How to

10 June 2016

How They Keep Warm: Arctic Fox


There’s one thing that’s certain about arctic foxes, they’re friggin’ adorable. These animated little tufts of fluff are generally found in the Arctic regions of the Northern Hemisphere, are almost immediately differentiable from other types of fox due to their much thicker, whiter fur, as well as their more rounded shape.

They are certainly some of the most successful survivalists of the tundra. They prey on smaller mammals and birds, and are even able to burrow into the snow to catch them, but if live food is scarce they will often turn to carrion. In short, they’ve carved out their own little pocket of the Arctic Circle, and they’re flourishing in it.

Of course, they’re just as vulnerable to the extreme cold as anything else, and they have their own set of special adaptations to deal with it. Like most arctic animals, they have a layer of fat to help store up all the energy they build up while on their eating binges in the summer months, as well as the thick layer of seasonal fur.

The fur is particularly prominent around their tails, and that’s no accident, as it wraps around and provides an additional layer of insulation when the foxes are at rest. They also sport thick fur on the bottoms of their paws, which not only allows them to grip the icy surface, but also provides a barrier between their feet and the cold of the snowy terrain.

Their paws hide a second, even more amazing quality, a counter-current heat exchanger. This is actually present in domestic dogs as well, but more prominent in foxes. It keeps the paws at a consistently lower temperature than the rest of the body. Blood going into the paws is used to heat up the blood which is on the way back up, improving regulation across the entire body.

In behavioural terms, they burrow to make shelters for their pups, and to avoid heavy weather. Their front paws are wider and better built for digging than other species. During times when prey is more plentiful, they will breed in far greater numbers, keeping their population count consistent.


They are perhaps better adapted to snow than any other animal. Their hearing is so keen that they can hear lemmings and voles burrowing in the snow from long distances, pinpoint their exact position and then strike, often with a spectacular leaping dive motion. They can also track polar bear prints to raid their kills, in a pinch, as a polar bear will have little hope of catching them if they sense it first (which they will, with their hearing). 



Callum Davies

Callum is a film school graduate who is now making a name for himself as a journalist and content writer. His vices include flat whites and 90s hip-hop.