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"Vixen" redirects here. For other uses, see Fox (disambiguation) and Vixen (disambiguation).
Not to be confused with Foxes (singer).
Fuzzy Freddy.jpg
Red Fox (Vulpes vulpes)
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Mammalia
Order: Carnivora
Family: Canidae

Foxes are small-to-medium-sized, omnivorous mammals belonging to several genera of the Canidae family. Foxes are slightly smaller than a medium-size domestic dog, with a flattened skull, upright triangular ears, a pointed, slightly upturned snout, and a long bushy tail (or brush).

12 species belong to the Vulpes genus of "true foxes". Approximately another 25 current or extinct species are always or sometimes called foxes. Foxes are found on every continent except Antarctica. By far the most common and widespread species of fox is the red fox (Vulpes vulpes). The global distribution of foxes, together with their widespread reputation for cunning, has contributed to their prominence in popular culture and folklore in many societies around the world. The hunting of foxes with packs of hounds, long an established pursuit in Europe, especially the British Isles, was exported by European settlers to various parts of the New World.


The word fox comes from Old English, which derived from Proto-Germanic *fuhsaz.[1] This in turn derives from Proto-Indo-European *puḱ- ‘thick-haired; tail’.[2] Male foxes are known as dogs, tods or reynards, females as vixens, and young as cubs, pups, or kits. A group of foxes is referred to as a skulk, leash, troop, or earth.[citation needed]

General characteristics[edit]

Drawing of a fox skeleton.

In the wild, the typical lifespan of a fox is 2 to 3 years, although individuals may live up to ten years. Foxes are generally smaller than other members of the family Canidae such as wolves, jackals, and domestic dogs. Male foxes weigh, on average, around 5.9 kilograms (13 lb) while female foxes weigh around 5.2 kilograms (11.5 lb).[3] Fox-like features typically include a triangular face, pointed ears, a long, narrow, sharp muzzle, and a bushy tail. Other physical characteristics vary according to habitat. For example, the fennec fox (and other species of fox adapted to life in the desert, such as the kit fox) has large ears and short fur, whereas the Arctic fox has tiny ears and thick, insulating fur. The red fox, by contrast, has a typical auburn pelt, the tail normally ending with white marking. Litter sizes can vary greatly according to species and environment – the Arctic fox, for example, has an average litter of four to five, with eleven as maximum.[4]

Unlike many canids, foxes are not always pack animals. Typically, they live in small family groups, and are opportunistic feeders that hunt live prey (especially rodents). Using a pouncing technique practiced from an early age, they are usually able to kill their prey quickly. Foxes also gather a wide variety of other foods ranging from grasshoppers to fruit and berries. The gray fox is one of only two canine species known to climb trees; the other is the raccoon dog. Foxes make a variety of calls. Their scream is particularly distinctive and can be unsettling for those who first hear it at night, because of its resemblance to a human scream. [5]

Foxes are normally extremely wary of humans and are not usually kept as indoor pets; however, the silver fox was successfully domesticated in Russia after a 45-year selective breeding program. This selective breeding also resulted in physical and behavioral traits appearing that are frequently seen in domestic cats, dogs, and other animals, such as pigmentation changes, floppy ears, and curly tails.[6]


Canids commonly known as foxes include members of the following genera:


Foxes are omnivores.[7][8] The diet of foxes is largely made up of invertebrates such as insects, and small vertebrates such as reptiles and birds, and also can include eggs and plants. Many species are generalist predators, but some (such as the crab-eating fox) have more specialized diets. Most species of fox consume around 1 kg (2.2 lb) of food every day. Foxes cache excess food, burying it for later consumption, usually under leaves, snow, or soil.


Many foxes adapt well to human environments, with several species classified as "resident urban carnivores" for their ability to sustain populations entirely within urban boundaries.[9] Foxes in urban areas can live longer and can have smaller litter sizes than foxes in non-urban areas.[9] Urban foxes are ubiquitous in Europe, where they show altered behaviors compared to non-urban foxes, including increased density, smaller territory, and pack foraging.[10]

Foxes have been introduced in numerous locations, with varying effects on indigenous flora and fauna.[11] Red foxes were introduced into Australia in the early 19th century for sport, and have since become widespread through much of the country. Their impact on native vegetation and animals is subject to much speculation.[11]

Several fox species are endangered in their native environments. Pressures placed on foxes include being hunted for pelts, other trade, or control.[12] Due in part to their opportunistic hunting style and industriousness, foxes are commonly resented as nuisance animals.[13] On the other hand, foxes, while often considered pests themselves, have been successfully employed to control pests on fruit farms while leaving the fruit intact.[14]

Relationships with humans[edit]

A red fox on the porch of an Evergreen, Colorado home.

