Foxes see, hear, and smell the world differently from ourselves. While we mainly rely on our eyesight to perceive the world around us, foxes use all their senses.
Foxes have an excellent sight at close-range but have problems seeing static objects. They do not have good color vision and have problems seeing long distances. Foxes have excellent hearing, and their ears can rotate 150 degrees in one direction to pinpoint prey. Foxes use their incredible sense of smell to find food and communicate, while long, stiff hairs act as sensory organs to the world around them.
Foxes use their senses to find food and alert them to danger. A fox that is not cautious will not often live long enough to learn from its mistake. Foxes are social animals and use their senses to communicate with others.
Foxes are predators, and their eyes sit at the front of their heads like most predators. The eye positioning gives them binocular vision, which is essential for judging distance and catching prey. Something that foxes do exceptionally efficiently.
Foxes are different from dogs as they have vertical pupils, much like cats. The shape of the pupil allows them to hunt in other light conditions and can hunt as effectively at night as they are during the day.
Foxes rely on all their senses to give them an advantage when perceiving the world around them. However, foxes do not rely on their vision as we do. Foxes do not have a great range of color vision, and their eyesight seems to be better when something is moving. They often seem unable to recognize us when we are standing still but will see us as soon as we move.
Foxes seem to have better short-range vision, allowing them to run through fields and bushes without too many problems. However, they do not appear to be able to see long distances.
As with many mammals, but not humans, primates, squirrels, and birds, the fox has an extra layer in the eye.
The tapetum lucidum is behind the light-sensitive cells and reflects light through the eye. This effectively allows the image to pass through twice, allowing them to see better in the dark. The tapetum lucidum is why some animals’ eyes reflect light when pointing a torch at them.
Foxes use all their senses to help them catch their prey, but their hearing is probably their most important sense. Foxes feed on many small mammals and insects, which can be hard to see. Because foxes don’t rely on their vision to catch their food, they need another way to pinpoint them.
Foxes hunt during the day and night, so hearing is essential, especially when quiet. Foxes often stop and prick their ears up and raise their head. Foxes can swivel their ears to find the exact source of the sound, rotating each ear up to 150 degrees in a single direction. Once they have located the sound, they will often pounce on the small animal.
Foxes can pounce a distance up to 3 meters away, locating their prey through the small, rustling sounds they make. Foxes have excellent low-frequency hearing, which allows them to hear them scuttling around. Without listening to these frequencies, the fox would have a much harder time trying to catch its prey.
Many small mammals and birds often use high-pitched calls to communicate. These sounds would be outside of the range of a fox’s hearing.
Foxes use the sense of smell in many different ways. They use it to detect food at night, and if you have ever left a trash bag out at night, you may wake up to it being strewn over your lawn in the morning.
Foxes will typically only go through trash bags if something is worth it inside. Foxes will sniff most bags, but only if there is a tasty morsel inside will they bother to rip them open. Food leftovers and takeaway boxes are interesting smells that they cannot resist.
Foxes have also been known to dig up carcasses of buried pets from the garden, with many young children surprised (or horrified) that their pet has risen from the grave.
Foxes will also dig up food that they or other animals have buried as they can smell the food when buried underground. Even if they don’t remember where they have buried their food, their sense of smell will help them.
Foxes also use smell to communicate with other foxes, allowing them to smell a female who is ready to reproduce. Foxes leave feces and urine around their territory, which signals to others that the area is already taken. Foxes will leave their waste on fence posts, gates, rockeries, ponds, and other objects.
Foxes have wet noses and need to keep them wet using secretions from the lateral nasal glands. The wet nose improves their sense of smell as it increases the amount of moisture they inhale and the scent particles.
Foxes have long, stiff hairs on their bodies. These are called vibrissae and help them feel their way around the world. Vibrissae include the whiskers on their faces, either side of their noses, around the chin, and their eyes, while also having them on their forelimbs.
Vibrissae help them transmit stimuli to the base where the sensory organs are and act as tactile organs. These hairs are different from their usual fur due to their ability to send back details to the brain, and the long hairs are buried three times as deep into the skin. These stiff hairs help foxes find food, express different facial expressions to help communicate, and detect wind and water.
Foxes use these at night to help them follow paths through fields and forests, using them to build up a map of their surroundings and travel their territory with pinpoint accuracy. Foxes also use the pads on their feet to get around surfaces such as branches and loose ground.
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.