What Do Arctic Foxes Eat? [Complete Diet]

Arctic foxes are omnivorous. They feed mainly on small mammals like caribou, lemmings, voles, and Arctic hares. However, their diet extends well beyond these staple foods. These foxes also feed on birds, eggs, insects, and even carrion. In winter, they can dig up frozen rodents they’ve stored, and in scarce conditions, they turn to berries, seaweed, and other available vegetation.

But does their menu include aquatic prey? Do Arctic foxes consume fish? Being opportunistic eaters, these foxes exhibit a surprising degree of dietary adaptability, turning to whatever Mother Nature provides, from small mammals to unexpected edibles.

Join us as we uncover the incredible feeding habits of Arctic foxes, revealing how they endure in one of the world’s most extreme environments.

Is Arctic Fox A Carnivore or An Omnivore?

Carnivores feed on other animals, whereas omnivores feed on both plants and animals. So where do Arctic foxes fit in this range? Let’s find out.

● Primarily Carnivorous

The Arctic fox is fundamentally a carnivore, falling under the family Canidae, which includes other carnivorous animals like wolves, jackals, and domestic dogs.

Arctic foxes strongly prefer a meat-based diet, with small mammals forming the bulk of their consumption.

● Opportunistic Omnivores

However, survival in the Arctic’s extreme conditions requires adaptability, and the Arctic fox is an expert at making the most of what is available. Hence, while their preferred diet is carnivorous, they adopt an omnivorous approach when needed.

So, to answer the initial question, Arctic foxes are primarily carnivorous, but their opportunistic feeding habits allow them to be functionally omnivorous when necessary, revealing an impressive adaptation to their challenging environment.

What are the Arctic Foxes’ Favorite Food?

Arctic fox
Arctic fox is eating red meat

It may surprise some that the humble lemming plays a crucial role in the Arctic fox’s diet. These small rodent species, including the brown lemming (Lemmus trimucronatus) and the northern collared lemming (Dicrostonyx groenlandicus), are the Arctic fox’s favorite and most important food source.

According to an article published in Wildlife Biology, Arctic foxes hunt and gather these small mammals during the summer, when lemmings are abundant. They make up a significant portion of their diet throughout the year.

Their dependency on lemmings is such that the population dynamics of Arctic foxes are intrinsically linked to the population cycles of lemmings. A boom in the lemming population often results in a similar increase in the Arctic fox population due to the plentiful food supply.

What Do Arctic Foxes Eat in The Arctic?

The diet of Arctic foxes varies somewhat depending on their geographical location. Their dietary habits in their primary habitat—the Arctic—provide a fascinating snapshot of survival and adaptability. So, what do Arctic foxes eat in their chilly home?

● Rodents

As we’ve touched on before, rodents form the core of the Arctic fox’s diet, with lemmings being the most vital. Arctic foxes are adept hunters of these small rodents, using their sharp hearing to locate lemmings beneath the snow.

In addition to lemmings, Arctic foxes also prey on other small mammals native to their range, such as voles and Arctic hares. These animals provide essential nutrients, particularly during the breeding season.

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● Birds and Eggs

During the Arctic summer, when bird colonies are nesting, Arctic foxes often feast on birds and their eggs. This is especially true for fox populations living near the coast, where seabird colonies are prevalent.

According to the Alaska Department of Fish and Games. Puffins, geese, auklets, murres, and many other birds, and their eggs become part of the Arctic fox’s summer diet. They also feed on chicks when they are available.

They are incredibly skilled at catching seabirds, utilizing their sharp hearing and swift reflexes to snatch unsuspecting prey. Occasionally, Arctic foxes attempt to prey on larger birds such as Sandhill Cranes and geese. However, these attempts are often unsuccessful due to the size and strength of their intended prey. ~ Source

Research published in the Journal of Mammalogy shows that Arctic foxes can fetch goose eggs (from greater snow geese in Canada) at a rate of 2.7 to 7.3 eggs/hour. They catch 80 to 97% of them and later consume them in winter.

● Fish and Invertebrates

Arctic foxes residing in coastal regions of the Arctic have an additional food source: the sea. These foxes take advantage of low tides and melting sea ice to catch fish and various marine invertebrates. They have been observed eating fish and even seals’ afterbirth and carcasses, showcasing their dietary adaptability.

● Plants and Berries

Arctic foxes display impressive dietary flexibility in times of scarcity or when prey populations dwindle. During the summer, when plants bloom, Arctic foxes turn to berries, seaweed, and other plant-based food items available in the Arctic tundra.

● Carrion

Arctic foxes are also known to feed on carrion — the decaying flesh of dead animals — when fresh prey is not readily available.

What Do Arctic Foxes Eat in Winter?

The winter months present a significant challenge for all Arctic wildlife, and Arctic foxes are no exception. Food sources become scarce with the ground frozen solid and many animals hibernate or migrate to warmer climates. So, what do these hardy creatures eat during the harsh Arctic winters?

Arctic fox

Despite the harsh conditions, some small mammals, such as lemmings, remain active under the snow throughout the winter, as reported in an article published in Polar Science.

For Arctic foxes near the coast, the winter diet may also include marine animals, such as sea birds, fish, and marine invertebrates, washed up on the shore.

According to an article published in the Journal of Animal Ecology, these foxes scavenge carcasses left by larger predators in winter. They also cache surplus food, burying it in the permafrost to preserve it for later use. This stockpile becomes a vital food source when fresh prey is scarce during winter.

