Usually represented in folklore as a cunning trickster, the fox is an intelligent animal. It has represented a certain type of sly attribute that rivals other mammalian species.
The true nature of the fox is actually quite conspicuous.
These individuals are indeed intelligent but prefer to use that to their gain, lurking around as if more closely related to a cat. But what does this quick-witted creature stalk so cleverly? What do they eat in the wild?
What Do Foxes Eat?
You might assume that these small hunters are carnivores, but they are actually considered omnivores, meaning that they prey upon other animals and plants. Their diet tends to consist of small mammals, birds, eggs, insects, berries and insects. They typically hunt during the evening hours, making them a nocturnal species. Foxes are also known to travel from one place to another in search of food, but this depends on where they live.
Having a background on foxes will aid in understanding what they eat and why.
The fox is a member of the family Canidae which makes up dogs, wolves, and jackals. There are 37 known species of foxes, though only 12 can be found in the genus referred to as Vulpes, or the “true foxes”.
Separating themselves from the other canids, these individuals typically share a bushy tail, shorter body, slender legs, and ears that are large and erect. Each of these traits helps the fox to locate and capture its prey.
Those listed in the genus Vulpes can be found worldwide, making them an interesting study. Due to their widespread distribution, separate species can be observed hunting different types of prey.
To truly grasp how unique foxes are, we must look at the more commonly known Vulpes.
What Do Foxes Eat in the Wild?
Foxes are highly adaptive, making them easy to adjust to different biomes, even if that were around humans. The following species can be found in specific habitats of their own, making them seek out certain food items.
The Fennec fox (Vulpes zerda) is known to be one of the smallest members of Vulpes. They typically weigh only between 2 to 3.25 pounds or 1 to 1.5 kilograms compared to other species that range from around 5 to 15 pounds or 2 to 7 kilograms.
In contrast to separate foxes, they are a tannish yellow or cream color with larger ears. These animals are able to thrive in the sandy habitats of North Africa, namely the Sahara Desert.
This fox is incredibly gifted in its ability to survive harsh desert conditions. Being nocturnal works in its favor as it can avoid the heat of the sun while foraging. Their large ears help to find a variety of lizards and insects that may burrow under the top layer of sand.
They also prey on rodents, birds, eggs, and rabbits, making them an opportunistic omnivore. Some even have been found to climb palm trees in order to feed on fruit.
Another small species, the Kit fox (Vulpes macrotis) weighs between 3.5 to 6 pounds or 1.5 to 2.7 kilograms. The body of a Kit fox is different when compared amongst other members of Vulpes.
There is still the bushy tail and the large ears, yet it has a more slender body than most foxes do. Being a desert-dweller itself, this individual relies on its hearing, hence the name “macrotis”, or “big ears”.
They have a smaller distribution than most foxes, limiting their range to the southwest regions of the United States and Mexico.
One subspecies is the San Joaquin Kit fox (Vulpes macrotis mutica) which has become endangered due to the threatened species of plants and animals that it consumes. Unfortunately, there are only approximately 7,000 left in the wild.
The Kit fox uses its large ears to find insects, lizards, snakes, and rodents.
They also eat a variety of small rodents and birds that stay close to the ground. Living in scrublands, deserts and grasslands mean that they must adapt to their surroundings, finding whatever they can when food is scarce.
During harsher seasons, they tend to consume tomatoes and cactus fruits to provide them with the daily requirement.
As the name would suggest, the Arctic fox (Vulpes lagopus) is known for its white coat. This isn’t the only case as its fur changes color in the summer months, morphing to a mixture of greys and whites.
Different from the previously mentioned foxes, this species has a thicker coat, smaller ears, and a bushier tail. These features help it to stay warm in the cold climates of the tundra, namely around Alaska, Canada, Greenland, and Iceland.
Living in such a cold environment, the Arctic fox must make do with what it can find. This generally includes various small animals such as lemmings, voles and mice.
One of their largest prey items is the snowshoe hare. In addition, they also consume birds, fish, eggs, and the occasional carrion if they happen across it.
The Gray fox (Urocyon cinereoargenteus) is not a member of Vulpes, but is considered to be a true fox by most. These animals still match the description of Vulpes yet they have shorter legs in relation to their body size.
