How I Survive

Summer coat of a blue morph Arctic fox, courtesy of coat of a blue morph Arctic fox, courtesy of

The Arctic fox has adapted to its habitat in a variety of ways, making it a very interesting organism to study.  The scientific name, Alopex lagopus, is actually a result of one of those adaptations.  The word lagopus means "hare-footed" and refers to the long thick hairs covering the pad of the foot which prevent the fox from getting frost bite as it runs over the snow and ice.  The Arctic fox occurs in two morphs, or colors, the white morph and the winter morph.  The fox changes the color of its fur during the winter and summer months, allowing it to better blend in with its surroundings.  On the islands, the blue morph is more common, with the winter color appearing as a pale blue grey and the summer color appearing as a dark chocolate brown or dark blue-gray.  The white morph demonstrates a gray-brown back with a paler tail and stomach during the summer months and a pure white coat during the winter months.  The different coat colors during the different seasons allow the fox to better blend in with the snow during the winter and the tundra flora during the summer. 
Summer coat of a white morph fox, courtesy of
Cross-phase fox during the summer molt, courtesy of

The Arctic fox also has the best insulative fur of any animal, allowing it to maintain its body temperature around 104 F while in temperatures as low as 76 below zero (Sale, 2006).  During the winter months, the outer guard hairs can become inches thick, and this combined with the dense undercoat make Arctic fox fur very desirable for humans.  The fox has a short muzzle, small rounded ears, short limbs, and a short rounded body, all of which require less energy expenditure to keep warm.  The fox also utilizes increased blood flow to the capillaries in the skin of the pads, and is able to reduce its basal metabolic rate by up to 45 percent during times of food shortage (Nowak, 1999).  The fox also has a large bushy tail that takes up half the body length which is used to aid in balance and especially as a warm blanket to curl up with.  Finally, the deep golden or orange-yellow eyes of the fox are heavily pigmented to reduce the damaging effects of the extreme glare of light off the ice.

Fox using its bushy tail as an insulating blanket, courtesy of