Arctic Fox

Description

The Arctic fox occurs in large numbers and wide distribution in the Northwest Territories.

This small animal normally weighs between 2.5 and 5.0 kg and averages 65-85 cm in length. The female, or vixen, is slightly smaller than the male fox.

Summer

The Arctic fox is the only canid that changes the colour of its coat in the summer. The back, tail, legs and head are brown, and the sides and belly are blond. This colour allows the fox to change to blend into the summer tundra in July and August. This coat is much shorter than the winter coat.

Arctic fox in summer
Arctic fox in summer

Winter

The Arctic Fox has two winter colour phases, white and blue. The different colour phases may occur within the same litter and the proportion of each colour phase varies geographically. The white phase is much more prevalent in the NWT. The blue coat varies from grey to dark blue-black and occurs in about one per cent of inland populations and about one to five percent of foxes on coastal areas and the Arctic islands. The winter coat of the Arctic fox makes it appear much larger than it really is. The dense under fur and long guard hairs provide ample protection against the most bitter winter weather.

Arctic fox with winter coat
Arctic fox with winter coat

Distribution

Arctic foxes are widely distributed throughout the Arctic tundra of the NWT, including the Arctic islands. The natural southern limit of its distribution is the treeline. Some foxes venture into the boreal forest, especially when their food decreases on the tundra. They also move extensively over the polar ice cap.

Arctic foxes inhabit both inland and coastal terrain. Each fox has its own home range, which varies in size from 3-25 km².  They are very mobile and can travel great distances over land or sea ice. Movement by individuals of over 2,000 km has been recorded. 

Map - Arctic Fox Distribution
Map - Arctic Fox Distribution

Harvesting

The Arctic fox is classified as a furbearer in the NWT. Trapping seasons vary between areas, but generally run from November 1 to early April.

Disease

Rabies is the most common disease affecting foxes in the NWT. Encephalitis and distemper are also fatal diseases that are more prevalent during years with high numbers of foxes.  Many foxes are infected with a variety of internal and external parasites.