An Arctic fox amazed researchers recently with its exceptional wandering mojo. It was one of 50 or so foxes on the Norwegian island of Spitsbergen tagged with a satellite transmitter as a part of a study started in July 2017.
Along with all of the other foxes it stayed in Norway, you know, doing fox stuff. Hunting, taking in the rough beauty of the island. Until the next March that is, when this special fox took a walk.
As in a huge walk.
Published this morning: "Arctic fox dispersal from Svalbard to Canada: one female’s long run across sea ice" https://t.co/vUvu4NbPEj This is the first satellite tracking of natal dispersal by an Arctic fox between continents. Authors: Eva Fuglei and Arnaud Tarroux pic.twitter.com/gowSov0OBA
— Polar Research (@PolarResearch) June 25, 2019
Just going for a stroll!
Yep, you read that correctly. Between March 1 and July 1 — just four months — a single arctic fox travelled about 4,400 kilometres (2,700 miles) over Arctic sea ice. That's the distance from Halifax to Vancouver!
That's also an average of about 50 km (30 miles) a day, though occasionally, this fox walked as far as 160 kilometres (100 miles) in 24 hours!
So the obvious question: Is the behaviour of this one-year-old fox normal?
Why did it travel so far?
Exceptional...but not exactly unusual
On one hand, the fact that this fox was the only one of 50 or so tagged foxes to even leave Norway suggests that this is a unique trip. In fact, its trip was odd enough that the Norwegian scientists thought the satellite readings were a malfunction at first.
But on the other hand, this journey highlights that these creatures are capable of traveling incredibly long distances if they need to. And that helps further explain what scientists already know about the Arctic fox: whether you're talking about Arctic foxes from Russia, Canada, Alaska, or Scandinavia, they are all quite similar. You know what would've created those similarities? Foxes occasionally traveling great distances to mate and share their genes!
So perhaps this young fox was just doing her part to carry on an ancient, sacred tradition of keeping foxes the same around the world? We'd like to think so.
That said, as summer sea ice in the Arctic decreases, foxtrots such as hers could really become a thing of the past so this long walk seems extra special.