Arctic foxes have several adaptations that allow them to survive. Their round, compact bodies minimize surface area that is exposed to the cold air. Their muzzle, ears, and legs are short, which also conserves heat. Of course, the defining feature of the Arctic fox is their deep, thick fur which allows them to maintain a consistent body temperature. Arctic foxes also have thick fur on their paws, which allows them to walk on both snow and ice.
Named for the San Joaquin Valley in California where they live, San Joaquin kit foxes are small and secretive. They have big ears, long bushy tails and furry toes that help to keep them cool in the hot and dry Central Valley environment.
The swift fox is an indicator species – it can tell us a lot about the health of its grassland ecosystem. Swift foxes need large, unbroken expanses of short-grass prairie and healthy populations of prey to survive.
Defenders is working to prevent the loss of our most vulnerable wildlife species, particularly in the Arctic, where the effects of climate change are most evident. We are advocating for no drilling on the Arctic Refuge, the protection of habitat corridors that allow wildlife to move between the refuge and Canada, and funding for on-the-ground research to better understand how warmer temperatures are affecting wildlife.
Defenders of Wildlife’s California office works tirelessly to save San Joaquin kit fox habitat and helps to protect native grasslands in one of the fastest growing areas in the country. Defenders’ alliance with the California Cattlemen’s Association and its California Rangeland Conservation Coalition is working to restore 13 million acres of rangelands in the Central Valley—1 million acres that are vital kit fox habitat.
The Blackfeet Indian Nation and Defenders of Wildlife were the first to attempt a swift fox reintroduction effort in the United States. From 1998 to 2002, the Blackfeet Fish and Wildlife Department and Defenders of Wildlife reintroduced 123 captive-reared swift fox to the 1.5 million-acre Blackfeet Reservation in northern Montana. The effort was a success: swift foxes are now well established in this part of the Montana prairie. The Assiniboine and Sioux tribes of the Fort Peck Reservation in eastern Montana began reintroducing swift fox in 2006.
Habitat destruction, oil leasing, pesticides, disease and climate change threaten all of these species of fox.
Endangered Species Act
The Arctic fox is not listed.
The San Joaquin kit fox is listed as endangered in the US.
The swift fox is listed as an endangered in Canada but not the US.
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The Arctic fox is found throughout the entire Arctic tundra, through Alaska, Canada, Greenland, Russia, Norway, Scandinavia, and even Iceland, where it is the only native land mammal.
The San Joaquin kit fox was originally found throughout most of the San Joaquin Valley in Central California. However, the kit fox is now found only on the edges of the San Joaquin Valley from southern Kern County up to Alameda, Contra Costa, and San Joaquin Counties on the west and up to Stanislaus County on the east, and a few populations exist within the Valley floor.
The swift fox is found in fragmented populations in the western grasslands of North America, in Montana, South Dakota, Wyoming, Nebraska, Colorado, Kansas, Oklahoma, New Mexico and Texas.
The Arctic fox population is several hundred thousand but fluctuates with the available lemming population.
The population of San Joaquin kit foxes is estimated to be as low as 3,000 individuals.
Swift fox population numbers in the wild are unknown, but they are found in less than 40% of their historic range.
Arctic foxes change the color of their fur with the seasons. In winter they are white to blend in with the snow, while in the summer they change to brown or gray.
The San Joaquin kit fox is active mostly at night. Kit foxes live in underground dens, which they need to keep them cool in the summer and warm in the winter.
Swift foxes are nocturnal, vocal and non-territorial. They spend more time underground in their burrows than any other canid and can run at speeds of more than 30 mph.
Mating season for Arctic foxes usually lasts from early September to early May. Arctic foxes usually mate for life, and both mother and father help raise the pups.
Kit fox parents will care for their pups until they are able to find food for themselves, at about 4-5 months old.
Swift foxes have 4-5 kits that disperse in September and October.
Lemmings are the staple food for Arctic foxes. However, they are quite opportunistic, and will eat whatever is available out on the frozen tundra, even if it means scavenging leftovers.
Kit foxes primarily eat rodents and other small animals, including black-tailed hares, desert cottontails, mice, kangaroo rats, squirrels, birds and lizards. Kit foxes do not need to drink water since their prey provides enough liquid for them to survive.
Swift foxes eat rabbits, prairie dogs, ground squirrels, mice, birds, reptiles, amphibians, berries and seeds.