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Some animals are really easy to tell apart the males and females, such as deer and cows with their very obvious antlers and horns. While these mammals are notable for their extreme sexual dimorphism, canids exhibit few obvious external differences, which is why it is difficult to determine the sex of wild foxes at a distance. Whether you're just interested in learning more about foxes and the different species of foxes or perhaps wanting a pet fox of your own, learning how to tell the sex of a fox can be useful.
According to the Institute of Vertebrate Zoology, the size, build and behavior are helpful criteria to determine the sex of foxes and other canids, but the most reliable distinction is to simply look at the animal’s genitals.
Visual Genital Differences
While you should never touch or interact with a wild fox, you can determine the sex of pet foxes by gently lay them on their back, and observing their genitals. The Mammal Research Institute report that male foxes — called dogs — have a sheath of skin and fur that contains the penis, which may be visible through the opening in the anterior side of the sheath. Additionally, males have enlarged, easily observed testes during the winter breeding season, although they become much less conspicuous during the summer. Females, who are often called vixens, obviously have no penis sheath; their genitals are less conspicuous and often obscured by fur. Additionally, mature females often exhibit conspicuous nipples.
Size and Build
Scientists have uncovered several subtle differences in size and build among various fox species. Animal Diversity research shows that male red (Vulpes vulpes) and gray foxes (Urocyon cinereoargenteus), as well as fennecs (Vulpes zerda), grow slightly larger and possess slightly larger skulls than females do. Still, these differences are quite subtle. For example, a 1995 study, published in the Journal of Mammalogy, found that Arctic fox males often weighed nearly 20 percent more than females, while their body lengths differed by less than 5 percent. In some species, for example red foxes, males have larger teeth than females do, but this is not a very helpful criteria for amateur pet keepers.
Males may exhibit several characteristic behaviors according to the Journal of Mammalogy — including heightened aggression, marking territory with urine and mounting other foxes. Neutered males may not exhibit these tendencies though, making behavior an unreliable indicator of sex. Because neutering or spaying foxes often provides health benefits, such as reduced rates of testicular cancer for males, and a decreased likelihood of developing breast cancer for females, owners often alter pet foxes.
If you are otherwise unable to distinguish the sex of your fox, consult your veterinarian. Your veterinarian can easily discern your pet's sex by examining his genitals. Your veterinarian may even be able to determine the sex of your fox without directly observing him: Researchers have developed a method for deciphering the sex of kit foxes by analyzing DNA collected from their droppings.
- Conservation Genetics: A Reliable, Non-Invasive Method for Sex Determination in the Endangered San Joaquin Kit Fox (Vulpes Macrotis Mutica) and Other Canids
- Animal Diversity Web: Vulpes Zerda
- British Columbia Ministry of Environment: Fur Bearer Management Guidelines: Red Fox
- Journal of Mammalogy: Growth, Size, and Sexual Dimorphism in Arctic Foxes
- Institute of Vertebrate Zoology: Sexual Dimorphism of Cranial Measurements in the Red Fox Vulpes Vulpes (Canidae, Carnivora) From the Czech Republic
- Mammal Research Institute: Geography of Sexual Dimorphism in the Tooth Size of the Red Fox Vulpes Vulpes (Mammalia, Carnivora)
- Biological Journal of the Linnean Society: Differential Sexual Dimorphism: Size and Shape in the Cranium and Pelvis of Grey Foxes (Urocyon)
- NorthCoast Bird and Exotic Specialty: Fox Vet
- Discover Wildlife: Understand Fox Behavior