About Foxes

by Simo


The overall external appearance is quite dog-like. The canine heritage is unmistakeable.

Red Fox (Vulpes vulpes (European) Vulpes fulva (N. American)):
Appearance varying from rust to bright orange. The white tail-tip is characteristic, as sometimes the "gray" fox can also appear in a reddish form. This species can also appear in forms that are definitely not reddish at all. The "silver fox" and the "cross fox" are all the same animal. Indeed, the same litter can consist of kits who are typical red foxes, whereas some sibs can be silver or cross foxes. Weighing in at 3 -- 10KG (larger in cool climates) the red fox is the largest of the foxes. Length: 82 -- 110 cm, 1/3rd of total length is tail.

Gray Fox (Urocyon cinereoargenteus):
Appearance usually consists of steel gray back and tail, white throat, and rust colored sides. The tail-tip is dark gray to black. Unique in that this is the only canid which is a tree-climber. The gray fox climbs trees to escape when chased, or when hunting for birds and/or eggs. Mainly, but not exclusively, nocturnal. Raises the young in either hollow trees or underground dens, These underground dens can grow to elaborate affairs consisting of a main atrium up to 23 m in length, with ten or more "emergency exits", and side chambers used for food storage or as nursuries (these are abandoned and new ones dug once they become too filthy to use). Weight: 3.175 -- 20.4Kg Length: 81 -- 115 cm Running speed: 45Km/hr (max).

Some Fox Pics

Note: Unforch, all these links are now dead. It would seem that the original host has pulled them for unexplained reasons. Due to the fact that I have no idea who originally owned these pics, or if they are under copyright, I can't host them myself. Sorry, they really were some of the best fox pics I have ever found, and it was the most comprehensive collection.

Is It a Dog?

Though the fox is obviously doggish in appearance, they are definitely not dogs. Along with seals, sea "lions", walruses, etc., the fox is classed as a "canid", not a "canine". Unlike wolves and coyotes, foxes never show any interest in yiffing domestic mutts, and could never produce viable offspring even if they did.

Diplotic Chromosome Counts
Fox Count (2n)
Red Fox 36
Gray Fox 36
Arctic Fox 50
Kit Fox 50
All kinds 78

These are obviously quite different kinds of animals. The resemblance to dogs stops pretty much at the level of overall appearance. One major difference is the Eyes. While foxes have the same sort of brown eyes as dogs, in bright light the pupils form a thin vertical slit -- the same as a cat. With dogs, as with humans, the pupil is always round. Foxes are also "built" like cats (Note: the gray fox is unique amoung canids, in that it is a tree-climber): a light weight -- though structurally strong -- loose-jointed skeleton, a small stomach (50% the size of a comparable dog) and powerful muscles for accelleration, agility at high speeds (6 -- 13Km/hr: trot; 72KM/hr: ballz-to-the-wall) and excellent jumping ability (2M vertically; 5+ horizontally). Understandable in that the red fox weighs some 40% less than a comparably sized dog. As with cats, a fox will not gorge as does a dog (weight reduction) instead, foxes eat several small meals a day instead of one large one. Any extra food is cached around the fox's territory (so that any other animal that discovers the cache can't get the fox's entire supply) either for later that same day, and/or as an "insurance policy" against illness, injury, or lean times. Requirements: 500G high-quality meat or the energy equivalent in fruits, berries, vegetables, grains, grasses.

Other behaviours are distinctly feline. (Fox striking a decidedly feline pose ) The hunting technique: foxes do not hunt in packs and do not rely on sheer force of numbers to overwhelm prey. They typically rely on excellent hearing and sense of smell to locate prey, such as small rodents. Once a possible meal is located, the fox will make a flying leap of up to 5M (or more, if making a downhill leap) to pin the prey with the forepaws. The prey is dispatched with a series of quick, fatal bites. Dogs, on the other hand, violently shake any captured prey to kill it. Another technique that works best on "flighty" prey, such as rabbits and birds, is stalking. Like a cat, when doing this, the fox gets low to the ground to reduce visibility, and creeps as close as possible -- taking care to remain upwind, avoid making noise and sudden movements. Once the fox is spotted, hopefully, a burst of speed will nail the prey before it can flee. A final method is catching bugs. Foxes will do this whenever the opportunity presents itself, though it's not worth the effort, nor is it any fun, to go out of their way to catch bugs. Other sources of sustanance: fruits and berries, grasses and grains, grasshoppers and other locusts, mushrooms, earthworms/nightcrawlers, and road kill. They'll eat damn near anything (which, of course, helps to account for their success in adapting to many different environments). Hunting usually occurs during night, but not always. The behaviours of the chosen prey, the seasons, and/or personal preference will dictate when hunting occurs.

