Sly and slinky, foxes are well-known tricksters in folklore. This frisky forest creature is charismatic and well-known, but there may be some facts about foxes you haven’t discovered yet.
Vocal Vixens and Chatty Kits
First, the obvious question: what does the fox say? The answer is much more interesting than you might assume. Foxes produce a stunning range of sounds, from eerie screams and friendly barks, but that’s not all.
A Foxy Serenade
Their nocturnal vocalizations have been compared to hooting owls, squawking parrots, or sobbing humans. Foxes also purr when they’re happy. They exclaim, “Wow, wow, wow!” to greet each other, and mother foxes whimper to soothe their babies.
What Do You Call a Foxy Get-Together?
A family group of foxes is usually called a “skulk,” but if you are referring to a group of domesticated or captive foxes, that would be called a “leash.”
Architects of the Earth
Foxes are ambitious excavators, creating elaborate dens. These dens (or earths) may have multiple chambers, with a lengthy entrance tunnel and some additional passages to the surface, just in case. One researcher counted a record nineteen tunnels leading to a single den.
Guided by Magnets
Scientists don’t quite understand how they do it, but foxes seem to be sensitive to the earth’s magnetic field. They reliably build their dens (or earths) on south-east facing slopes, and they even use their inner compasses to hunt.
Fun fact: a team of biologists led by Jaroslav Červený discovered that foxes are much more accurate when they pounce in a north-easterly direction!
Wily and Worldwide
When you picture a fox, you probably imagine the “red fox” (vulpus vulpus.) While the red fox is the most familiar and widely known, there are actually twelve species (and forty five subspecies!) belonging to the “true fox” family, and they are found on every continent except Antarctica.
The Red Fox’s Colorful Secret
Speaking of red foxes, these tricky creatures are not always “red” at all. Red foxes can be found with a gorgeous array of color “morphs” made up of silvery gray, smokey brown and white.
Desert Dwellers to Tundra Trotters
Foxes aren’t just forest creatures, either. The arctic fox roams the snowy tundra, and the swift fox and the cape fox both prowl the grasslands. Several foxes have adapted to live in desert landscapes, including the adorable fennec fox.
An Intriguing Evolutionary Journey
True foxes are in the Canidae family, like dogs, coyotes and wolves. Gray foxes are in this family too, but their branch of the family tree split long ago, so they are only distant cousins.
Like all members of the Canidae family, foxes walk on their “toes.” However, their paws have a special feature that distinguishes them from their dog-like relatives: the claws of a fox are semi-retractable. Being able to retract their claws keeps their steps quiet like a cat.
Foxes can’t grip tree trunks as effectively as a cat, in part because their shoulders don’t rotate the same way. Nevertheless, they do climb trees and can be found high in the branches, basking in the sun, or raiding bird nests.
Foxes in cold climates hunt with a particular combination of cunning and grace. First, they listen carefully for sounds of movement, such as a rodent tunneling through the snow. Next, they crouch low, spring straight up with all four legs, and launch themselves snout-first into the snow like an Olympic diver.
Relatable Den Stories
Like human offspring, fox kits will sometimes sprint away to avoid a bath from a parent. Researchers have observed vixens chasing their kits, pinning them with a foreleg, and completing the cleaning routine. This persists until kits are agile enough to escape their parents (and presumably groom themselves.)
Perhaps also like human children, fox kits get their share of the hunt by begging, chasing and nudging their parents until the adult relinquishes a tasty treat.
Maintaining Family Harmony in the Wild
Foxes don’t form packs but they may live in small family groups, if there are enough resources around to support them all. When the kits reach maturity, they might inherit some territory from their parents, or divide their turf into separate patches.
Fox Family Generations
Although males will keep their distance once the boundaries are set, female fox cubs will often stay near their birth den to help their mother rear another season's cubs. Female foxes have been seen visiting each other freely.
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