How do Foxes adapt to their environment? – (Fox Adaptations)

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How do foxes adapt to their environment? Here are the Some Significant Adaptations You Must Know

There are more than 30 different species of fox known to mankind. Out of these 30 different species, 12 species are considered true foxes and they fall under the Genus Vulpes of the Animal Kingdom.

Out of these 12 true fox species, Red Box is the most widely found and well-known species in the world with over 47 recognized subspecies.

Most of the evolutionary, biological, and behavioural studies that are done on the foxes were conducted on Red Foxes because they are wide spread throughout the globe.

There are a lot of notable adaptations in present day foxes that helps them to survive and reproduce well.

Those that were not able to adapt well have already gone extinct which includes more than 25 different extinct species of foxes as reported by researchers.

Below, here are some of the most significant adaptations that are seen in foxes. Check these out:

1. Their ability to swim is a great hunting skill

Yes! Foxes are very good swimmers. Although they do avoid swimming, but when it is required they are not afraid to swim.

All of the species of fox are awesome swimmers, and they can swim at a pretty decent speed.

But, in some cases when there may be a predator like a crocodile in water or the water is very deep then they may avoid swimming.

Foxes are opportunistic hunters, and they can opt to enter the water and swim very well in order to catch any fish, duck, goose, screamers, and even crabs that come their way.

They are mostly seen swimming in water that is not more than 12 to 13 feet deep. While swimming they do keep a close view around by keeping their head out of the surface of the water.

Just like dogs, they swim by paddling their forelimbs while keeping their hind limbs loose with a motion to push the water backside, and when they get a prey coming their way they do grab it with their mouth following a quick short leap.

Although they are awesome swimmers but they do swim a little, often driving their prey out of the water for an easy kill.

2. They are also good tree climbers

Foxes climbing trees are very well-known in the wild. It has been mostly seen that the red foxes, great foxes, and Bengal foxes are very good tree climbers.

This adaptation has helped them to keep an eye over their territory by sitting on the tree tops, to feed on the birds’ eggs, and also to save them from predators and during forest flood conditions if encountered.

It has been also reported in the wild that the foxes do climb up the trees and sleep there in shade during the times of harsh scorching day heat.

They are also known to sleep inside bird nests such as those of owls or hawks. And many have also been seen climbing the trees to feed on the fruits and vines as well, as they follow an omnivorous diet.

Many foxes have retractable claws that allow them to climb rooftops or trees. This is good for roaming around, preying, and also to be saved from predators.

Their strong hind limbs help them pull their body upwards while they climb, and that their forelimbs help them to grab hold of the tree trunk and branches by balancing them while they are climbing up the tree.

3. They are adaptable to regions with very harsh winter conditions

Yes, for the foxes, summer, spring, and autumn seasons are the best seasons to enjoy no scarcity of food. However, when it is the winter season the availability of food decreases considerably.

Those that live in the cold winter conditions are physically well adapted to have thicker fur, extra body fat, and better thermoregulatory processes.

They are known to even decrease their physical activities during the harsh conditions by feeding on the stocked food, and also to conserve energy in order to survive.

As seen in red foxes they grow long coats of fur that cover them in order to protect them from the harsh cold winter and thermoregulate themselves by aiding in insulation. They can be also seen curling like a ball and sleeping to avoid the extreme cold.

While those of the Arctic foxes are noted for having thick fur on their paws, and tail which allows them to walk on both snow and ice while insulating them from the cold environment.

Their thick body fats help them to minimize the body heat loss to the surrounding. And, also due to having small body parts their body remain in less contact with the atmosphere, thus allowing them to conserve more heat.

Foxes go deep inside their burrows to insulate them. During most of the time of the day, they remain hidden inside their deep burrows.

Those that live in extremely cold conditions like the Arctic fox are known to follow countercurrent heat exchange mechanisms through their paws.

They do this by maintaining a lower temperature in their paws as compared to the upper body. And, this physiological mechanism aids them to lower their whole temperature and minimize the heat loss via the paws that are in contact with the cold ground surface such as ice and snow. ​

4. They have an awesome capability to camouflage

Yes, foxes can camouflage very very well. Their fur color and body appearance help them to match with their type of surroundings.

This aid them to stay away from their predators while also hiding them while taking a sneak peak to catch their prey.

Yes, foxes are also known to change colors based on the season, their age, and the time of the year.

Fox pups also change their body color as they grow from summer season to the winter season of the year.

Adult foxes are known to normally shed their excess fur during the summer season of the year to get rid of the excess body heat. And, as the winter approaches, they regrow long thick fur to conserve the heat within their body.

And as they do, their body color also changes from lighter to darker shed and vice versa based on seasonal changes.

Just, for example, Arctic foxes have a darker brown or gray color, and brown bellies with white spots during the summer season to match the less snow surrounding. While in the winter months, they turn white to match with the snow.

Others like the Red fox species will have a light red color during the summer season, and as the winter season approaches, they turn from golden red to dark red color.

Based on this principle as the foxes body color change they show varied color morphs depending on the species type and location to best match their type of surroundings.

Also, it is to be noted that due to the various adaptational genetic mutations caused over time various color mutations have occurred in the various species of foxes because of the various cross-breeding, genetic drift, locational change like conditions over the course of evolution.

Like for example, in red foxes, there are sub-species that show red-brown, red-orange, silver-back, dark brown-black, darker beige-red, pink-golden, and gray-white fur colorations to better match their type of environment and camouflage very well.

Another like the desert foxes, for example Fennec fox, Cape fox, Culpeo fox, etc. show different shades of cream and tan colors tp match with the dry desert coloration.