Foxes also share a sensory modality with cats. Foxes typically have longer whiskers than dogs, and are also equipped with sensitive whiskers on the wrists. The fox uses these whiskers as "feelers", as do cats. This ability to feel their way around in this manner has lead to the old wives' tale that cats can see in the dark. They can't, really, it's just that they are so efficient in feeling their way around even though they can't see. Foxes do likewise.

There are also those behaviours that are typically canine. These involve the body language that foxes use.

The white markings on the ears and tail are aids to visibility of these body language signals under low light conditions. All these posturings are recognizable in dogs as well. Other canine behaviours include scent-marking by peeing on prominant land marks: trees, large rocks, bushes, etc. These are typically "refreshed" every few days, and mark the perimiters of the fox's territory, both as an invite to foxes of the opposite sex, and a warning that this locale is taken. They will also typically leave scat on hilltops where easily seen, and may or may not add scent from the anal glands. It is not known why this particular behaviour is inconsistant, or why males do this with greater frequency than females.

Other forms of communication are scent-based. They have the aforementioned anal glands that secrete bacteria-rich fluid to make the scats even more odiferous than they already are. They are also equipped with a supra-caudal gland: the Violet Gland. It is located about a third of the way down the tail (the location often marked by a small patch of dark fur) which is rougly 2.5X7.0mm. It is so named in that the chemical composition (terpenes) is similar to that which gives violets their aroma. The scent is, however, many of orders of magnitude stronger. Given the strength, it is not pleasent, despite the name. This is one reason why foxes are not suitable as indoor pets. It is not possible to "descent" a fox like a skunk since the Violet Gland is also responsible for metabolizing/producing steroids. However, the substance itself also has a most remarkable property: it's flourescent. This does not mean that foxes glow in the dark since this flourescence occurs at longwave UV when excited by shortwave UV or long wave Gamma (X) rays.

Vulpine Yiffage

The reproductive cycle typically starts in October -- November. At this time, rising testosterone tends to make the males a bit more aggressive than usual. Neighboring vixens, up till now largely ignored, start to receive attention, and pair-bonding begins. They will still hunt alone, however. By the time winter sets in, couples form, as is evident by the side-by-side tracks they leave in the snow. Hunting is still solitary, however, the male and female will stay in contact with one another by vocalization. By January, vixens begin to scope out sites for natal dens. The main requirements being good drainage (so that the den won't flood and drown the helpless kits) convenient access to water and food, and concealment. They will dig a fresh den, however, they'd prefer to take over and improve something like an abandoned rabbit hole or badger den. A favorite location is an out-building with a concrete foundation. There will typically be more than one den, so that one may be abandoned, and another occupied, to thwart predators. Even though adult foxes have no predators, the same is not true of kits. Owls, hawks, even domestic cats, are not adverse to catching and eating kits.

Yiffing occurs sometime in January -- Feburary. The main determining factor is daylight hours, and timing so that the kits arrive in early spring. So that in extreme southern latitudes, this could be as early as October, and in northern latitudes as late as March. The actual yiffing itself typically takes 15 -- 20 minutes and is a noisy affair, being accompanied by much vocalization. The window of opportunity is narrow, no more than four days, and if missed, no kits until next year. Gestation typically lasts 49 -- 56 days, with 52 days being average. The typical litter has between 2 -- 13 kits, 5 being common. At birth, they are blind and helpless, which explains the den: bright light will damage undeveloped eyes, and helpless critters in the open just proclaim: "Eat me!" to any passing predator. Kits grow quickly: 300% weight gain in 10 days, and eyes open at 14 days. The juvenile eye color is gray-blue, and the juvenile coat sandy-colored. During these first two weeks, the mother does not do any hunting, depending on her mate for provisions.

