Arctic fox enjoys Kent snow
PUBLISHED: 17:51 30 November 2010 | UPDATED: 18:14 20 February 2013
One particular Kent resident has been enjoying the cold snowy conditions more than anyone else, in fact for Fleck the artic fox the cold weather could help her bounce back after surgery
Arctic fox right at home in Kent snow
Wildwood's resident Arctic fox has been feeling right at home as snow blankets her enclosure, makingit truly feel like the arctic. This has been especially comforting for Fleck after a recent operation to have her right eye removed.
During the rest of the year Fleck finds modern Britain a bit on the warm side but in the wintershe really perks up. The keepers at Wildwood are hoping hoping thatthe cold weather will improve her mood and help her to recover.
Arctic foxes are natives of the cold arctic regions of Northern Europe and can cope with temperatures as low as -50 degrees Celsius. Once a British species they became extinct in the UK after the last ice age - mainly killed by man for food and fur.
Arctic Fox Facts
Arctic fox is a member of the order Carnivora and is one of 14 fox species in the dog family, the Canidae.
Foxes, unlike wolves, share many traits with cats highly sensitive whiskers on their muzzles and wrists, lighter, more agile bodies, partially retractable claws, they stalk and pounce and have soft toe pads and hair between their toes (thought to be adaptations for sneaking up on rodents), and pointier cat-like canines for efficient killing.
One suggestion for these adaptations is that Nature came up with common solutions to common problems; another is that the foxs cat-like features were inherited from an ancient ancestor that lived before the cat-dog split.
Intelligent and adaptable, brazen and curious.
It will defend its food against a marauding wolf, explore the deck of an icebound ship and stick its nose in an explorers tent.
Generally a solitary predator, hunting and feeding alone, unlike its more sociable cousins, the wolf and the dog; largely nocturnal.
The Sami people of northern Scandanavia call it svale the bold one.
Its range is circumpolar, everywhere north of the Arctic Circle US northern tundra, Canada from the Yukon to Hudson Bay, Labrador and Baffin Island, Norway, Sweden, Finland and northern Russia, plus almost all Arctic islands and the polar ice cap (explorers have found Arctic fox tracks within a few miles of the North Pole itself).
Some foxes stay in the same area throughout their lives; others undertake epic journeys of thousands of miles.
Population estimates vary between 300,000-1 million worldwide, but the number is considered irrelevant because populations reproduce and die in dramatic waves (boom and bust). The important consideration is that the species survives successfully on such an extreme environment.
Almost every aspect of Arctic fox physiology is finely tuned to conserve heat energy.
The Arctic fox breaks some of the key rules of biology: 1) that larger animals have an easier time in cold conditions because a large body has a smaller surface area, relative to its body mass (i.e. heat doesnt leave a bulky mass as fast as it does a small one) and 2) Allens Rule - after zoologist Joel Allen which states that warm-blooded animals living in cold environments tend to have shorter limbs and more compact bodies.
The Arctic fox is tiny and combines long legs and a slender body with a flatter face and shorter ears.
Its circulation is designed to conserve heat loss. The arteries and veins in the animals extremities are very close together, transferring heat energy from the outgoing warmed arterial blood to the incoming veins, before it can be lost in the outer extremities. So the blood in the feet and extremities is a lot cooler and the warm blood is kept circulating in the core areas of the head and torso, conserving heat. Rather than heat the whole house, the Arctic fox closes the door on those areas than can withstand a lower blood temperature. Caribou/reindeer do the same.
It can also shrink the blood vessels leading to its skin to control heat loss.
This means its paws in particular can be maintained at just above the point at which they would succumb to frostbite, well below the animals core body temperature.
Why is this cold tolerance so amazing?
Scientists regard the Arctic foxs cold tolerance with awe, especially as instead of using shelter as they are usually out in the open, curled in a ball, against the worst Arctic blizzards.
The fox is dealing with the following problems:
- a difference in temperature between its blood and the air around it of perhaps 100C
- a barren Arctic environment with little food
- no behaviour changes to cope with the cold it doesnt hibernate, migrate or socialise to huddle together and conserve heat
- its size is tiny its the smallest tundra animal living out in the open in winter (an adult Arctic fox weighs just 3.5Kg, compared with an Arctic hare which weighs 50% more).
Scientists say the Arctic fox is pushing animal life as far as it can go.
Many of the other Arctic species are considered cheaters they have evolved to avoid the cold rather than endure it. Many bird species migrate south to avoid the worst of the Arctic winter and small mammals like lemmings survive by spending the entire winter in a relatively warm network of tunnels under the snow.