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Are you determined to see an Arctic fox on your visit to Iceland? Find out more about these adorable mammals and how to see them on your travels.
The Arctic fox is one of Iceland’s most iconic creatures, not least because it is the only mammal native to the country. You may have seen images across the internet of their fluffy snow-white appearance and playful personalities - but what would you give to spot one in real life?
Their relationship to their surroundings is almost expert, with several hundred thousand years of evolution to thank. From their coats to their hunting patterns, they are perfectly adapted to thrive throughout Iceland’s often cold and wet year. On all accounts, these elusive creatures are much more than they seem.
White Arctic Fox with thick fur sitting on a blanket of snow
About the Arctic Fox
You might have heard of this curious animal called the snow fox, white fox or similar across the Arctic Circle, but the same is always true - this mammal is one of the best hunters around. White coats might be their signature, but this is only true for about ⅓ of Iceland’s Arctic foxes - for the rest, brown and grey fur is far more common, particularly in the winter. This has nothing to do with mating, but more to do with blending into the colors of the Icelandic landscapes. This helps to make them the impeccable hunters that they are.
Arctic Fox with brown and white fur
This is not the only survival skill at their disposal. Dense fur, made of several thick layers, provides the ultimate protection against the harsh temperatures that Iceland’s winters can bring. In fact, it has been shown that temps must drop below -50°C (−94°F) for the Arctic Fox to begin feeling the cold. Their core body temperature is kept high by an almost 50% increase in body mass during autumn.
To pack on fat reserves in this way, an animal must eat - luckily for Arctic foxes, this is no trouble. Camouflage coats, short legs, a rounded snout and a bushy tail all help to form this excellent hunter. Often, foxes will search for prey under the snow as well as on the ground, often seen leaping into the air and diving into the snow to break under an icy blanket.
Two Arctic Foxes fighting
The Arctic Fox in Iceland
While it's difficult to estimate exactly, the number of Arctic foxes in Iceland is thought to sit at around 8,000. The population varies from region to region, depending on many factors. Numbers are seen to thrive where food sources are high and, naturally, where fox hunting is not permitted. Modern programmes like the one in the Hornstrandir Nature Reserve have helped to protect the species from endangerment, which was a risk up until the 1950s when hunting became regulated.
White Arctic Fox in Iceland
Where in Iceland can you see the Arctic Fox?
If you’re incredibly lucky, wherever you are on the island you might - if the timing is right - spot an Arctic fox in Iceland. However, if you want to maximize your chances, you should head to the Westfjords on a guided wildlife tour, in particular the Hornstrandir Reserve, where the vast majority of these curious little creatures live. The sheer number of birds, which make up a large portion of the Arctic fox’s diet, that flock to the high sea cliffs in this northwestern peninsula is the reason for their concentrated population.
The camouflage of Arctic foxes can make it difficult to spot one, even when they’re nearby, so it’s best to go with an experienced guide who knows the best spots for catching a glimpse of a fox or two. On the Hornstrandir Reserve, foxes are much friendlier as humans are not a threat, meaning they’re more likely to stay in the open with people around. In fact, during summer, it's even possible to see cubs playing in the open and exploring their environment.
On our Hornstrandir fox-watching tour, you’ll learn just how many there are within the peninsular and how best to spot them - so remember to bring a camera!