By three weeks, the kits will venture outside for the first time, and the first teeth begin to appear. After another 21 days, they have the full set of 28 milk teeth, and will spend quite a bit of time outside, playing amoung themselves, and setting up heirarchies of dominance. The kits will, however, return to the den when called by the parents. Otherwise, their play becomes practice for adult hunting: stalking, pouncing. Here, you will often see them give the play invitation signal, and will also let the parents know it's feeding time by nibbling at the corners of the adult's mouth. Partially digested regurgitated food is what they get. By two months, kits are fully weaned. At three months, they will catch their first prey, usually insects like grasshoppers and locusts. They also acquire the adult coat and eye color. At six months, they've entered young adulthood.

As to the question of how long do foxes live, there is no consensus. I've seen estimates running from a low of two years in the wild, to as high as forty years in captivity. For now, consider any definitive answer, in the abscence of new evidence, to be bullshit: nobody really knows.



Excellent low-light vision. Visual acuity good to 90M with just starlight on a moonless night. At greater ranges, acuity falls off. Eyes have a faster recovery time, meaning that the lights (especially flourescent and mercury vapour) that run on 60Hz (120 pulses/sec) which look steady to a human eye will flicker to the vulpine eye. Many folks will tell you that animals such as dogs, cats, and foxes are "color blind". This is nothing more than an old wives' tale. The retina of a fox's eye do, indeed, include the color-sensitive "pixels", called "cones". However, there are fewer of them, since low-light visibility requires the grayscale receptors: "rods". Thus, foxes can not accurately determine the color of something until it fills a significant amount of the field of vision. Otherwise, the world would look like its color was "washed out", as compared to human vision. The color sensitivity of human vision peaks at a greenish-yellow hue (thus accounting for the choice of color of both oscilloscope and "green screen monitor" CRTs). For foxes, this peaks more towards the blue end of the spectrum.


Here is where foxes really best humans. The total area of olfactory receptors for foxes is some fifty times greater. The olfactory nerve and areas in the brain are also larger. Indeed, scent plays a major role in regulating the fox's social relationships. They will sniff at both the Violet Gland and anal glands of other foxes to ascertain general level of health, mood, and sexual receptivity. This is how foxes know when those critical four days of ovulation occur. (If human beings had just one chance at reproduction every year, lasting just four days, none of us would be here.) Foxes don't seem to screw this up very often.


They do better at both ends: hearing low frequencies that give away the presence of small prey animals underground, and beneath the snow during winter. Mouse vocalizations are clearly heard from as far away as 45M. They also hear higher frequencies. These, most foxes do not find pleasent at all. Opening a door in a manner that you believe to be silent will startle a fox, since he can hear the ultrasonics that you do not. In the old days, sonic TV remotes would drive animals like cats and dogs nutz. A fox would hear these modem-like squeals clearly as well.


This has already been mentioned.


In a word, high. Anyone who's ever tried to secure a hen house, rabbit hutch, and/or get rid of "nusiance" foxes can attest to this. Folks just have not had the success in eradicating foxes that they have had with wolves and other predators. It wasn't for lack of trying either. The intense inquisitiveness and low tolerance for boredom are also indicators of a quite high intelligence. Another is the ability to generalize behaviour. Like their canine cousins, foxes are instinctively inclined towards "mating fights", where a contest of physical prowess wins the right to mate with females, and, thus, theoretically insure that just the fittest contribute towards the next generation. Foxes sometimes do this: males fighting over females. Then, again, sometimes they don't: male foxes sometimes share vixens. The instinct is to drive off the offspring once they acquire the adult look. Sometimes, foxes do that. Sometimes they form extended families. Fox instinct is towards monogamy. However, both polygyny and polyandrogeny are more common than once suspected. The instinct is for "faithfulness" for one breeding season; however, permanent pair-bonds are not uncommon. None of this is typical canine (or feline) behaviour. The hold that instinct has on fox behaviour is quite weak, as compared to other members of the dog family. The less stereotypical behaviour you find, the greater the intelligence. And let us not forget the success of the "city" fox. There are no "city" wolves, now are there?

Q: Why help your parents raise their offspring, surely it is better for you (genetically speaking) to move away and have your own?

