Foxes are one of nature’s most beautiful predators. Native to many parts of the world including the United States, Canada, Europe and Asia, foxes are found in almost any country and in almost every environment. Extremely astute predators with very sharp senses, these animals possess impressive cognitive abilities that only add to their already mysterious reputation. Despite the differences between breeds such as the red fox, arctic foxes and fennec foxes, the general anatomy of the fox remains largely unchanged across the various breeds.
Red foxes, as the name suggests, are usually a brownish red (though their coats may contain white, black and other shades as well.) A naturally occurring shift in colors has given way to foxes known as silver foxes (who have coats that are predominantly gray) as well. Arctic foxes undergo a drastic change in color between the seasons, with their winter coats being white, while their summer coats are brown, black or gray. Fennec foxes, a small breed of fox that lives in the desert, have large ears and dusty brown fur. Resembling small dogs, foxes can weigh as little as 5 lbs. (in the case of fennecs) or up to 17 lbs. (in the case of red foxes), and are between 12 and 25 inches long not counting tail length. Similar to cats and dogs, a fox will shed its coat when it gets warm in the spring and will grow a thick undercoat in the fall when it starts to get colder.
Most foxes tend to have very sharply pointed faces. Red, silver and arctic foxes have ears that are slightly larger than what would seem proportional for their heads; fennecs, on the other hand, have ears that can be nearly the same size as their head. The ears of a fox are able to move in a number of directions, assisting their incredibly highly tuned sense of hearing. The eyes of foxes generally range in color from a dark amber to light gold, though other eye colors may appear as well. The eyes feature pupils that appear as a vertical slit, similar to what is commonly seen in cats.
Foxes have a large tail for their bodies, which can be nearly as long as their entire body and head. The tail is bushy and tends to be the same color as the body with a white tip. Like the tail of a cat, the fox’s long tail aids in balance, especially when leaping or moving. Foxes also use their tails to communicate with other foxes and to help keep them warm in colder weather. All breeds of fox except for fennecs have powerful musk glands near the base of their tail; fennecs have evolved in such a way that they do not produce musk so that they will not waste precious moisture in the desert.
Legs and Paws
Foxes are long-legged and slender, built for speed. Red and silver foxes have black feet and black legs up to the knee as characteristic markings, whereas other breeds tend to have more uniform coloring on their legs. Foxes can move at speeds of up to 30 miles an hour and can leap across distances of up to 6 feet. They are agile, and often tend to double back (crossing their own tracks) to confuse predators or prey. The feet of the fox have sharp claws, which aid in hunting sprinting; fennec foxes have especially powerful claws, enabling them to dig quickly and deeply in the sand and other soft materials.
The belly of most foxes is generally a shade of white, though this can range in color from an almost snowy white to more of a cream color. Though during the summer it is mostly unnoticeable, the undercoat gets exceptionally thick in the late fall leading into the winter. All breeds of foxes are very flexible, able to twist and turn quickly both to better elude predators and to easily double back on prey that thought it had escaped the fox's notice.
Born in West Virginia, Jack Gerard now lives in Kentucky. A writer and editor with more than 10 years of experience, he has written both articles and poetry for publication in magazines and online. A former nationally ranked sport fencer, Gerard also spent several years as a fencing coach and trainer.