How the Arctic Fox Has Perfected the Art of Dressing for the Season

arctic fox
Allan Hopkins/MNN Flickr Group

Fox's fur reveals the changing of the seasons

This little arctic fox curled up near a patch of flowers photographed in July was in the process of shedding its white winter coat for a shorter brown coat for summer. Many mammals shed their thick winter coats, not many of them change color in the process. But it is a common trait in animals living in the Arctic; when the browns and greens of summer shift to a pure white snow-covered winter — and blending in is a matter of survival — animals become skilled at changing color along with the seasons.

The arctic fox has perfected the art of blending in. You may know that these foxes go from brown and blond in summer to pure white in winter. But that's not the full story. Some arctic foxes do that, and it works perfectly for them. They are able to blend in with the rocky, mossy ground in summer and with the white snow in winter. But not all foxes change the same way. The foxes that turn white in winter are called polar morphs. There is also a blue morph that changes not to white but to a pale bluish grey in winter. The color morphs are distributed where their different coloration makes the most sense. In the far north, where there is more snow for longer stretches of the year, about 99 percent of all arctic foxes are white morphs; meanwhile about 90 percent of the arctic foxes living on the Aleutian and Pribilof islands farther south are blue morphs.

The arctic fox is one mammal species that has figured out how to not only blend in, but also to make the smartest fashion choices based on season and location.