A: Intuitively this does seem like the best option - leave the family home, produce your own offspring, thus ensuring that your genes make it to the next generation. Indeed, Evolutionary Theory states that individuals of a species that are most physically and behaviourally "fit" for their environment will leave more offspring than less fit individuals. However, if you think about it, by helping your parents raise their subsequent broods (i.e. your brothers and sisters) you are getting some of your genes into the next generation. You have half your mother's and half of your father's genes, and so too will each of your younger brothers and sisters. Therefore, you are as closely related to your full siblings as you are to your own offspring. Consequently, by sticking around and helping with the maternal and paternal chores, you are increasing the survival rate of your younger brothers and sisters and thereby nursing your own genes into subsequent generations. Okay, so you're not strictly getting your own genetic material into the next generation, but the genetic line -- of which you are a part -- is being maintained with your assistance.

This is actually "socio-biology", a pseudoscience originated in the mid-1970s by a dipshit named Edward O. Wilson to deny the intelligence of all non-human animals. So we have this elaborate "explanation", all to avoid the obvious conclusion: foxes love and cherish their mates and off-spring: that the companionship is more important to them than any reduction in competition for food. Instead, we have this incredible scenario where these foxes are counting chromosomes (Do foxes know what a chromosome is?!) How about applying Occam's Razor here: the theory that relies on the fewest subsidiary assumptions is likely to be the correct one. So there you go Mr. Human Being: you aren't as unique as you'd like to believe, deal with it.

Foxes are also atypical in another area as well. Domestication of most animals results in reduced intelligence. A dog, compared to a wolf, for example, is just plain stupid (with some breeds, Irish Setters, for example, one wonders how they manage to remember to breathe). Wild turkeys are pretty clever birds, domestic turkeys most certainly are not. In 1959, Dmitry K. Belyaev of the Institute of Cytology and Genetics in Novosibrsk got the idea to attempt to breed a domestic fox. Now these "faux foxes" have turned out to have even greater intelligence than "real" foxes. Considering how intelligent "real" foxes are, that's really saying something. These "faux foxes" don't really look much like "real" foxes. (Good thing! They were really trying to breed a fox that would do better in fur-farms -- no one will want to wear that ugly-ass fur!) There is obviously a strong bias within the fox genome towards greater intelligence. Makes one wonder what would have happened had they bred specifically for intelligence. RL Furries anyone?

What Kind of Critter is This Anyway?

Now here is a question that I have yet to get a straight answer to. How is it possible to have a "canine" with so damn many feline features? Is this really a canine, or is it some sort of cat/dog hybrid? Foxes appeared quite recently: the red fox during the mid-Pliocene (4 million years ago) and the arctic fox during the mid-Pleistocene (i.e. the "Ice Age") 250000 years ago. On the geologic time-scale, that's yesterday. There's also the question of the genetic instability. Now there are lots of dog breeds. There are long-hairs, short-hairs, almost no-hairs. There are big dogs like St. Bernards and Irish wolf-hounds, and little lap-dogs like the Shi-tzu. Yet, they're still dogs. Some of these Siberian faux foxes are real freaks of nature that look nothing like a fox. Some even have floppy ears and would easily be mistaken for a dog, looking less like a fox than some of the "foxier" breeds of dogs. Is that what the proto-vulpine ancestor looked like? Did it, at one time somehow successfully mate with a cat?

Foxes: The Next Intelligent Species?

The genetic instability of fox-kind has already been established: "gray" foxes who look "red"; "red" foxes who look grey, those faux foxes that look just plain weird. This means that we have a species that's excellent evolution material. One of two things are likely to occur: the species fails and goes extinct, or it evolves into something else entirely. As seen with these faux foxes, the genetic bias is to greater intelligence. They were breeding for human-friendliness only, and got an unanticipated result. Given that result, and a few million years (or even sooner with selective breeding and/or genetic engineering!) are today's foxes the ancestors of the next intelligent species (assuming that man doesn't blow the Earth apart, that is) to replace us?


Wolf to Dog (Uber-geeky site)

Red Fox (Somewhat geeky)

Vulpes vulpes (It's about 50/50 with this site: good info, but much bullshit.)


Morphology: Male

Morphology: Female