Curious Facts About Foxes

"Have you ever seen a fox?" someone asked me this week. "In real life, I mean."

"Yes."

"In the zoo?"

"No. Out in the yard, outside Sword's school."

Sword was in kindergarten at the time. It was about six years ago. I was visiting the classroom, and the teacher, who was new to the school that year, was having trouble maintaining tight discipline. She kept enjoining everyone to be quiet and stay in their seats. Suddenly, one of the children cried out: "There's a fox!" Everyone ran to windows to look. Sure, enough, there was a fox wandering through the empty schoolyard.

The teacher had a very hard time getting everyone back in their seats. "Don't look!" she ordered. But many of the children continued to be drawn to the fox in the yard. I'll have to confess that I looked, too.

Who wouldn't? Foxes are inherently attractive. It's like magic!

Fox

There's something that touches us to our very core when we look at a fox
There's something that touches us to our very core when we look at a fox | Source

The Attraction to Foxes

Have you ever asked yourself why foxes are so beautiful? It may seem like a silly question, along the lines of "Why is the sky blue?" Or "why did They make flowers so pretty?"

But no question is really all that silly if you think about it. The sky is blue because most of the longer wave lengths pass straight through the gases in the atmosphere, but the shorter blue wavelengths get scattered. So that's why the sky looks blue to us. Flowers are pretty, because they have colors that are vibrant and contrast well with the green of the surrounding foliage, so they will stand out for bees and other insects that polinate them.

But foxes?! Why should foxes be attractive? Why are they not a browner or more mottled color, like jackals and hyenas? Or a darker brown or black like wolves? Why is there something in their facial features that seems so delicate and sweet that our heart just goes out to them? What evolutionary purpose does that serve?

Would a fox still be a fox if he looked different? Or is the way a fox looks part and parcel of how a fox behaves? Keep this question in mind, because we'll get back to it later.

The Reason I was Asked

The reason I was asked if I had ever seen a fox is that I recently published a children's picture book in verse, called In Case There's a Fox that featured my painting of a fox on the cover.

"So is that why you decided to write that poem and paint the painting?" I was asked. "Because you saw the fox?"

"No. Not really. I wrote the book a year before I saw the fox."

When we moved here, we were warned that it was a wilderness here. There were mountain lions, coyotes and bears. There might even be foxes. But the whole time we were on the lookout for foxes, not a single fox appeared.

Foxes are shy. Maybe there are foxes on my land, but they keep to themselves. They don't bother us, and we don't bother them.

It's actually in more urban environments that fox sightings are becoming more common, as man encroaches more and more on nature.

A Fox Hunts for Rodents

How Foxes Behave

Foxes are small to medium sized canids, smaller than a wolf, and often no larger than a domesticated cat. Their bushy tail and delicate nose are two of their most distinctive features.

Foxes are omnivores, but they prefer meat, and they love to hunt. Much of their diet includes invertebrates, but small rodents and voles are their favorite prey. They usually steer clear of humans, and attacks on human children are quite unlikely. Even in an encounter with a domesticated cat or dog, the fox will usually find that avoidance is preferable to confrontation.

Fox hunting rabbit

Foxes are Smart

Many make much of the fact that a fox is a wild animal, and that the wild lifestyle is the one that is most suited for a fox. While it is true that being penned in or bound or deprived of freedom would not be good for a fox -- and really who of us would want such a thing to happen to us? -- it is not true that foxes are inflexible or incapable of appreciating the finer points of civilization and technology.

Foxes are smart! Foxes are not simply given to behaviors that are inbred and hard-wired. They like to play. Their intelligence may have been granted to them so that they may be successful hunters, but once a creature has intelligence, its use is not limited to any particular purpose. While it is unlikely that a fox would build a trampoline on his own, when confronted by an existing trampoline, a fox knows just what to do!

Wild Foxes Know What a Trampoline is For

Red Fox Kits

All Babies are Beautiful

All babies are beautiful, and fox kits are no exception. But the fox continues to captivate us long after it is grown.

Foxes, in one form or another, are present throughout the globe and they have won a place in many cultures and literatures. One of my favorite poems about a fox is Le Corbeau et le Renard by La Fontaine. I first read it when I was ten years old and beginning to study French.

