14 Fascinating Facts About Foxes
Foxes live on every continent except Antarctica and thrive in cities, towns, and rural settings. But despite being all around us, they're a bit of a mystery. Here's more about this elusive animal.
1. FOXES ARE SOLITARY.
Foxes are part of the Canidae family, which means they're related to wolves, jackals, and dogs. They're medium-sized, between 7 and 15 pounds, with pointy faces, lithe frames, and bushy tails. But unlike their relatives, foxes are not pack animals. When raising their young, they live in small families—called a "leash of foxes" or a "skulk of foxes"—in underground burrows. Otherwise, they hunt and sleep alone.
2. THEY HAVE A LOT IN COMMON WITH CATS.
Like the cat, the fox is most active after the sun goes down. In fact, it has vertically oriented pupils that allow it to see in dim light. It even hunts in a similar manner to a cat, by stalking and pouncing on its prey.
And that's just the beginning of the similarities. Like the cat, the fox has sensitive whiskers and spines on its tongue. It walks on its toes, which accounts for its elegant, cat-like tread. And foxes are the only member of the dog family that can climb trees—gray foxes have claws that allow them to climb and descend vertical trees quickly. Some foxes even sleep in trees—just like cats.
3. THE RED FOX IS THE MOST COMMON FOX.
Geographically, the red fox has the widest range of the more than 280 animals in the order Carnivora. While its natural habitat is a mixed landscape of scrub and woodland, its flexible diet allows it to adapt to many environments. As a result, its range is the entire Northern Hemisphere, from the Arctic Circle to North Africa to Central America to the Asiatic steppes. It's also in Australia, where it's considered an invasive species.
4. FOXES USE THE EARTH'S MAGNETIC FIELD.
Like a guided missile, the fox harnesses the earth's magnetic field to hunt. Other animals, like birds, sharks, and turtles, have this "magnetic sense," but the fox is the first one we've discovered that uses it to catch prey.
According to New Scientist, the fox can see the earth's magnetic field as a "ring of shadow" on its eyes that darkens as it heads towards magnetic north. When the shadow and the sound the prey is making line up, it's time to pounce. Check out this video of a fox in action.
5. THEY ARE GOOD PARENTS.
Foxes reproduce once a year. Litters range from one to 11 pups (the average is six), which are born blind and don't open their eyes until nine days after birth. During that time, they stay with the vixen (female) in the den while the dog (male) brings them food. They live with their parents until they're seven months old. Vixens have been known to go to great lengths to protect their pups—once, in England, a fox pup was caught in a wire trap for two weeks but survived because its mother brought it food every day.
6. THE SMALLEST FOX WEIGHS UNDER 3 POUNDS.
Roughly the size of a kitten, the fennec fox has elongated ears and a creamy coat. It lives in the Sahara Desert, where it sleeps during the day to protect it from the searing heat. Its ears not only allow it to hear prey, they also radiate body heat, which keeps the fox cool. Its paws are covered with fur so that the fox can walk on hot sand, like it's wearing snowshoes.
7. FOXES ARE PLAYFUL.
Foxes are known to be friendly and curious. They play among themselves, as well as with other animals, like cats and dogs do. They love balls, which they will steal from backyards and golf courses.
Although foxes are wild animals, their relationship with humans goes way back. In 2011, researchers opened a grave in a 16,500-year-old cemetery in Jordan to find the remains of a man and his pet fox. This was 4000 years before the first-known human and domestic dog were buried together.
8. YOU CAN BUY A PET FOX.
In the 1960s, a Soviet geneticist named Dmitry Belyaev bred thousands of foxes before achieving a domesticated fox. Unlike a tame fox, which has learned to tolerate humans, a domesticated fox is docile toward people from birth. Today, you can buy a pet fox for $9000, according to Fast Company. They're reportedly curious and sweet-tempered, though they are inclined to dig in the garden.
9. ARCTIC FOXES DON'T SHIVER UNTIL -70° CELSIUS.
The arctic fox, which lives in the northernmost areas of the hemisphere, can handle cold better than most animals on earth. It doesn't even get cold until –70°C (-94°F). Its white coat also camouflages it against predators. As the seasons change, its coat changes too, turning brown or gray so the fox can blend in with the rocks and dirt of the tundra.
10. FOX HUNTING CONTINUES TO BE CONTROVERSIAL.
Perhaps because of the fox's ability to decimate a chicken coop, in the 16th century, fox hunting became a popular activity in Britain. In the 19th century, the upper classes turned fox hunting into a formalized sport where a pack of hounds and men on horseback chase a fox until it is killed. Today, whether to ban fox hunting continues to be a controversial subject in the UK. Currently, fox hunting with dogs is not allowed.
11. THEY APPEAR THROUGHOUT FOLKLORE.
Examples include the nine-tail fox from various Asian cultures; the Reynard tales from medieval Europe; the sly trickster fox from Native American lore; and Aesop's "The Fox and the Crow." The Finnish believed a fox made the Northern Lights by running in the snow so that its tail swept sparks into the sky. From this, we get the phrase "fox fires" (though "Firefox," like the Mozilla internet browser, refers to the red panda).
12. BAT-EARED FOXES LISTEN FOR INSECTS.
The bat-eared fox is aptly named, not just because of its 5-inch ears, but because of what it uses those ears for—like the bat, it listens for insects. On a typical night, it walks along the African savannah, listening until it hears the scuttle of prey. Although the bat-eared fox eats a variety of insects and lizards, most of its diet is made up of termites. In fact, the bat-eared fox often makes its home in termite mounds, which it usually cleans out of inhabitants before moving in.
13. DARWIN DISCOVERED A FOX SPECIES.
During his voyage on the Beagle, Charles Darwin collected a fox that today is unimaginatively called Darwin's Fox. This small gray fox is critically endangered and lives in just two spots in the world: One population is on Island of Chiloé in Chile, and the second is in a Chilean national park. The fox's greatest threats are unleashed domestic dogs that carry diseases like rabies.
14. WHAT DOES THE FOX SAY? A LOT, ACTUALLY.
This story was first published in 2017.