In March 2018, a fox fitted with a tracking collar providing geographical coordinates made the headlines after traveling more than 3,500 km in the space of two-and-a-half months. The journey between Norway and Canada—one of the longest recorded to date—showed that the Arctic truly is an “animal-connected” territory.

An animation showing the movements of an Arctic fox on a map, setting out from Norway, crossing the Arctic ice pack and ending up in Nunavut
An Arctic fox was tracked during a long journey. Image: Eva Fuglei & Arnaud Tarroux © Norwegian Polar Institute

Although this journey may be one of the longest on record, long-distance movements are not uncommon for these small-sized mammals. As large as house cats, they roam across the tundra for many hours each day. Their slow trot allows them to cover a sizeable area in their search for food, which is relatively scarce in such a hostile environment, especially in winter.

In this regard, these foxes, which are found throughout the Arctic, do not always eat the same prey; instead, they eat what is available. For example, those living in the Svalbard archipelago (Norway) primarily consume the eggs of sea birds, while those in Iceland eat a larger proportion of marine invertebrates, which wash up on beaches during tidal changes. In the Canadian Arctic, they feed on small rodents and the eggs of land birds, including those of geese living in colonies, potentially numbering several thousand individuals in the summertime. Arctic foxes usually manage to survive in this harsh environment by seeking out different types of prey, for instance if lemmings become very scarce. Thanks to the foxes’ enormous geographical range, they may abandon one area altogether and then travel hundreds or thousands of kilometres in search of more abundant food sources.

A brown fox with a long bushy tail is seen with a radio transmitter attached to its collar, which also has a small antenna in it
An Arctic fox wearing a collar fitted with an automatic geolocator. Image: © Andréanne Beardsell

In winter, their thick coat of fur turns completely white. This enables them to continue roaming and to endure extreme cold while remaining camouflaged. One scientific experiment showed that these animals could withstand a temperature of -80°C for one hour with no drop in body temperature. In addition to their great mobility, they have a very keen sense of smell: they can detect carcasses left by polar bears several kilometres away. In short, this fox truly is a seasoned traveler of the Arctic.

A small grey, brown and white fox with a large egg in its mouth
An Arctic fox has found its next meal: a Greater Snow Goose egg. Image: © Andréanne Beardsell