Mystery Image Contest: December 1-15, 2014


The arctic fox (Vulpes lagopus) is a species of fox native to the Northern Hemisphere found in the Arctic tundra. Though the arctic fox lives in one of the coldest regions on the planet, it has a number of adaptations that help it thrive, such as the fur on the bottom of its paws that helps keep the cold out. It also satisfies Allen's rule, a biological principle that states that species found at colder regions will have lower surface-area-to-volume ratios: having a smaller surface area is beneficial to species that live in cold climes, as it means they will have less area from which their body heat can escape. Accordingly, the arctic fox has a compact body and short legs, muzzle, and ears. Its thick insulating coat also helps it keep warm and camouflaged: it is a snowy or greyish white color in wintertime, while in the summer months it turns brown or dark grey to help the arctic fox blend in with its surroundings. This species is also well known for its hunting abilities, as with its exceptional hearing it can detect smaller animals moving below the snow. The arctic fox then pounces through the snow to retrieve its prey. In times of abundant prey, arctic foxes will even catch and bury excess food for later times of scarcity.


This image is of an arctic fox.

Photo Credit

Mark Dumont via Flickr

Winning Entry

Sue Williams
Paradise, Calif., USA

For Educators

Teaching Support

As we get ready for the coming of winter and snow in many parts of the world, so, too, do many animals. While humans wear warmer clothes and live in warm houses, animals have other ways of adapting to the colder months. Some migrate to other places where the weather is warmer or they can find food. Others may grow new, thicker fur to help keep themselves warm. Some animals may even hibernate. And others, like the arctic fox pictured in this month’s Mystery Image Contest, grow new fur that is white to help them hide in the snow.

You can use this month’s image to help start a discussion or activity with your students about how some animals use camouflage as a survival strategy. In addition to the arctic fox, you could ask your students what other animals change the color of their fur to help them survive in a snowy landscape. Or, you could discuss some other ways in which animals adapt to their environment in order to survive. You also can use some of our resources to examine camouflage and other animal adapations.

Related Resources

Animal Diversity
Where in the Wild?
Animal Adaptations
3-5 | LESSON
A Seabird in the Forest
3-5 | LESSON
Brine Shrimp 2: Brine Shrimp Survival
6-8 | LESSON
Feathers: The Evolution of a Natural Miracle
9-12 | LESSON
Big Cold Animals
Colour and Camouflage
3-12 | TOOL
Mysterious Marbled Murrelet
3-5 | VIDEO

Science NetLinks Mystery Image Contest Rules and Regulations

What Is the

Mystery Image Contest?

The Mystery Image Contest offers the chance to identify a science-related object based on a close-up picture of it.