What Do Baby Arctic Foxes Eat?

Arctic fox kits, or baby Arctic foxes, primarily rely on their parents for nutrition, especially during the initial stages of their lives. Born in the spring, these kits are weaned around six weeks, transitioning from mother’s milk to solid food.

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Initially, the mother Arctic fox, also known as a vixen, feeds her kits with her milk, which is rich in the nutrients required for the growth and development of the young ones. Once the weaning process begins, the diet of the kits gradually shifts to solid food.

The primary caregivers, usually the parents, forage for food and bring it back to the den. Adult Arctic foxes work tirelessly to meet the nutritional needs of their pups, particularly in tundra habitats.

arctic fox habitat

These foxes predominantly hunt lemmings, but their diet can also include voles, birds, eggs, insects, small mammals, fish, carrion, and plant material, depending on the availability of their location.

The food brought back by the adults is then regurgitated for the kits. This enables the young foxes to gradually get used to solid food while still receiving the necessary nutrients for growth.

As the kits grow and develop, they start venturing out of the den and learning to hunt under the supervision of their parents. By the time they reach the age of 4 to 6 months, most Arctic fox kits are proficient hunters and are ready to fend for themselves. ~ Source

Did you know? Adult Arctic foxes mainly hunt lemmings, throughout the extended daylight hours of the Arctic summer, from 4:00 PM until 10:00 or 11:00 AM the next day. On average, each adult embarks on 10 to 15 hunts per night, returning with anywhere between three and eight lemmings each time.

When lemmings are plentiful, the hunting ground is usually confined to an area between 2.5 and 5.0 square kilometers. In times of food scarcity, however, this range is likely to expand considerably. ~ Source

How Do Arctic Foxes Eat?

Arctic Foxes are adept hunters, utilizing different techniques to catch their prey.

● Hunting

When it comes to hunting, Arctic foxes display a unique blend of stealth, patience, and agility. They’re known for their iconic pounce, a hunting strategy often employed when hunting small mammals like lemmings.

Using their excellent hearing, Arctic foxes can detect the movement of prey beneath the snow. Once they’ve located their prey, they jump high and nose-dive into the snow to capture it.

●  Scavenging

Arctic foxes aren’t picky eaters, and when hunting is not an option, they turn to scavenging. According to The Arctic Institute of North America, they’ll often follow larger predators, such as polar bears, to feed on the leftovers from their meals.

This scavenging behavior is particularly pronounced during the winter when food is scarce. It has allowed Arctic foxes to survive in regions of the Arctic where other predators struggle.

● Caching

Arctic foxes have the impressive habit of storing food for later consumption. During periods of abundant prey, they often kill more than they can eat and cache the excess food by burying it in the ground. They can rely on these caches to supplement their diet when food becomes scarce.

● Eating Habits

Arctic foxes tend to eat quickly, which helps reduce the risk of food theft by other predators. They also eat frequently, reflecting the high-energy demands of living in the Arctic.

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Do Arctic Foxes Eat a Lot?

Arctic fox

Like other cold-climate animals, Arctic foxes have high metabolic rates to generate body heat and combat the cold. Consequently, they require a diet high in calories.

In summer and autumn, when food is plentiful, Arctic foxes have been observed eating a lot, consuming as much as they can store in fat reserves for leaner times. They feed on rodents, birds, eggs, fish, and berries. During these periods, they will also cache excess food for later use.

In winter, food becomes scarce, and Arctic foxes may need to rely on their fat reserves and cached food. Despite these challenges, they continue to hunt and scavenge as much as possible, eating as much as they can when food is available.

Did you know? Arctic foxes can go for several days without eating in harsh conditions or when food is sparse. According to an article published in Comparative Biochemistry and Physiology, they can handle these fasting periods by utilizing their stored body fat.

How Much Does an Arctic Fox Eat in A Day?

According to research, an Arctic fox can eat up to 3.3 pounds of food per day. It has also been indicated that an average 11-member family of Arctic foxes may eat approximately 60 rodents in a day during summers when rodents are plentiful. ~ Source

However, this intake can be significantly higher if the fox is preparing for the winter or feeding pups.

This substantial intake is due to the high-energy demands of living in the Arctic environment, combined with the fox’s metabolic adaptations to cold temperatures and sporadic food availability.

FAQ

Q: Do Arctic Foxes Drink Milk?

A: Arctic foxes feed on milk from their mothers until they are capable of digesting a solid diet, beginning to eat after six weeks. They can not have anything other than water and their mother’s milk.

Q: Do Arctic Foxes Eat Fruit?

A: Yes, Arctic foxes are omnivorous and eat both animal and plant material. They eat a variety of fruits, such as berries, when they are available. Fruits are an important part of their diet, especially when their primary food sources are scarce.

Wrapping Up

So, what do Arctic foxes eat? The Arctic fox’s diet is quite diverse within the animal kingdom. Their diet primarily consists of a wide range of animals and plant material available in their habitat, which includes lemmings, voles, hares, birds, eggs, carrion, berries, and insects.

Their diet changes seasonally and according to geographical location. During the summer months, when food is abundant, an Arctic fox may consume a lesser amount per day since food is readily accessible.

However, when resources are scarce in the winter, the fox must eat as much as possible whenever it finds food. It is then that the fox’s ability to store excess fat in its body becomes particularly crucial for survival. This dietary diversity underscores the Arctic fox’s adaptability to the extreme conditions of its habitat.

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