It typically weighs between 6 to 15 pounds or 3 to 7 kilograms.
The Gray fox sports a mixture of black, white, gray and reddish-brown colorations. It is easily identified by the long tail that has a black-tipped stripe along the top.
They are found throughout North America, extending slightly into the northwest corner of South America. This species lives in mountainous regions with forest and woodland habitats.
Being the only living member of the genus Urocyon, the Gray fox is a tree-climbing canid.
They depend on berries, grass, insects and small animals during certain seasons. This species tends to hunt mostly mice, voles and Eastern cottontail rabbits. Although they are mostly nocturnal, they can be seen hunting during the day.
When one thinks about a small wild canine, they typically think of the Red fox (Vulpes vulpes). Being the pinnacle of the true foxes, this species is also the largest and most widely dispersed individual.
With a distinctive red coat, dark legs, and a bushy tail accompanied by the white tip, the Red fox weighs in at around 6 to 15 pounds or 3 to 7 kilograms.
The native populations can be found all over the Northern Hemisphere in a variety of habitats such as meadows, farmlands, forests and suburban areas.
The diet of a Red fox is dependent on the location and season.
They also have a larger diversity when it comes to their meal preferences. As for other mammals, these foxes stalk squirrels, mice, raccoons, porcupines, and rabbits.
Red foxes tend to consume various fruits such as blackberries, grapes, apples, and acorns. In addition, one can find them eating plants, songbirds, reptiles, fish, and insects, to satiate their appetites. This diet is incredibly expansive, allowing them to travel between habitats quite easily.
What Do Foxes Eat in Different Seasons?
Although foxes are considered an opportunistic feeder, certain species have to modify their meal preferences depending on the season.
Red foxes and Fennec foxes are two examples where diets tend to change seasonally. Regardless of if you live in the snow, or in the desert, the atmosphere can drastically change. In these environments, it is essential to adapt and find abundant prey in order to survive.
For instance, the Red fox feeds primarily on small mammals during the colder months whereas Fennec foxes dig up beetles trying to escape the freezing conditions.
During the spring and summer, Red foxes change their hunting strategies to locate berries and various species of invertebrates such as beetles, grasshoppers, and caterpillars. The Fennec fox will burrow into tunnels during the warmer months to find small mammals.
These two examples show that diets not only differ depending on the season but that they can also vary based on where the fox lives.
How Do Foxes Hunt?
Foxes are avid hunters, usually choosing to hunt live prey as opposed to finding berries or beetles. Due to their adaptations, foxes can successfully stalk their prey by themselves rather than in large groups.
Being a canine has its perks. With exceptional night vision and large ears, foxes are able to locate their prey in the darkest hours of the day. Another adaptation is their ability to walk on hot sand or snow. The fur covering their paws act as modified snowshoes.
One distinctive way in which a fox will hunt is through pouncing, usually in snow-covered habitats. Wild dog species like wolves and coyotes don’t portray this behavior. Instead, it is commonly seen in cats, making the fox unique from its canid relatives.
When an Arctic fox needs to find prey, it has to rely on its senses. Using its nose and ears, it will lurk along the ground until a scent is picked up until it hears a rodent underneath.
Once the target has been acquired, the fox will jump into the air, coming down hard onto the entrance of the burrow with its front paws. After a few attempts, the Arctic fox is able to successfully prey upon a lemming or vole.
These strategies are key when it comes to surviving in the winter. Individuals such as the Arctic fox are masters at hunting, even with small mammals burrowing under the snow.
Do Foxes Drink Water?
For foxes who live in forested regions, farmlands, suburban areas, and grasslands, the availability of water is not an issue. The Red fox and Gray fox are able to find streams, puddles or even domesticated animals’ water bowls.
During the warmer seasons, the Arctic fox will also have a steady access to liquids. It is the harsher conditions that prove to be more challenging.
When considering the lifestyle of a Kit fox, Fennec fox, or even an Arctic fox during the winter, it is clear to see that water is scarce.
All of these species are able to survive in areas with little to no water for an extended period of time. They achieve this by consuming prey with enough liquid.