Maitre Corbeau et Maitre Renard

Le Corbeau et Le Renard by Jean de la Fontaine

Maître Corbeau, sur un arbre perché,
Tenait en son bec un fromage.
Maître Renard, par l'odeur alléché,
Lui tint à peu près ce langage :
"Hé ! bonjour, Monsieur du Corbeau.
Que vous êtes joli ! que vous me semblez beau !
Sans mentir, si votre ramage
Se rapporte à votre plumage,
Vous êtes le Phénix des hôtes de ces bois."
A ces mots le Corbeau ne se sent pas de joie ;
Et pour montrer sa belle voix,
Il ouvre un large bec, laisse tomber sa proie.
Le Renard s'en saisit, et dit : "Mon bon Monsieur,
Apprenez que tout flatteur
Vit aux dépens de celui qui l'écoute :
Cette leçon vaut bien un fromage, sans doute. "
Le Corbeau, honteux et confus,
Jura, mais un peu tard, qu'on ne l'y prendrait plus.

Children love to recite the poem by La Fontaine

Is It Okay to Write for Children About Foxes in Verse?

Those who abhor metrical poetry will tell you that it is old hat, and that it doesn't appeal to the masses. They claim that poems without meter are more accessible. But when was the last time you saw a child, or anyone else, reciting a non-metrical poem about a fox? Or about anything?

Never. It just doesn't work. Foxes are beautiful, and meter flows. It's just impossible to memorize the modern kind of poem. It would be like substituting a poodle for a fox.

Why the fox looks as he does

So now we come to the crux of the matter: is there some functional reason why a fox looks as he does? Or is everything that makes him attractive to us purely decorative? Does nature give beauty for no reason? Could the fox discard his appearance and still be a fox?

Science has the answer. In one word: pleiotropy. This means that certain genes carry information about more than one feature of an animal's physiology or behavior. When the fox was domesticated in Russia, the traits that were selected for were those that allowed foxes to live among humans, chief among them a "low flight distance". In other words, foxes who are tame are foxes who do not want to run away. These were mostly behavioral traits, but these behaviors had inescapable correlates also in matters of appearance. After a forty-five year domestication project, the foxes started to look like dogs -- just as they began to behave like dogs.

Instead of the bushy tail of the wild fox, the domesticated Russian foxes began to exhibit raised or curling tails that wagged when they were happy, floppy ears and color and odor changes. Apparently, the gene for "tameness" (low flight distance), also coded other more external traits for anatomy and looks.

In Case There's a Fox Cover

The cover of "In Case There's a Fox"
The cover of "In Case There's a Fox" | Source

Conclusion: The Beauty of the Fox is More than Skin Deep

Scientists now know what many conservationists deny: that it did not take tens of thousands of years to domesticate the dog and that the difference between wild and domesticated animals is a matter of selecting for certain key traits. All the other, more physiological differences between a wild canid and a domestic one are something that comes coded with the character traits that are necessary for domestic life.

Beauty is not skin deep. Beauty is the ability to live free and wild expressed in an external display of internal characteristics. Sometimes you can judge a book by its cover. We are drawn to the fox, because we, too, would like to be wild and free!


(c) 2010 Aya Katz

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Comments 31 comments

Deborah Demander profile image

Deborah Demander 6 years ago from First Wyoming, then THE WORLD

Lovely hub. I particularly enjoyed the child reciting the poem. My french is rusty, but I enjoyed reading and hearing the poem.

We live in a small Wyoming town, when I run, I see a fox almost daily. She lives along the tracks, about two miles outside of town. She is beautiful and elusive. I have also seen another fox out that way. He is larger and quicker.

Great hub.

Namaste.


Aya Katz profile image

Aya Katz 6 years ago from The Ozarks Author

Deborah Demander, thanks so much for your meaningful comment! Glad you enjoyed the video of the child reciting the poem. It's amazing how the things we learn in childhood stick with us throughout our lives.

You are so lucky to have seen both a fox and a vixen! Beautiful and elusive-- a great way to describe them.


lcg4jc profile image

lcg4jc 6 years ago

Beautiful hub and so informative. Thank you so much for sharing this with us on hubpages. I love the picture, it is very pretty. Also, I like the video of the foxes jumping on the trampoline. LOL Vary inquisitive animal indeed! Blessings to you and yours


Aya Katz profile image

Aya Katz 6 years ago from The Ozarks Author

Lcg4jc, thanks! The video of the foxes on the trampoline is my favorite, too!


nhkatz profile image

nhkatz 6 years ago from Bloomington, Indiana

In case it isn't obvious to everyone, I wanted to point out that de la Fontaine's poem is based on a fable by Aesop. It's a real favorite. Ireah loves it and it motivates him to eat cheese.


Aya Katz profile image

Aya Katz 6 years ago from The Ozarks Author

Thanks, Nets, for reminding me of that. I knew it was an Aesop's fable, but I was much more focused on the form that de la Fontaine gave it, than I was in on the plot of the story. Is it equally effective in prose? What language does Ireah know it in? Is it swiss cheese that it motivates him to eat?

