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Fully grown adults reach about 50–60 cm (20–24 inches) in length, exclusive of the 30-cm (12-inch) tail, and a weight of about 3–8 kg (6.6–17 pounds). As an adaptation to the climate, Arctic foxes have short rounded ears, a short muzzle, and fur-covered soles. Coloration depends on whether the animal is of the “white” or the “blue” colour phase. Individuals of the white phase are grayish brown in summer and white in winter, while those of the blue phase (blue foxes of the fur trade) are grayish in summer and gray-blue in winter.
The Arctic fox is a burrow dweller and may be active at any time of day. It feeds on whatever animal or vegetable material is available and often follows polar bears to feed on the remains of their kills. During summer it preys primarily on rodents, such as lemmings; however, it may also take birds. In the winter the Arctic fox hunts birds (such as ptarmigan, grouse, and puffins) and even reindeer, in addition to rodents. The Arctic fox falls prey to larger carnivores, such as polar bears, wolves, and wolverines, and to hunting by humans.
It usually breeds once yearly, producing a litter of up to 20 dark-furred pups that are born between April and June; gestation is about 52 days. The pups are weaned at about 45 days after birth and leave the den to live on their own starting in September or October of the same year. Young become sexually mature at 9–10 months of age. Arctic foxes can live up to 10 years in zoos; in the wild their life expectancy is about 3 years.
Worldwide, the population of the Arctic fox is thought to be several hundred thousand animals, and thus the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) classifies the Arctic fox as a species of least concern. Hunting the animal for its fur remains common among native Arctic peoples. However, the population pressure once applied by the fur hunting industry has fallen drastically with the industry’s substantial decline since the end of the 20th century.
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