Arctic Fox’s 2,000-Mile Journey From Norway To Canada In Just 76 Days Stuns Scientists

Arctic fox in a fall setting. This species' coat changes color with the seasons, typically white in winter and brown-grey in summer. Menno Schaefe/Shutterstock

How’s this for a road trip? A young Arctic fox (Vulpes lagopus) has trekked across the ice from Norway to Canada in a mammoth 3,506-kilometer (2,176-mile) journey in record time. 

Scientists from the Norwegian Polar Institute used a GPS tracker attached to a collar to follow her as she left the Svalbard Archipelago on March 26, 2018 and reached Ellesmere Island in Nunavut, Canada just over 2 months later. She made the journey in just 76 days, meaning she was traveling at an average rate of 46.3 kilometers (28.7 miles) a day – that’s more than a marathon every day for over 10 weeks. 

Reported in the journal Polar Research, the researchers write that this is “among the longest dispersal events ever recorded for an Arctic fox.” It’s also the fastest movement rate recorded for this species, 1.4 times faster than the previous record-holder, an adult male that was tracked in Alaska.

Unfortunately, the GPS collar stopped working on February 6, 2019, so the team no longer know where the intrepid fox is. Nevertheless, the research team managed to gather enough data over the course of 2018 to detail its incredible Arctic hike.

"We didn't think it was true at first. Could the fox have been found dead and now onboard a boat? But no, there are no boats that go so far up in the ice, so we just had to keep up with what the fox did,” Eva Fuglei, study author from the Norwegian Polar Institute, said in a statement.

A map showing the Arctic fox's journey from 1 March to 1 July 2018. Eva Fuglei/Arnaud Tarroux/Norwegian Polar Institute

The study notes that this individual will have to adjust to some big dietary changes now they are in the Canadian Arctic, as the population there tend to eat lemmings and small mammals, rather than the marine-based diet they eat in Svalbard. 

While this might sound like a feel-good story of an adventurous fox, the story also unpins the importance of addressing the effects climate change, and the shrinking of the polar ice caps, is having on animals. Ice is vital for foxes and other creatures to venture around the Arctic and between continents. Arctic foxes have already become marooned on Iceland due to the demise of the polar ice and if things continue as they are, the population in Svalbard could become completely isolated too.

“If the sea ice disappears, the archipelago of Svalbard will be isolated,” confirmed Fuglei.

“This is another example of how important sea ice is to wildlife in the Arctic," added Norwegian Minister of Climate and Environment, Ola Elvestuen. "The warming in the north is frighteningly fast. We must cut emissions quickly to prevent the sea ice from disappearing all summer.”

Arnaud Tarroux, Norwegian Institute for Nature Research CC BY 4.0 

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