Arctic foxes move across land and sea ice in the northernmost parts of the world. In these regions, they are surrounded by vast expanses of water, but can arctic foxes swim?
Yes, arctic foxes can swim, however, they try not to where possible and will only get in the water for evading predators or migrating. They can swim up to 2km between sea ice and land. They are steady swimmers with a dense coat that helps them float, although they are not fast.
Keep reading to find out more about the swimming ability of an arctic fox and how this compares to other arctic animals. If you’re interested in learning more about arctic foxes, see our list of arctic fox facts.
Can Arctic Foxes Swim?
Yes, like most members of the Canidae family, arctic foxes can swim1 (source: Walkers’ Mammals of the World, R.M. Nowak, 1991). However, they rarely swim and is likely they only do so when evading predators. This is similar behavior to foxes found in other parts of the world such as red foxes2 (source: BBC).
Researchers who have observed arctic foxes suggest that the sea conditions can be deterring.
Arctic foxes that live in coastal regions often eat fish and other marine invertebrates. Their fishing technique involves standing on the edge of rock pools with their head hidden among rocks and seaweed.
When they are ready to catch food, they thrust their head into the water and emerge with fish in their mouths, keeping all 4 paws sturdy on the land. They will rarely enter the water to catch food, although this may be necessary for larger fish3 (source: Polar Research, S.M.Nielsen, Vol 9, Issue 2, 1991).
How Far Can Arctic Foxes Swim?
When moving between sea ice and across lakes or rivers, arctic foxes can swim as far as 2km in a single journey4 (source: Journal of Animal Ecology, J.D. Roth, Vol 72, 2003). However, sightings of arctic foxes swimming vast distances are rare.
They are able to swim thanks to a dense and puffy coat that gives them some buoyancy. When emerging from the water, they are seen shaking off their coat and rubbing against the vegetation to dry off5 (source: Polar Research, S.M.Nielsen, Vol 9, Issue 2, 1991).
Being able to swim large distances is not uncommon among arctic animals who have to move between sea ice and land when the ice melts during the summer.
For example, the polar bears will often swim 150km at a time and have even been tracked traveling as much as 687km in a single swim.
How Fast Can Arctic Foxes Swim?
There is no research that defines how fast an arctic fox (or any fox) can swim, however, they have been described as steady, but not fast swimmers. However, they are much faster on land, with a top running speed of 50 km/h (31 mph).
Can Arctic Foxes Swim Underwater?
Whilst other arctic animals such as polar bears can swim underwater, there is no evidence to suggest that arctic foxes can hold their breath and swim underwater.
Sightings of arctic foxes swimming tend to involve them swimming high in the water with their head, back, and tail above the waterline6 (source: Polar Research, S.M.Nielsen, Vol 9, Issue 2, 1991).