Arctic foxes rely on their camouflage as the main way of avoiding their predators and catching prey. However, once they have been spotted, they’ll need to work hard to avoid going hungry or getting eaten themselves. But, just how fast can an arctic fox run?
Arctic foxes can run at speeds of up to 50 km/h (31 mph) for short distances, this helps them evade predators such as polar bears. However, they cannot outpace red foxes which also have a top speed of 50 km/h, nor aerial predators such as golden eagles.
Keep reading to find out more about the top speed of arctic foxes compared to other animals that live in the arctic and also whether they can swim or jump.
Are Arctic Foxes Fast?
The arctic fox can run up to 50km/h for short distances. This is fast enough to evade larger predators such as polar bears who will rarely even take up the challenge unless food is very scarce.
However, arctic foxes are not fast enough to evade the red fox which has become one of their largest predators in recent years as changing climates have allowed them to spread further north.
Not only can a red fox match their top speed, but they are better hunters so they will often win when competing for the same food source.
The below table shows the speed of arctic foxes against some of their predators:
|Arctic Fox||50 km/h (31 mph)|
|Red Fox||50 km/h (31 mph)1 (source: Wikipedia)|
|Polar Bear||40 km/h (25 mph)2 (source: Seaworld)|
|Arctic Wolf||75 km/h (47 mph)|
They will rarely need to exercise this speed when hunting their prey which is usually slower rodents such as lemmings (5km/h) and voles (9km/h).
Foxes will use their excellent hearing and camouflage to get as close to their prey as possible before pouncing on them. Those that live in coastal areas rely on seabirds, fish, and marine invertebrates for food rather than rodents.
The below table shows how fast an arctic fox can run compared to its prey:
|Arctic Fox||50 km/h (31 mph)|
|Lemming||5 km/h (3 mph)|
|Vole||9 km/h (5.5 mph)|
|Arctic Hare||60 km/h (37 mph)3 (source: Wikipedia)|
How Far Can an Arctic Fox Run?
Whilst the arctic fox can reach its top speed of 50km/h during short sprints, it cannot sustain this speed over longer distances.
The furthest an arctic fox has been known to travel during one day is 155km which was a blue arctic fox being tracked in northern Greenland. The same fox traveled an average of 46.3km per day during the 76-day study4 (source: Arctic fox dispersal from Svalbard to Canada, E. Fuglei and A. Tarroux, Polar Research, Vol 38, 2019).
However, only a small proportion of the population will travel such distances. It’s estimated that 95.5% of arctic foxes do not migrate. Instead, they take short ‘commuter’ trips to nearby sea ice in search of food during times of scarcity.
Can Arctic Foxes Jump?
Yes, arctic foxes can jump, sometimes several feet in the air. This is how they hunt their prey by using camouflage to get as close as possible before leaping in their air and plunging their head down into the snow where the rodents are5 (source: How do arctic foxes hunt in the snow? Colorado State University).
Can Arctic Foxes Swim?
Yes, like most members of the Canidae family, arctic foxes can swim6 (source: Walkers’ Mammals of the World, R.M. Nowak, 1991). However, they rarely swim, and is likely they only do so when evading predators.
Researchers who have observed arctic foxes suggest that the sea conditions can be deterring.
Can Arctic Foxes Climb Trees?
This might seem like an unusual question but there is some logic behind it because gray foxes in North America have adapted to be able to climb trees thanks to retractable claws and rotating wrists7 (source: Wildlife Science Center). So, can arctic foxes do this?
No, arctic foxes cannot climb trees like the gray foxes found in North America. In fact, there are no trees for them to climb as arctic foxes live in the arctic and alpine tundra where the ground does not thaw out enough for tree roots to grow.