Maybe you’ve seen a video clip of a fluffy white fox moving carefully through a frozen landscape. Suddenly it leaps into the air and dive-bombs straight down into the snow. If so, you’ve witnessed the unusual hunting skills of an arctic fox. During winter at the most northern parts of Earth, snow and ice transform the arctic tundra into a blanket of white as far as the eye can see. It’s a long, cold and harsh season, and animals like the arctic fox have a number of special tricks that help them survive. Here’s how they’re able to locate and catch their prey.
Blending in with the arctic landscape. Some arctic animals have evolved unique camouflage to blend in with their surroundings. The most obvious example is the polar bear. These large predators have white fur that makes them nearly invisible as they hunt seals on the white sea ice. Many of the bird species that arctic foxes hunt during the summer migrate south to escape the harsh winter weather. The foxes are left with fewer food choices. While they still hunt some birds, like ptarmigan, on top of the snow, arctic foxes often turn their attention to food found underneath the snow – specifically, lemmings. Lemmings are small rodents that live on the arctic tundra all year. To survive the cold winters, they remain active under deep snow, moving through tunnels, and search for leaves, roots and berries to eat. The snow insulates them from the cold air above, allowing them to stay active even during the middle of winter. But how do arctic foxes find lemmings that are hidden underneath the snow? The answer: by listening for their footsteps! Like other canid species – a fancy way to describe dog-like animals – arctic foxes have very sensitive ears. [full article]