Somewhere else I read that cheese is a topic on which the poets are silent. I'm not sure that's true.


Ef El Light profile image

Ef El Light 6 years ago from New York State

I recently published a play entitled the THE CHANCY FOXES, about Jim Fisk and Jay Gould and how they performed a major operation on the market in 1868. This sonnet is from one of the choral episodes. Fisk looked more like a bear than a fox. I think he resembled Limbaugh.

Third Choral Sonnet

Fisk, of accelerated foxiness,

Perceives invisibly the nearest way

To profit, never prime intents express

Among us making, plans in no display

Exposing. Covert prudence may befit

The chanciest fox. Evasive properties

Of swiftness are in ventures requisite,

Not leading imitators into these.

Not every fox a speculative Fisk

Becomes. Some die for politics and some

As lawyers dodge explicit laws and risk

Their lives. But Jim the deftest optimum

Of chance through foxy computation would

Possess, by withering mimics not withstood.


nhkatz profile image

nhkatz 6 years ago from Bloomington, Indiana

Ireah knows it in English from the Between the Lions presentation. There the cheese looks typically like orange food coloring and the cheese he likes to eat as a result is extra sharp cheddar.


Aya Katz profile image

Aya Katz 6 years ago from The Ozarks Author

F.L. Light, thanks for sharing the sonnet from your play, "The Chancy Foxes". Do you have plans for it to be produced? I suppose, being in New York City gives you lots of opportunities with local production companies? I am still shopping around for someone to produce my stage musical "The Debt Collector" (with composer Daniel Carter). Did you happen to catch my hub about that?

Plays in verse used to be the norm, but now are rare. I hope you find a good audience for yours.


Aya Katz profile image

Aya Katz 6 years ago from The Ozarks Author

Nets, it's a rare child that likes extra sharp cheddar. It must be one powerful "Between the Lions" segment to motivate him to eat that!


Ef El Light profile image

Ef El Light 6 years ago from New York State

I found about four a five likely companies in New York but they all take about six months for a decision. The Guide for Literary Agents has listings for theatrical agents. There are many companies devoted to Shakespeare that do some other plays.

I'll look for "The Debt Collector" hub after I post this.


Aya Katz profile image

Aya Katz 6 years ago from The Ozarks Author

F. L. Light, thanks for the added information. I hope you find the right company for your play.

In a rural location, which is where I am now, there are fewer outlets, but sometimes it takes getting to know people who are interested in putting on a new show. Only time will tell.


Kind Regards profile image

Kind Regards 6 years ago from Missouri Ozarks - Table Rock Lake

Aya Katz, What an interesting Hub. Foxes indeed are a creature that has captivated the imagination. True what you said about their sightings. I never saw a fox once when I lived in the Ozarks, but I saw them many times when I lived in San Diego! Kind Regards


Jeremey profile image

Jeremey 6 years ago from Arizona

Great write on the fox. My father kept an injured fox as a pet when I was a boy, until it's broken legs healed. Man did this hub bring back memories. Almost finished reading your hubs about 'Bow'. Absolutely amazing thing you've got going on there. Wish I could put pics in the comments, I'd show you some of my fox pics. Thanks for a fun reading.


Aya Katz profile image

Aya Katz 6 years ago from The Ozarks Author

Thanks, Kind Regards! You were lucky to see those foxes in San Diego! But I think the foxes in the Ozarks who live quiet, unobtrusive lives among us are luckier still!


Aya Katz profile image

Aya Katz 6 years ago from The Ozarks Author

Jeremy, wow! You knew a wild fox up close and personal? That seems like an excellent topic for a hub of your own. That way, you could also display your pictures.

If you do, why not include an Amazon capsule for "In Case There's a Fox"? And please come back and post a link to your hub right here!


libby101a profile image

libby101a 6 years ago from KY

Beautiful. I loved this. Very well written and informative!!!


Aya Katz profile image

Aya Katz 6 years ago from The Ozarks Author

Thanks, Libby101a.


Sally's Trove profile image

Sally's Trove 6 years ago from Southeastern Pennsylvania

I've had close encounters with fox many times, and I believe these incidences are because the fox persists in environments overrun by humans. It may be, as you say, that it's more likely to see a fox in developed areas than in the wild.

This last summer, in my suburban community, I came face to face just after dawn with a magnificent fox who stared at me for a moment, as much surprised as I was, and then went swiftly on his way. (I wrote about this encounter here in the Hub about the tomato killer on the loose.) Clearly, his natural habitat was so compromised that he had entered into ours.

There's a long-lived, isolated population of fox on Brigantine Island in New Jersey. No one knows for sure where they came from. Before the last 100 years or so the island was accessible only by boat, but the fox were present even before then.

