What is a Fox?

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

The fox is a group of 27 discreet species that are distantly related to wolves, coyotes and dogs — all from the canid family or Family Canidae. The fox, however, is not a dog, and cannot breed with a dog. Though these animals are quite attractive, they are not considered to be good pets.

Red foxes are solitary canids.
Red foxes are solitary canids.

One of the differences between foxes and other canid species is foxes have a strong odor comparable to a skunk. For the fox, the odor is an excellent defense mechanism against larger predators like bears, and large cats. This defense mechanism comes in handy due to the fact that the animal is rather small, few weighing more than about 15 pounds (6.8 kg). The skunky smell also discourages humans from coming too close to their dens.

Foxes are distantly related to the coyote.
Foxes are distantly related to the coyote.

Unlike other dog-like animals, the fox is solitary. Wolves, hyenas and wild dogs frequently hunt in packs, but this animal establishes its own habitat apart from others of its race. Females, called vixens, permit males to enter their territory and stay during the mating, birth, and early raising of their children, called kits. Sometimes a pair will remain monogamous and live together, but can also be found to live alone.

The fox is often considered catlike in its behavior. Its diet differs from that of large cats, as it tends to be omnivorous. Foxes enjoy meat as their primary food — usually in the form of rodents. They also will eat fruit and/or nuts when available. Animals can often be found right in the middle of urban areas, like in Central Park.

Although some live in close proximity to humans, the fox tends to avoid humans, and is usually not considered a danger to house pets like cats or dogs. It very rarely might kill an unwatched tiny puppy or kitten, but is unlikely to attack a full-grown cat or dog. Further, it will likely avoid children.

The primary danger of the fox in urban areas is its ability to contract and spread rabies. In fact, if one seems unafraid of approaching humans, it should be avoided and animal control should be notified. This uncharacteristic behavior may signify illness.

There are species on virtually every continent. Though the red fox was thought of as a European introduction to the Americas, later archaeological findings suggest the animal simply moved inland, into uninhabited forests. The grey fox is also native to the Americas. Other species include the Bengal fox of India, the Blanford’s fox in the Middle East, the Cape fox of Africa, the Fennec of the Sahara Desert, and the Swift fox of the Americas.

Some foxes are of slightly different genera and are not considered true foxes. These include the grey fox, which is noted for its ability to climb trees, and the alopex or arctic fox. Some have been imported to non-native areas where they have had a significantly negative effect on the new environment. The introduction of the red fox to Australia, for example, has been reported to be the cause of diminishing numbers of several species, including the quoll, which unfortunately makes perfect food.

A fox can live up to eight to ten years, but this is rare in the wild. It reaches sexual maturity at anywhere from one to two years, and will generally produce one litter of up to five pups each year, though the Arctic fox can have up to twelve kits at a time. A few species are considered endangered, including one first noted by Darwin on a Chilean island.

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Tricia has a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and has been a frequent wiseGEEK contributor for many years. She is especially passionate about reading and writing, although her other interests include medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion. Tricia lives in Northern California and is currently working on her first novel.

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Discussion Comments


Foxes are also very elusive. They don't usually stay in one place for long. Also foxes won't let you close to them, unless they're domesticated, like dogs. Foxes usually don't try and fight other animals and usually don't win against animals like cats. If it's a vixen protecting kits then maybe the fox would stand its ground.


I always assumed foxes were related to cats. To me, they look much more like cats than dogs.

They certainly are unique, though. I saw one dart across the road once, and then I saw another just standing there in the ditch looking at my car.

Foxes are so light on their feet. They don't weigh much, so they can propel themselves more easily than a really muscular animal can, I suppose.


@wavy58 – My aunt leaves dogfood in a bowl out in her yard, and she occasionally sees foxes eating it. Of course, there's no guarantee that this will work, since squirrels, birds, and mice might actually get to the food first, but it's worth a shot.

There are some people who are against putting out food for wild animals, because it can make them dependent on you instead of themselves for food. However, if you just put it out occasionally, like once a month, I don't think it would hurt anything.


If foxes like to eat mice, I need them on my property! I have a serious mice infestation, and I can't use poison because I also have dogs in the house. How can I attract foxes to my property?


@googie98 – That makes me wonder if some of the noises I've been hearing around my house might be foxes instead of coyotes. I hear an awful lot of yapping and howling, especially at night.

Sometimes, it's from an entire pack, and I believe these are coyotes. However, there are times when all I hear is one animal making the noises. I have to wonder if I'm hearing a lone fox.


Foxes are actually important predators of prey species such as rats, mice, and rabbits. Grown foxes have very few predators. Coyotes, however, do not take too nicely to foxes being on their territories.

One bad thing is that foxes can carry the organisms responsible for several contagious diseases, such as rabies, distemper, and mange. Humans can contract the mite that leads to the mange from infested foxes, dogs, or coyotes.


Although foxes are active at any time of the day, they appear to prefer to hunt more often at dusk and dawn. It is not unusual to see foxes during the daytime. They do not hibernate and are active all year.

The normal home range for a fox is usually about 2 to 4 miles.

Foxes are very vocal animals and exhibit many different sounds, including barks, howls, and whines. These sounds can vary from a short “yap”, followed by a “yap, yap” to a combination of yells, screeches, and long howls.

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