THE ARCTIC FOX

The Arctic Fox. Photo: Frede Lamo

The arctic fox is a hardy creature that wanders over the sea ice in the footsteps of the polar bear on the hunt for food. The thick winter coat and layer of fat around the body mean that it can cope well in these inhospitable surroundings. The arctic fox in Svalbard and on the mainland of Norway are the same species. It is smaller than the red fox, which is not found here. The arctic fox weighs 3-4kg and is about the size of a full-grown cat. Some can survive to 13-15 years old, but most only reach 3-4 years of age.

The arctic fox has either a blue or a white coat and both types are found here. The majority are white foxes. They change coats from summer to winter. The summer coat is short, whereas the winter coat is thick and warm. The white fox has a uniform white winter coat. The summer coat, on the other hand, is grey-brown on the back and thighs, whilst it is yellow-white on the belly and sides. The blue fox has single colour coats all year, in winter it varies from dark brown to a light blue-grey. In summer it is chocolate brown.

Arctic foxes mate for life. They defend a territory where they have dug out a den in the ground where the vixen can give birth to her kits. In Svalbard a vixen can have 5-6 kits. Most of the kits are born around May 20th. Both the vixen and the dog-fox provide food for the kits and teach them the required hunting techniques, so that they can quickly learn to find food themselves. Already at the end of August the kits have to fend for themselves. There is little food in Svalbard during the winter. All the migratory birds leave in October. The arctic fox has to hunt ptarmigan or maybe find a reindeer that has died during the course of the winter, or the remains of a seal that a polar bear has killed. The arctic fox is born with a hoarding instinct, and during the winter they are able to find the food that they buried during the summer and autumn. When the light and the spring come it is time for the migratory birds to return to Svalbard. The hunt for seabirds on the cliffs and geese on the tundra can begin again.

By Eva Fuglei