source of meat when food was scarce. Inuit would follow the Arctic fox in order to help them locate food hidden deep beneath the snow. The Arctic fox is steeped in Indigenous folklore, the Dene first nations have a story in which the Arctic fox saves the people from starvation during barren times by following a raven and bringing the people caribou to feed on.

Conservation Issues

Arctic foxes have been listed as "least concern" by the IUCN red list; their current population trend is stable. Their world population is in the number of hundreds of thousands and fluctuates based on the amount of food (lemmings) during a season. The largest threat to the Arctic fox population was the overhunting due to fur trading, with the decline of the fur trade over the years the threat of over exploitation has diminished and populations are now stable. The biggest threat to the Arctic fox now is scarcity of prey and disease.

Role of Genomics

Genome sequencing revealed that Arctic fox has very low genetic diversity in their populations and can be mapped to the dog genome. Low genetic diversity means that the species can be susceptible to disease.


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