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Facts about the arctic fox

Difficult survival conditions for a charismatic little fellow

Curious and charismatic – the arctic foxes that Fjällräven’s founder Åke Nordin saw during his treks fascinated him so much that he named his company after them. Yes, the Swedish word for arctic fox is fjällräv(en). The little predator has been able to adapt amazingly to the difficult conditions of the arctic mountains and tundra.

Weighing in at just 3-4 kg, the arctic fox is significantly smaller than its cousin the red fox. It is a tough little fellow that, together with the lemming and the wild reindeer, is one of the oldest inhabitants of the Scandinavian Peninsula. Its fur is the warmest of all known mammals and the species has also adapted physically to the arctic environment and conditions in a number of other ways. For example, its body temperature is maintained thanks to fur on the undersides of its paws and during the autumn it can add more than 50 per cent of its body weight in fat deposits that function both as insulation and energy reserves. When an arctic fox curls up, tucks its paws in and covers its nose with its long, fluffy tail, it can survive in temperatures as low as minus 40 degrees.

Ancient dens

Arctic foxes live in dens found along sandy ridges or in stony deposits. A den might be used for hundreds of years and those located in sandy ridges can have over 100 entrances. According to arctic fox expert and researcher Anders Angerbjörn of Stockholm University, some dens can be up to 8,000 years old.

The female arctic fox gives birth to pups primarily during lemming years, normally every three to four years. Many lemmings mean a lot of food, and on a good lemming year she can have litters of up to 18 pups which the parents then raise together. Arctic fox families will often keep close to their dens during the months of May until August while the pups are small, but in the winter they tend to roam more freely.

The pups’ first winter is critical

Today there are between 130 and 200 adult arctic foxes in the Swedish and Norwegian mountains, primarily in Helags and Borgafjäll in Sweden and Børgefjell in Norway. The summer of 2011 was a fantastic lemming year with 60 litters, which increased the population with many pups. But it is not until after the pups’ first year that it can be determined if the number of adults that can raise new families has increased. The conditions for survival are extremely difficult: over 90 per cent of pups born during a bad lemming year do not survive, but the numbers are a little better during good years. The supply of the small rodents and efforts made to help the population are crucial factors for the survival of the species.

Did you know that:

• The Sami words for arctic fox are svaale (South Sami), sválla (Lule Sami) and njálla (North Sami) and are often found in the Sami names for places in the mountains. In older Swedish literature the arctic fox is sometimes called the ‘polar fox’ or ‘ice fox’.

• The arctic fox can be either white or dark blue-black during the winter. In the summer it becomes light yellow on the underside with brownish grey patches across its face, back and legs. The blue arctic fox is a solid chocolate brown during the summer months.

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