The Arctic Fox: A solid saga of survival

This little creature is to Iceland what the Bengal tiger is to India and the kangaroo to Australia: synonymous with the local country and fully resonant with its topography.

The Arctic fox is Iceland’s only native land mammal. Also known as the snow, polar or white fox, this creature is the smallest member of the canidae family with an average weight of 3-4kg and lives 3 to 6 years in the wild.


Descendants of the last Ice Age, the first Arctic foxes came to Iceland walking over frozen sea bridges and remained after the ice cap retracted north. This incredible creature has clearly aced the trick of thriving in Iceland’s tough terrain and harsh weather for over ten thousand years.

Specialists identify at least five different genetic groups in Iceland believed to have migrated at different times. The Arctic fox was long considered as a pest, and hunting for fur and regulations for mandatory poisoning brought the population down to about 1,000-1,300 foxes in the 1960s. It is now protected by the Ministry of the Environment under the Wild Species Act, which requires a specific hunting licence to shoot them. These conservation measures have led the population to recover and reach around 8,000 individuals today.


Despite its relatively tiny body, the fox is the Arctic’s hardiest little predator, beating even the mighty polar bear in the survival sweepstakes.

Unlike other animals of the region, the Arctic fox does not hibernate through the winter but rather adapts to the changing weather with its unique coat and body fat, and a counter-current heat exchange in the paws helps maintains body temperature.
The coat, which is usually brown in the summer, becomes three-times thicker in the winter and its colour changes to match its environment. Inland foxes turn white to blend in with the snow while most foxes that inhabit the coast and cliffs have a blue-grey coat, recalling the colours of the black sands and rocks. This effective camouflage ensures the fox may hunt easily without being easily hunted in turn.

The Arctic fox proves that adaptability is key to survive life in Iceland and adapt to the harsh climate and the scarcity of available resources.


Mainly a carnivore, the Arctic fox usually eats birds, eggs, carrion, and mice, but can also eat berries and seaweed. It can sometimes attack helpless seal pups and when food becomes very rare, it will even eat its own bodily waste.

This will-to-survive can lead foxes to travel beyond the usual territory that they inhabit in search of food. When food is abundant in the summer, foxes cache food or store it in their dens for the winter.

Habitat and Breeding

Subterranean dens in rugged terrain with a complex labyrinth of tunnels offer safety and protection to cubs. These dens are used by several generations of foxes for decades and are spaced to avoid competition between the fox families. The foxes form monogamous pairs with one mating partner for life.

They mate during the spring and usually give birth to 4-5 pups early in the summer. The pups remain with the parents for the summer before they set out to find their own way in the autumn.

The Arctic Fox Centre

The Arctic Fox Centre in Sudavik was founded in 2007 and is the only organisation dedicated to the preservation and protection of the Arctic fox. Apart from the fascinating exhibition dedicated to the Arctic fox, it also houses two rescued pups, Ingi and Mori.

Spotting the Arctic Fox in the wild

Spotting a wild Arctic fox is a truly unforgettable experience. Although they are found all over Iceland, the Westfjords is the best region to observe them. The small human population and lesser-frequented mountains of this remote region give the fox a feeling of security, and the huge bird cliffs and long coastline provide abundant food.

The Hornstrandir nature reserve is the only place in Iceland where the Arctic fox is fully protected from hunting. Apart from being easier to sight, Hornstrandir foxes are also friendlier and less afraid of humans.


We strongly advise not to feed the foxes. Although foxes are sometimes used to encountering human beings, feeding encourages dependence for food, which is never a good thing for wild creatures. In the same way, always keep a respectful distance from foxes, even if it can be tempting to get closer to them.


We organise private guided fox watching and photo tours on request in the Isafjordur Bay area where our local guides keep track of the dens and foxes’ movements.
We also offer group tours almost daily by boat to the Hornstrandir nature reserve.

The advantages of an organised tour are many: you benefit from local knowledge on the location of the foxes dens and the paths they frequent, get an insight into the life, habitat and behaviour of the fox; and also learn more about the beautiful Westfjords.

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