If there is one animal that lives by its wits then it is our very own Fox. Sheer ingenuity has made him a survivor literally. And it is due to its own dexterity that the Red or common fox is doing very well in Britain, North America and North Africa unlike it’s cousins the wolf and the wild cat. Man is his only enemy. Ironically though, he still prefers to stay close to humans.

Fox [Illustrations by Amarjeet Malik]
Fox [Illustrations by Amarjeet Malik]

The fox is the smallest member of the dog family, Canidae. They are agile predators that usually weigh under 7kg. They scavenge carrion, wild fruits and hunt small rodents, rabbits, birds and invertebrates. They hunt small prey sufficient to feed only one animal and hence are solitary predators who do not hunt in packs.

The male or dog fox marks out his own area and regards it as his own.

Nocturnal by nature, foxes come out of hiding in the night after sleeping through the day in a hole in a sandy bank or some other hiding place under brambles and bracken. With a keen sense of smell, they can figure out the slightest movement.

The dog fox and the vixen (female) look exactly alike. Their coat is thick and reddish or yellowish brown with creamy white hindquarters and underparts and a fine tail or brush which often has a white tip. Their ears, legs and feet are almost black. The cubs have shorter muzzles, dark brown wooly coats and little pointed tails. At three months old, they begin to look like their parents and before long wander off to find hunting grounds for themselves.

The breeding season usually falls in winter. The vixen with her weird calls (which sounds like the scream of a peacock) announces the arrival of the season. This is a signal to all the dog foxes in the neighbourhood, who quickly make their way to her patch and fiercely fight one another, vying for the vixen’s attention. She may mate with more than one, but the courting season is brief.

The vixen ceases to call and the dog foxes depart. The dominant male may stay in the area for a while, without sharing the earth or taking much interest in his mate.

In about two months time, three, four or perhaps five cubs will be born, blind at first, snub-nosed and tiny, more like kittens than foxes. Their mother tends and suckles them at least for four weeks, leaving the earth only to find food. Then they begin to come out from the hole, to romp and play near the entrance while the vixen watches. Their mock fights are a good practice to hone their skills that they will soon need in the wild. The vixen brings them mice, beetles and worms to eat and at three months old they try catching things for themselves.

Luckily for fox, his sense of smell is so keen that he can catch the scent of a man a long way off. Both sexes leave their own scent everywhere as well, partly by urinating on bushes and posts, partly through scent-glands in the pads of their feet. These scents enable hounds to follow the fox through fields and hedges, often for great distances. Without them they would never find his private paths and lairs, which he knows like a map and which are well hidden.

The fox uses his wits, as usual, and as human populations increase and towns grow bigger he has discovered that that he can live quite well in the suburbs, where there are neither hunts nor gamekeepers and food can be snatched from dustbins and rubbish heaps.

Many people living near towns or villages would be astonished to learn that the fox could be their friendly neighbour. He is so clever at keeping out of sight, so quiet, so cautious, that they would never believe that he goes through their dustbins in the dark, catches rats by their chicken run and spends the day in a secret lair not a stone’s throw away, curled up like a cat with his thick soft brush tucked snugly over his nose.

692 words | 7 minutes
Readability: Grade 6 (11-12 year old children)
Based on Flesch–Kincaid readability scores

Filed under: planet earth
Tags: #scent, #smell, #predators, #foxes