Like most other animals, the artic fox's cot changes to reflect the summer arctic habitat, becoming a brown or gray color that matches the summer environment (National Geographic, 2008). The photograph by Norbert Rosing (National Geographic, 2004), demonstrates the usefulness of the animal's camouflage: (Norbert Rosing, National Geographic, October, 2004, online at http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/ngm/finaledit/0410/,2008).
The artic fox contributes to the balance of nature because its diet includes rodents, which have a tendency to multiply rapidly in any conditions; birds, and fish (National Geographic, 2008). However, rodents are more plentiful during the summer months in the artic. During the winter months, when its food sources are scarcer, the fox will be follow the trail of the polar bears, acting as a scavenger to the remains of the larger animal's kills (National Geographic, 2008). The arctic fox also eats some amounts of vegetation, usually vegetables (National Geographic, 2008).
The arctic fox is a beautiful animal to observe in its environment. Its agility as a hunter is aided by the balance that it derives from its tail, not so different than a cat (National Geographic, 2008). However, the tail of the arctic fox serves an equally important function as a fur wrap to the animal as it huddles in its burrow to stay warm, especially when temperatures drop (National Geographic, 2008).
Spring is the season during which the arctic fox gives birth to a litter of up to 14 fox pups (National Geographic, 2008).
Of the many researchers investigating and studying wildlife in the arctic, National Geographic can be credited with having done perhaps the greatest body of research, and having compiled the most comprehensive collection of photographs on the arctic fox. Video of the artic fox during the summer months, when the subject at the center of the study video was sporting its summer camouflage of gray-brown, can be found online at National Geographic's site, showing the fox in its natural arctic habitat as a predator of small birds, and a robber of eggs from nests (National Geographic, online at http://video.nationalgeographic.com/video/player/animals/mammals-animals/dogs-wolves-and-foxes/fox_arctic.html?fs=animals-panther.nationalgeographic.com,2008). The video shows not just the fox in its white winter coat splendor, trailing after the remains of a polar bear kill, but also as it languishes on the lush green of the summer arctic cliffs, till it is moved by hunger to rob the nests of nearby arctic birds (National Geographic, 2008). The video reveals the agility of the fox as it scales the cliffs and steals from a nest that is built along a very narrow cliff (National Geographic, online, 2008). The video shows the fox, too, as the opportunist it is, making a meal of a fledgling bird that has yet acquired its ability to fly (National Geographic, online, 2008).
Researcher Grant Sims' observations about the arctic region lead him to focus on the arctic fox as one of the most important elements in the balance of nature there (p. 16). But Grant also is aware of the danger to the fox by man, who has since the earliest days of the exploration of the arctic exploited the arctic fox population for profit. Grant sees the arctic fox as a paradox, describing it this way:
On the mainland, however, foxes are indigenous, their relationship to bird colonies more complex and human intercession far less easy to justify - much less pull off. In the late 1970s and the 1980s, after decades of slow declines, four nesting goose species on the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta reached unprecedented lows. The reason was largely overhunting by people, which took place at both ends of the birds' migratory paths. And the hunting, says Tom Rothe, waterfowl coordinator for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, "pushed the populations down to the level where other factors kicked in."
One of those factors was the arctic fox, which was going through a population boom. "In no way do we want to suggest arctic foxes caused the decline in geese," Rothe says. "But it's fair to say they suppressed the recovery." The hunting is now limited by more restrictive regulations and the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta Goose Management Plan formulated with rural hunters in Alaska, and the goose populations have largely recovered. Says Rothe, "Eventually, the geese outnumbered the ability of foxes to hold them back. The bottom line is that normally arctic foxes don't control bird populations. Only if the foxes are on an island or if goose populations get very low do foxes have an impact."