The Fennec fox and Kit fox can actually survive in regions that do not have water due to this adaptation. You would assume that the Arctic fox could take advantage of the frozen liquid since it is surrounded by ice.
This would actually be detrimental since eating the snow or ice would severely lower the temperature of the animal’s body. Absorbing the liquid from the prey eaten is less harmful.
What is a Fox’s Favorite Food?
Foxes will eat an assortment of foods such as insects, small mammals, birds, and berries but which food is their favorite. With any wild animal, it is important to determine how much energy goes into hunting.
In other words, it must be worth the cost. Most species of fox, regardless of where they live seek out small rodents such as hares and mice.
These are relatively easy to stalk and multiply quickly for an abundant meal. Some foxes also appear to enjoy the game of hunting rodents as they can be seen tossing these prey items in the air.
Why Do Foxes Have Such a Long Tail?
One distinctive feature that a fox has is its long, bushy tail. This iconic physical characteristic has a purpose, other than being aesthetically pleasing.
Year-round, these tails are used for balance when hunting. But for those harsher winter months, they can be used as a heating tool.
Foxes having to deal with these conditions use their tail and place it over their nose while they curl up into a ball.
If you were to watch sled dogs, you would see the same thing. It is a way for the cold air to stay out of the nose so that the animal can stay warm.
Do Foxes Attack You?
As with any wild animal, it is important to keep a safe distance. Animals, when threatened, will try to defend themselves, their family members and food sources.
The fox, in particular, is not especially dangerous to people. They’ve learned how to live around us, keeping out of our way.
The only fox to worry about would be a rabid one. If you see a fox that is staggering around with bared teeth and a foamy mouth, keep away and report them to Animal Control. Other than that, enjoy the sights for they are beautiful and fascinating.
Do Foxes Eat Dogs?
Foxes are not known to attack dogs, mostly because of the fact that they are usually bigger. These wild animals will rarely hunt down something that is larger in size.
If you have a small dog, it might be beneficial to keep them inside during the evenings. But overall, a fox will not eat a domesticated dog.
Do Foxes Eat Cats?
Most cats are equivalent in size to a fox, if not somewhat smaller. Because of this, it is not out of the question for a fox to get into a fight with a cat. For the most part, it is rare to see a fox eat a cat.
They prefer to eat mice that are easier to catch. Hunting down a cat takes too much energy.
In fact, cats can be found eating fox cubs rather than the other way around. Do keep in mind, however, that foxes will try to stalk smaller pets such as rabbits and guinea pigs. Your cat, on the other hand, should be safe.
What Should You Not Feed Foxes?
Foxes have diverse, opportunistic dieting habits. They can consume various berries, rodents, birds, lizards, amphibians, and even carrion when made available.
As with most canids, foxes cannot be fed chocolate or grapes. They have been known to eat a few grapes in the wild, but larger quantities due to the toxicity in the seeds, which can lead to kidney failure.
It is also important to keep in mind that you should not feed a wild fox. Even if they are not entirely skittish when it comes to humans, they should not become habituated.
If you were to feed a fox over a few days, they could get close to people who could potentially shoot them. It is for your safety, and the safety of the fox, that they should be treated like wild animals and not domestic dogs.
The fox is a cunning canid with a few cat-like characteristics. The way in which they use their ears, long tails and coats is incredible, adapting to nearly every biome on this planet.
They can be seen stalking a variety of prey such as rodents, birds, insects, lizards, and amphibians.
These animals also rely on their omnivorous dieting habits to survive through eating plants, berries, and apples. Depending on the species, these true foxes have become master adapters, making the best of any seasonal changes.
The next time you see a fox, watch how conspicuous and careful it is.
Hello everybody! This is French, the author behind the animal article you have just stumbled upon. Writing about critters of various sizes and shapes has been a wonderful experience so far! With a Bachelor’s of Science in Wildlife: Conservation and Management from Humboldt State University, I have been passionate about using my degree to teach others about animals. In fact, education is among the most important ways that we can save future wildlife. These articles are a way to help others relate to these animals, thus raising awareness. If you have any questions about biology, wildlife, botany, or any other science, feel free to ask!