The red fox is a common sight in North America, and I wanted to find out how they navigate.
Foxes have excellent eyesight and night vision, which allows them to navigate at night. Foxes have a perfect sense of smell and hearing, which they use to detect prey even in the darkest conditions.
A fox’s territory can range from 0.2 square kilometers in urban areas to 40 square kilometers in hill country. I wanted to find out how they navigate the environment and what makes them so good at this.
Do Foxes Have Good Eyesight?
Foxes have vertical pupils, typical for creatures that are active at night. Foxes see well in dim light and have a wider view than humans. The fox has a viewing angle of 200 degrees compared to humans at 180 degrees.
Their eyes have six to eight more times rod cells, which are more sensitive to lower light than humans. They have eyes similar to cat eyes with larger cornea and tapetum. This helps to reflect light to the retina, helping to gather more light. This makes prey that is silhouetted more prominent. The extra rods also allow the fox to sense motion in the dark better than ourselves. The fox’s vision is mainly based on movement, and they have been known to walk past crouching rabbits.
The fox has excellent short-range vision. This can be seen by how quickly they move through woodland, under fences, through gates, through scrub and forests when disturbed.
Tests indicate that foxes see the same color range as dogs. This means they cannot see green, not tell it from red or yellow.
Do Foxes Have Good Hearing?
The ears of a fox can be moved independently to pick up the source of a sound. The ears rotate to pick up sounds from the side and behind them.
Hearing is sensitive to low-frequency sounds, such as the rustling noises of prey. The fox has a chamber at each ear’s base, which they use as an echo chamber to detect these vibrations.
In long grass, foxes are usually attracted to the vegetation by the sound, rotating their ears to find the animal before they see it.
Foxes also use their hearing to communicate with other foxes over long and short distances.
Do Foxes Have A Good Sense Of Smell?
Foxes have a very keen sense of smell, which they use to their advantage. Because of this, foxes have been known to find carcasses of deceased livestock buried under deep snow or several inches below the surface.
The fox also can tell strangers from people it sees regularly. A fox in an urban area was seen to freeze when it smelt a stranger in the area.
Foxes have wet noses. This allows them to help with scent detection by dissolving the chemicals in the air and telling them the wind direction.
Do Foxes Use Their Fur To Navigate?
Although the fur’s function is to help maintain body temperature, they also have a tactile process. This allows the fox to be able to feel its way around.
The fox has whiskers (vibrissae) on its forelegs and muzzles. These are associated with nerve cells that are sensitive to contact. As a result, the whiskers provide information on their body position while hunting.
The whiskers are embedded more profound into the skin than other hairs. When the prey is too close for the fox to focus on, the whiskers are moved around the game so they know where to strike.
How Do Foxes Use The Earth’s, Magnetic Force?
Foxes perform a move called ‘mousing’ where they jump into the air landing a strike from above. It has been noted in a study that foxes tend to prefer to jump in a north-easterly direction, 20 degrees off from magnetic North. Due to this, it is thought that the red fox can use the magnetic field as a rangefinder to estimate the distance to the prey to make the pounce more accurate.
The fox, birds, bees, and other animals use the Earth’s magnetic force to their advantage.
The fox will listen to the sound of its prey. The fox will pounce as it finds the angle of the sound hitting its ears matching the slope of the Earth’s magnetic field. This makes the red fox unique because it uses magnetic fields to estimate distance and not just position or direction.
It is thought that cryptochrome in the eye allows the fox to see a ring of shadow on its retina. This is then superimposed on its surroundings and permanently fixed towards magnetic North. The fox lines up the shadow with where it hears the prey, always being at a fixed distance away when it launches an attack.
How Do Foxes Communicate?
The most commonly heard fox vocalizations are a short series of barks and scream like a howl. Fox sounds are higher pitched than dogs as they are much smaller. The bark is sometimes mistaken for an owl hooting, however.
The barking sequence, ow-wow-wow-wow, is high-pitched and is thought to be an identification system. Foxes can tell each other apart by this call.
The scream or howl is generally heard during the mating season in Spring. Vixens make the call to male foxes to call them for mating. Males have occasionally been seen to make this call also.
Another sound is called gekkering. This is mainly heard in aggressive encounters between adults or between kits playing. The sound is guttural with occasional howls ack-ack-ack-ackawoooo-ack-ack-ack.
A growl is used from an adult to a kit, telling them to feed or head to their location. Fox parents most use the alarm bark to alert their kits to danger. Up close, the alarm bark sounds like a cough.
A whine is made by kits shortly after birth when they are hungry and their body temperature is low. Yelping occurs when the kits play from 19 days onwards, and the kits can make an explosive call as a high-pitch howl to threaten intruders or other cubs.
How Do Foxes Use Their Scent?
Foxes leave scent marks with urine and scat. These signs advertise the fox’s presence and, most importantly, include its dominance and sexual status to other foxes.
Foxes leave scent marks around their territory as well as within it. Rocks, stumps, vegetation, fences, trees, and even garden gnomes can be used to mark their territory. They will also leave scents at the intersection of two paths. In the fox’s view, it is rare for an elevated object not to have smell left on it.
It is thought that when foxes are looking for food, they can mark their territory up to seventy times an hour. When hunting, they do not mark as frequently. During the breeding season, the male fox’s urine smells like a skunk.
The fox has many unique ways of navigating its territory, ranging from excellent hearing, sight and smell. Also, it uses vocalizations to communicate and scents to mark its territory.
Bryan Harding is a member of the American Society of Mammalogists and a member of the American Birding Association. Bryan is especially fond of mammals and has studied and worked with them around the world. Bryan serves as owner, writer, and publisher of North American Nature.