But it appears that people can alter the fox-bird equilibrium in other unintended ways too. Take the growing number of landfills and dumpsters in some Far North areas. "Because of the steady food supply from the accessible garbage, more foxes survive the winter and have more pups, and come summer they eat more birds," says Robert Burgess, senior research biologist and coworker with Stickney at ABR (Sims, 1996, p. 16).
Even in its role as a vital element in the balance of nature, the arctic fox, by virtue of its predation and scavenger feeding habits, becomes a threat to other species. There is raging controversy about hunting and killing foxes, and, today, one is inviting the wrath of groups like PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) if they are found harvesting animal furs. While it is difficult to look at the arctic fox without being overwhelmed by its beauty in the natural setting of its environment, the hardiness that is the survival element in the species can be a detriment to the balance of nature as much as it is a vital component. In other words, the balance of nature is a delicate balance, and it relies upon systems of checks and balances in maintaining and decreasing wildlife populations. Man, too, is an important component of that balance - though by virtue of his ability to think, manipulate and create, mankind is, like the arctic fox, both vital and, in some instances, detrimental to the balance of nature.
The Arctic Fox is a Survivor
In the world of literature, the fox is often portrayed as the intellectual with a dark side (Asian Folklore, 2006, p. 133). In his film, Dreams, director Akira Kurosawa (1990), focuses on Japanese folklore of the "wedding of the foxes." It is a secret ceremony, and one that only occurs when rain pours and the sun shines at the same time. A small boy, warned not to go into the woods because it is the wedding of the foxes, goes, spies and is, in the end, sent off by his mother to either commit suicide for his transgression - the foxes have that power over people; or to beg and receive their forgiveness, without which he cannot return home. Foxes are smart, they are survivors, and, according to at least Japanese folklore, hold a place of respect because their cunning ability to survive.
Arctic foxes are, unlike the water mammals of the artic, less at risk because of the environmental changes that are occurring in the artic. They have proven themselves as adaptable to the most harsh and extreme weather conditions; it is suspected that they would, likewise, adjust to more hospitable weather conditions. More hospitable conditions, however, as has been previously mentioned by Walker (2002), will give rise to new, even invasive species of animals and wildlife in the region. The arctic fox will prove an important balance in the natural evolution of the environment there, as a predator of small nuisance rodents and other such wildlife.
In Native lore, the white fox is neither clever nor cunning. It is a harmless sprite of the long northern night, a cheery escort with a saucy bark that announces the arrivals of polar bears. And with lightsome feet, the fox escorts the souls of children to the swirling, heavenward dance of the aurora borealis. But poignancies aside, the creature's appetite for eggs and birds is a powerful force in Far North ecosystems. And once human beings get into the act, whether by fox farming on islands or by overhunting waterfowl, the fragility of those ecosystems becomes all too clear (Sims, 1996, p. 16)."
The arctic fox is an important element in the balance of nature, as well as being an incredibly fascinating and beautiful sight to behold. It is a survivor, one that will hopefully withstand the tests of its changing environment, and the influx of mankind that the changes are sure to bring to the arctic region.
The Fox in World Literature: Reflections on a "Fictional Animal." Asian Folklore Studies 65.2 (2006): 133+. Questia. 10 Feb. 2008 http://www.questia.com/PM.qst?a=o&d=5018927838.
National Geographic, 2008, found online at http://video.nationalgeographic.com/video/player/animals/mammals-animals/dogs-wolves-and-foxes/fox_arctic.html?fs=animals-panther.nationalgeographic.com, retrieved 8 February, 2008. www.questiaschool.com/PM.qst?a=o&d=5000329203
Sims, Grant. "Paradox of the Arctic Fox." National Wildlife Feb.-Mar. 1996: 16+. Questia. 10 Feb. 2008 http://www.questia.com/PM.qst?a=o&d=5000329203.
Smith, Duane. "Climate Change in the Arctic: An Inuit Reality." UN Chronicle June 2007: 40+. Questia. 10 Feb. 2008 http://www.questia.com/PM.qst?a=o&d=5023350092.