2007 Schools Wikipedia Selection. Related subjects: Mammals


Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Mammalia
Order: Carnivora
Family: Canidae
Genus: Vulpes

A fox is a member of any of 27 species of small omnivorous canids. The animal most commonly called a fox in the Western world is the Red Fox (Vulpes vulpes), although different species of foxes can be found on almost every continent. The presence of foxes all over the globe has led to their appearance in the popular culture and folklore of many nations, tribes, and other cultural groups.

Fox terminology is different from that used for most canids. Male foxes are known as dogs, tods or reynard, females are referred to as vixens, and their young are called kits or cubs, as well as pups. A group of foxes is a skulk.


Modern English "fox" is derived from Old English with the same spelling, the Old English word itself comes from the Proto-Germanic word "*fukhs", compare German "Fuchs", Gothic "fauho", Old Norse "foa" and Dutch "vos", which corresponds to the Proto-Indo-European word "*puk" meaning "tail" (compare Sanskrit "puccha" meaning "tail" as well). The bushy tail is also the source of words for "fox" in Welsh ("llwynog", from "llwyn" meaning "bush") and "fox" in Lithuanian is "uodegis" from "uodega" meaning " tail". In Irish there are two words, the standard "sionnach" but also "madra rua" meaning "red dog".

General characteristics

An urban fox investigating a pet rabbit in a garden in Birmingham, UK
An urban fox investigating a pet rabbit in a garden in Birmingham, UK
An urban fox in High Park, Toronto. Note how skinny it is.
An urban fox in High Park, Toronto. Note how skinny it is.
Red Fox
Red Fox

Most foxes live 2–3 years but can survive for up to 10 years, or longer in captivity. With most species roughly the size of a domestic cat, foxes are smaller than other members of the family Canidae, such as wolves, jackals, and domestic dogs. Recognizable characteristics also include pointed muzzles and bushy tails. Other physical characteristics vary according to their habitat. For example, the Desert Fox has large ears and short fur, whereas the Arctic Fox has small ears and thick, insulating fur.

Unlike many canids, foxes are usually not pack animals. Typically, they are solitary, 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.

Foxes are normally extremely wary of humans and are not kept as pets, although the Silver Fox was successfully domesticated in Russia after a 45 year selective breeding program.

However, foxes are to be readily found in cities and domestic gardens.


Foxes include members of the following genera:

  • Alopex ( Arctic Fox)
  • Cerdocyon ( Crab-eating Fox)
  • Dusicyon ( Falkland Island Fox)
  • Fennecus ( Fennec, or Desert Fox)
  • Lycalopex ( Hoary Fox)
  • Otocyon (Bat-eared Fox)
  • Pseudalopex (four South American species, including the Culpeo)
  • Urocyon ( Gray Fox, Island Fox and Cozumel Fox)
  • Vulpes (the ten species of "true" foxes, including the Red Fox (vulpes vulpes)


Foxes do not come together in chorus like wolves or coyotes. Fox families, however, keep in contact with a wide array of different sounds. These sounds grade into one another and span five octaves; each fox has its own characteristically individual voice. Fox noises can be divided, with a few exceptions, into two different groups: contact sounds and interaction sounds. The former is used by foxes communicating over long distances, the latter in close quarters .

The best-known vulpine noise is a sort of barking that spans three to five syllables. "Conversations" made up of these noises often occur between widely spaced foxes. As their distance decreases, the sound becomes quieter. A cub is greeted with the quietest version of this sound.
The alarm bark 
This monosyllabic sound is made by an adult to warn cubs of danger. From far away it sounds like a sharp bark, but at closer range it resembles a muffled cough, like a football rattle or a stick along a picket fence.
This is a stuttering, throaty noise made at aggressive encounters. It is most frequently heard in the courting season, or when kits are at play.
The vixen's wail 
This is a long, drawn-out, monosyllabic, and rather eerie wail most commonly made during the breeding season; it is widely thought that it is made by a vixen in heat summoning dog-foxes. Contrary to common belief, however, it is also made by the males, evidently serving some other purpose as well. This noise fits into neither the contact nor the interaction group.
As seen in a BBC news report on 5th October 2006, tamed foxes purr when cuddled.


Arctic Fox (summer coat)
Arctic Fox (summer coat)

In some countries, such as Australia, which lacks similar carnivores , introduced red foxes predate on native wildlife, some to the point of extinction, and become an invasive species. However, many other fox species are endangered.

Foxes can also be used for helpful environmental purposes. They have been successfully employed to control pests on fruit farms, where they leave the fruit intact.

Historians believe foxes have been imported into non-native environments long before the colonial era. The first example of the introduction of the fox into a new habitat by humans seems to be Neolithic Cyprus. Stone carvings representing foxes have been found in the early settlement of Göbekli Tepe in eastern Turkey.


Two Norwegian municipalities have a fox in their coat-of-arms: Dyrøy and Vegårshei.

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