As its name suggests, the Arctic fox is a species of fox native to the Arctic region of the world. Also known as the White fox or Snow fox, the Arctic fox is found throughout Alaska, north Canada and some parts of Greenland. The fact that this small fox species manages to survive the harsh winters that the tundra region boasts of may come as a surprise for many, until you realize that nearly every feature of this animal is such that it helps it to adapt and survive in this climate.
Arctic Fox Physical Adaptations
In the freezing conditions of tundra, the most important thing that the Arctic fox needs to do is to ensure that its core body temperature does not fall below a certain point. For this, the entire body of the Arctic fox is covered with thick fur. In fact, the fur of this species is said to the warmest of any mammal on the planet, - including the polar bear with whom it shares its habitat. At the same time, it has a system in its body wherein there is countercurrent exchange of heat which is attributed to circulation of blood and adequate amount of adipose tissues.
The size and body shape of Arctic fox have a crucial role to play in maintaining its body temperature. It has a small and round body - with a short muzzle and thick ears, which reduces its exposure to cold and minimizes heat loss. Its furry tail doesn't just help it when it comes to balance and camouflage, but also acts as a warm blanket when it sleeps. The arctic fox has even adapted its feet to survive in the harsh winter climate of the Arctic with the fur on the bottom of its feet providing it protection from the ice while walking or digging the ground.
The Arctic fox puts its coat to good use throughout the year. In summer, and it camouflages itself against the melting snow by shedding its white coat and opting for a brown one instead. The process is reversed in winter, and by November it's coat is back to snow white color that happens to be its typical characteristic trait. One of the most amazing physical adaptations in this species is their heavily pigmented eyes that help them reduce the damage caused by strong light reflected from the ice. This species relies on its keen sense of hearing when it comes to hunting. Once it spots a prey just below the level of the ice, it just jumps on its prey and catches it. It has sharp claws that help it to dig into the ground for prey without slipping.
Arctic Fox Dietary Adaptations
Over the course of time, this species has adapted to a diet which helps them survive in the summer and winter of the Arctics. The Arctic fox is basically an opportunistic predator which feeds small mammals - like lemmings and ground squirrels, as well as insects and eggs. In winter when conditions are harsh and there is shortage of food, it follows the polar bears and caribous instead of hunting on its own. When it follows the polar bear, it scavenges on whatever that is left after the bear has had its fill. While that is risky considering that polar bears do have the tendency to hunt and feed on Arctic foxes, the superb camouflage skills that the latter boasts of comes to its rescue. On the other hand, when it follows the caribou, it feeds on insects that come to the surface when caribous forage the ground for food. More importantly, this animal is shrewd enough to use the thick sheets of ice to store food. At times, it digs a hole in the permafrost and stores its food there for future. Instead of building its own den, it enlarges squirrel burrows and uses it as his abode - and this helps him save energy and go without food for considerable amount of time.
For survival in the harsh and incredibly hard frigid, subzero climatic conditions, such adaptations surely come as a blessing in disguise. Even though the Arctic fox is not considered endangered as a whole, there do exist two subspecies of this animal which are considered endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). While these adaptations of the Arctic fox have helped it survive the wrath of nature, whether they will help it survive the human wrath is something that is difficult to say as loss of habitat and large-scale hunting for fur continue to fuel the decline of this species in the wild.