Tails From The Zoo

Arctic Fox – Zoo New Segment on CJOB December 7, 2009

Scott Gray and Chris Reid spoke about the Assiniboine Park Zoo’s Arctic foxes this past Sunday on the Weekend Wakeup Show at 7:15 am. We hope you’ll tune in every Sunday morning to listen to the show and our new zoo segment.

Arctic Fox

We currently have 2.3 Arctic foxes at the Assiniboine Park Zoo

  • In the zoo world, “2.3 foxes” is a quick way of saying two males and three females.
  • If young foxes were born (let’s pretend four of them) and zoo staff don’t yet know yet if they are male or female, they would say there are 0.0.4 with the .4 meaning unknown gender.
  • Another example: 3.5.1 means 3 males, 5 females and 1 unknown gender

All of our Arctic foxes arrived at the Assiniboine Park Zoo as pups in November 2003. Our two breeding pairs have had 28 offspring to date. These offspring have been shipped to zoos all over the world including Switzerland, France, and the US and throughout Canada.

Arctic Fox Litters:

  • Are very large – between 10 and 25 depending on lemming populations.
  • This is the largest litter size of all the carnivores
  • This species of fox becomes sexually mature at 9 to 10 months
  • Survival rate is low being about 25% for kits and 50% for adults

A Bit of Biology/Ecology:

  • There are 20 species of fox worldwide.
  • Arctic foxes live throughout the treeless Arctic and alpine tundra
  • Their circumpolar population is several hundred thousand. They are not yet part of an species survival program because of a relatively stable wild population.

Size:

  • Height: ~1 foot at the shoulder
  • Length: Average about 21 inches long in addition to an 11-inch tail
  • Weight: 6 to 11 lbs

Diet:

Arctic foxes are opportunistic hunters, preying on lemmings, voles, squirrels, birds and their eggs, berries, hare and fish. They will also eat carrion, often scavenging scraps of meat from wolves and polar bears.

Cold Hardy Adaptations:

Arctic foxes were made for living in the cold.

  • They have short muzzles, short legs, and small ears, which reduces heat loss and the chance of frostbite.
  • Their metabolic rate only starts to increase at -50C and they begin to shiver at -70C.
  • They have three times as much underfur as the red fox.
  • They have densely furred feet pads, which helps prevent slipping and greatly increase warmth of the foot.
  • Their feet can remain just above freezing thanks to specialised muscles and blood flow (peripheral thermoregulation). Other animals, like caribou and some northern waterfowl have this feature where cold blood is warmed as it moves into the body.

Compiled by Scott Gray, Education Director, Zoological Society of Manitoba

References: WAZA, Woodland Park Zoo, Oppenheim Zoo, Detroit Zoo

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