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11 fascinating facts about foxes

  • Feb 07, 2016
  • 597 words
  • 3 minutes
A red fox enjoys the first snowfall of the year in Algonquin Provincial Park. (Photo: Nicki Williams/CanGeo Photo Club)
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Aesop’s fox goes for the unreachable grapes, Chaucer’s almost makes off with the prize rooster Chauntecleer, and there are dozens of versions of First Nations and Inuit stories about the fox as a trickster. But beyond the fables and folklore, these light-footed canids are fascinating in their own right. Read on to find out about foxes in Canada — how some are surprisingly skilled tree climbers, how they use Earth’s magnetic field, even why fox calls have been mistaken for humans shouting.

Four species of foxes live in Canada: red, Arctic, swift and grey.

  1. Foxes are solitary creatures, and do not form packs like wolves and coyotes. They are nevertheless monogamous, and den together in family “leashes,” “skulks” or “earths” while raising their young. Kits live with their parents until they’re about seven months old.
  2. Thanks to their fur, which is the warmest of any animal, Arctic foxes can thrive in temperatures lower than -50 C, and live farther north than any other land-based mammal (sightings have been recorded near the North Pole)
  3. A pair of Arctic fox parents with a litter of 10 nearly grown kits must kill more than 100 lemmings or other small rodents a day to feed their family.
  4. Swift foxes are North America’s smallest wild dogs. Adults weigh between two and three kilograms — not much more than a Chihuahua.
  5. The grey fox is the only member of the dog family that can climb trees, and do so to hunt or for safety, scrambling up trunks and jumping between branches with great agility. Dens are usually made close to ground level, but have been recorded in hollow spaces in tree trunks or branches as much as 10 metres above the forest floor.
  6. The red fox is not only the most common fox in Canada, it’s the most widely distributed and populous carnivore in the world.
  7. Foxes have a repertoire of more than 20 vocalizations, including various barks, whines and squeals used to communicate with family members, threaten rival foxes and attract mates. The most unsettling of these sounds is the almost human-sounding (and sometimes hair-raising) contact call described as the fox “scream.” While males scream occasionally, the sound is most commonly utilized by vixens during mating season.
  8. In 2011, Czech scientists studied hundreds of fox pounces and realized that the skilled hunters generally point north when they attack (about 20 degrees east of North, to be exact). It’s believed that foxes sense Earth’s magnetic field and use it to fine-tune judge the direction — and unlike any other species — the distance of their prey under the snow or in vegetation.
  9. Banned in Britain in 2005, there are still 11 foxhound (fox hunting) associations listed in Canada, and 146 in the U.S. In North America, while the emphasis is on the chase rather than the kill, the Masters of Foxhound Association still holds that “It is inevitable, however, that hounds will at times catch their game. Death is instantaneous.”
  10. There are many stories about the fox in Canada’s First Nations and Inuit lore. Foxes are alternatively sly tricksters (a role that they share with the raven), wise elders and even hunters’ wives. In one Inuit legend, after the creation of light, the fox and the raven argued about which would dominate the new world. The fox, after all, hunts hidden in the dark, while the raven needs light to find food. In the end they divided the days and seasons into periods of daylight and darkness.

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