Thanks for this Hub. It expresses so many dimensions of the fox in terms of how he affects us...as embodiment of the wild, as survivor at the loss of the wild, as an echo of the creature that we may see in our dogs' eyes if we look carefully, and as artistic and philosophical inspiration.


Aya Katz profile image

Aya Katz 6 years ago from The Ozarks Author

Sally's Trove, this is one of my favorite comments! The mystery of the island bound foxes of Brigantine Island bears further investigation. I loved your description of that one sudden moment of silent communion with the fox you met at dawn last summer. I will have to look up your hub about the tomato killer on the loose.


Peter Dickinson profile image

Peter Dickinson 6 years ago from South East Asia

In my working life foxes could be a real pain at times and cause an awful lot of damage. Some pest control was necessary so I have trapped a few and shot a few more. At other times I have rescued, hand reared and released foxes back into the wild. I have shared my house with them. As both friend and foe I have the utmost respect for this very beautiful and cunning creature. Thank you for your hub.


Aya Katz profile image

Aya Katz 6 years ago from The Ozarks Author

Peter, thanks for your comment and for sharing your experiences, both pleasant and unpleasant, with foxes. When you say "in my working life" do you mean when you were employed at a zoo?

They are indeed very beautiful and very smart. I think anyone who has had more than a passing acquaintance with a fox is very lucky.


H P Roychoudhury profile image

H P Roychoudhury 6 years ago from Guwahati, India

Enjoyable article.


drbj profile image

drbj 6 years ago from south Florida

Well written and absolutely fascinating, Aya. Thank you. I especially enjoyed watching your video of the two foxes on the trampoline. The one fox didn't seem to realize there was something different about the trampoline. But the other with the white-tipped tail had a more "inquiring personality" and seemed to enjoy jumping on this new strange ground.


Aya Katz profile image

Aya Katz 6 years ago from The Ozarks Author

HP Roychoudhury, thank you! I'm glad you enjoyed the article.


Aya Katz profile image

Aya Katz 6 years ago from The Ozarks Author

Dr. BJ, thanks! It is not strictly speaking "my" video of the foxes on the trampoline. It's just one I found on YouTube and embedded. I wish there had been foxes on my trampoline, but the only creatures that have used the one in my yard, as far as I know, have been humans, chimpanzees and dogs!

You're right, though, that no two foxes are the same, and one of the two featured in that video definitely understood the secret of the trampoline better than the other.


lrc7815 profile image

lrc7815 3 years ago from Central Virginia

Ava, I love this hub and I love the cover of your book. The painting is beautiful. For many years I watched kit foxes play in my back yard every year. They were adorable. Having the chance to observe them, I learned how very smart they really are. After moving to the city, I discovered how much I missed those little babies. This was a trip back in time for me. Thank you so much for a hub that describes them as the beautiful creature they are. Voted up, awesome, and beautiful


Aya Katz profile image

Aya Katz 3 years ago from The Ozarks Author

Thanks, LRC. You are so lucky to have seen fox kits in person playing in your back yard!


kenneth avery profile image

kenneth avery 2 years ago from Hamilton, Alabama

Hello, Atya,

This is an excellent piece of writing. Amazing, to be precise.

I loved every word of it.

I love foxes. I love the Ozarks.

Voted up and all the choices because you deserve it.

You have such a gift for writing. Just use it without a selfish motive and no telling at how far you will go and how many people you will touch.

I have just left you some fan mail and become a follower.

I cordially invite you to read one or two of my hubs, and be one of my followers.

That would make my day.

I am so honored to meet you and follow you.

Sincerely,

Kenneth/ from northwest Alabama


Aya Katz profile image

Aya Katz 2 years ago from The Ozarks Author

Thanks, Kenneth.

I loved all the compliments, but I am not thrilled with the admonition not to be selfish. I subscribe to the virtue of selfishness, and I am very suspicious of people who think being motivated by your own best interest is a vice. I have found that in life those who behave best to others are also kindest to themselves.

By the same token, reciprocity for the sake of reciprocity I think is not a good thing. It is one hand washes the other and I'll scratch your back if you scratch mine. Would it not make sense to admire others without regard to whether they admire us? This is the most noble thing in the world, because it means being true to oneself.


Kenneth Avery 2 years ago

Dear Aya,

You have a point, but I should have explained my view in-depth. I asked that you continue to write but NOT "just" for personal fame, wealth, and for YOU ONLY. Your writing touched me as it has many others. You are sharing something that is very special.

You can trust me because I never had the intent of referring to your writing as a vice--it is a beautiful work that you are doing. Keep it up.

Kenneth

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