Foxes are often considered pests or nuisance creatures for their opportunistic attacks on poultry and other small livestock. Fox attacks on humans are not common but have increased in frequency.[15]

Fox hunting[edit]

Main article: Fox hunting

Fox hunting originated in the United Kingdom in the 16th century. Hunting with dogs is now banned in the United Kingdom,[16][17][18][19] though hunting without dogs is still permitted. It is practised as recreation in several other countries including Australia, Canada, France, Ireland, Italy, Russia and the United States.


There are many records of domesticated red foxes and others, but rarely of sustained domestication. A recent and notable case is the Russian silver fox,[20] which resulted in visible and behavioral changes, and is a case study of an animal population modeling according to human domestication needs. The current group of domesticated silver foxes are the result of nearly fifty years of experiments in the Soviet Union and Russia to domesticate the silver morph of the red fox. Notably, the new foxes became more tame, allowing themselves to be petted, whimpering to get attention and sniffing and licking their caretakers.[21]

In culture[edit]

Main article: Foxes in culture

In many cultures, the fox appears in folklore as a symbol of cunning and trickery, or as a familiar animal possessed of magic powers.

The constellation Vulpecula represents a fox.

In some countries, foxes are major predators of rabbits and hens. Population oscillations of these two species were the first nonlinear oscillation studied, and led to the now-famous Lotka-Volterra equation.[22][23]


  1. ^ Cf. West Frisian foks, Dutch vos, and German Fuchs.
  2. ^ Cf. Hindi pū̃ch ‘tail’, Tocharian B päkā ‘tail; chowrie’, and Lithuanian paustìs ‘fur’. The bushy tail also forms the basis for the fox's Welsh name, llwynog, literally ‘bushy’, from llwyn ‘bush’. Likewise, Portuguese: raposa from rabo ‘tail’, Lithuanian uodẽgis from uodegà ‘tail’, and Ojibwa waagosh from waa, which refers to the up and down "bounce" or flickering of an animal or its tail.
  3. ^ Walker, Matt; Davies, Ella (7 March 2012). "Are red foxes getting bigger?" BBC News Online. Retrieved 2012-03-07.
  4. ^ Hildebrand, Milton (1952). "The Integument in Canidae". Journal of Mammalogy 33 (4): 419–428. doi:10.2307/1376014. JSTOR 1376014. 
  5. ^
  6. ^ Trut, Lyudmila N. (1999). "Early Canid Domestication: The Fox Farm Experiment". American Scientist 87. 
  7. ^ Fedriani, J.M.; T. K. Fuller; R. M. Sauvajot; E. C. York (2000-07-05). "Competition and intraguild predation among three sympatric carnivores". Oecologia 125 (2): 258–270. doi:10.1007/s004420000448. 
  8. ^ Fox, David L. (2007). "Vulpes vulpes (red fox)". Animal Diversity Web. University of Michigan Museum of Zoology. 
  9. ^ a b Iossa, G. et al. A Taxonomic Analysis of Urban Carnivore Ecology, from Urban Carnivores. Stanley Gehrt et al. eds. 2010. p.174.
  10. ^ Francis, Robert and Michael Chadwick. Urban Ecosystems 2013. p.126.
  11. ^ a b See generally Long, John. Introduced Mammals of the World. 2013.
  12. ^ Ginsburg, Joshua Ross and David Whyte MacDonald. Foxes, Wolves, Jackals, and Dogs. p.58.
  13. ^ Bathgate, Michael. The Fox's Craft in Japanese Religion and Culture. 2004. p.18.
  14. ^ McCandless, Linda Foxes are Beneficial on Fruit Farms. (1997-04-24)
  15. ^ Barratt, Sarah and Martin Barratt. Practical Quail-keeping. 2013.
  16. ^ "Hunt campaigners lose legal bid". BBC News Online. 2006-06-23. 
  17. ^ Singh, Anita (2009-09-18). "David Cameron 'to vote against fox hunting ban'". The Daily Telegraph. London. Retrieved 2010-05-02. [dead link]
  18. ^ Fox Hunting. North West League Against Cruel Sports Support Group.
  19. ^ "Fox Hunting: For and Against". 
  20. ^ "The most affectionate foxes are bred in Novosibirsk". Retrieved 2014-04-08. 
  21. ^ Kenneth Mason, Jonathan Losos, Susan Singer, Peter Raven, George Johnson(2011)Biology Ninth Edition, p. 423. McGraw-Hill, New York.ISBN 978-0-07-353222-6.
  22. ^ Sprott, Julien. Elegant Chaos 2010. p.89.
  23. ^ Komarova, Natalia. Axiomatic Modeling in Life Sciences, from Mathematics and Life Sciences. Alexandra Antoniouk and Roderick Melnik, eds. pp.113-114.

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