5. They are cunning and have very good hunting skills

Yes, foxes are really very clever animals. They can think and react almost instantly to take up a decision, let it be a hunting decision or a life-saving decision to get away from predators and hunters.

They act the most perfectly to lead a life while being hidden from the rest of the other animal’s vision. For doing so, they make the best use of their color morphology to camouflage very well.

And yes, as they grow up from their puppy phase to adult phase they learn and adapt very quickly looking at their parents and siblings, and yes soon they become able to strategize through the problems facing them.

The best skill they gather during their lifetime is the way they hunt, gather food, and store it as a future stock.

The fox due to their cunningness and better learning abilities are able to hunt small reclusive animals like insects, rodents, rabbits, fishes, and birds.

Not only that, they can even strategize to steal food from their neighbours and other animals if they can in order to get easy food.

Anyways, it has been well seen that when they are in hard harsh conditions they behave and strategize very well in order to solve the scarcity of food resources and also to solve new problems approaching their ways.

The best way they do is that they store food in caches inside their burrows when there’s enough food available to them so that they don’t need to search for food in harsh conditions.

Their very good hunting skills are due to the awesome working coordination of their senses. They also act nocturnal sometimes and so can also be seen hunting at the dawn and dusk time.

They don’t run after their prey as cheetahs or leopards do. Instead, they hunt by stalking their live prey by making well use of their eyes, ears, nose, and color morphs.

They have excellent hearing and smelling capability to find their prey, and also that they use a very well-structured sudden and pouncing technique that allows them to kill their prey quickly and instantly before the prey’s initial reaction time.

6. They mate for life and are very social creatures

Some species of fox like the Gray foxes, Arctic foxes, Cape foxes, etc. are monogamous in nature, meaning that they do mate for life.

While other species like the Red foxes, Kit foxes, Swift foxes, etc. are usually monogamous, but polygamy (mating with multiple partners) is also common in a few of the species.

The majority of the fox species known so far are strictly monogamous in nature, just like that of the gray foxes, which are known to never mate again after the death of a mate.

And, that all of the foxes known so far are very social creatures. All live in social groups or their type of families with each group having equal number of dogs (male foxes) and vixens (female foxes) with their pups.

They live in so-called social groups or families with having 3 to 10 adults per group and 5 to 6 baby foxes (pups).

A group of foxes forming a group can be called a leash, skulk, or earth, or pack. They are so social that they like to stick near to their family members.

The whole family takes the charge of rearing up the pups. Even the father and older siblings takes the charge of rearing the pups.

The mother’s contribution is more in rearing the pups and in teaching them the real life skills like walking, hunting, communicating, etc.

It is also to be noted that after the fox pups are born, they can’t see, hear or walk, and during that time you will find them under the good custody of their mother’s care.

This aids them to survive well and learn how to adapt to their type of environment as the pups grow up.

7. They have a very good sense of smell, hearing, and vision

Overall in their body physiology they make the proper use of their sense of smell, hearing, and vision by following a quick adapt quick learn strategy with that of the environment.

This helps them to learn about the environment, the weather and climatic conditions, food availability and scarcity, boundaries of their territory, and also in finding mates.

They use their sense of smell to detect their food either fresh or rotten. In the wild, they often choose to scavenging food to make an easier meal.

They heavily rely on their sense of smell to find food, mates, and communicate with each other very well.

It has been reported that at night time they make the best use of their sense of smell when there is low visibility to conduct their livelihoods.

They do also use their great sense of hearing which is very sensitive to low frequency sounds. Meaning that at 60 dB sound they can easily listen at frequency between between 45 Hz and 64 kHz.

As seen by researchers that they can easily locate sound between 900 Hz and 14 kHz with at least 90% accuracy.

This means that they can hear a mouse that is at a 100 feet distance from the fox and so they can approach it to dig the burrow and prey on it.

It is also to be noted that all foxes have excellent eyesight and night vision, which allows them to navigate at night. Mostly the desert foxes are known to better perform at nightime.

Although, this doesn’t mean that the foxes are strictly nocturnal. In fact, they can opt to choose to go out at night without much difficulty.

They can also see well in dim light i.e. in the dawn and dusk time with no issue at all. Desert foxes do well during this time as due to their type of adaptation to get rid of the extreme heat of the sun during this time of the day.

It doesn’t matter for the foxes if it is night, day, dawn, or dusk, and it’s because they can see very well by adjusting the amount of light entering their eyes.

All thanks to its vertically-slit pupils that are elliptical in nature. This aids them to see better by precisely regulating the amount of light entering the eye. It also helps the foxes to focus sharply on small, ground-based prey as it moves.

Also, that their vertically-slit pupils help them improve their quality of their vision in very bright conditions.

So, all of these helps to make them a better hunter and survive well while having a fast reaction time.

8. They build dens in the ground where they live and raise their young ones

Over the course of evolution, foxes have learned to adapt to living in deep burrows in many ways.

Living in burrows helps them to stay away from the extreme weather conditions, thermoregulate themselves, give birth and rear their young ones, and also to store food for future use.

Foxes have many dens or so-called fox earth inside their territorial boundaries with all of them connected to each other via underground channels. The primary use of the dens is to raise young ones and store food.

Their dens can be 50 feet in length, and around 3 feet to 10 feet in depth based on the species type, location, and environmental conditions.

They are opportunistic hunters and when they find enough food available to them then they collect those and bring them back to their dens and store them in caches at various parts of the den.

These stored food caches will be their future food stock during the harsh condition when there will be scarcity of food.

Also, it is to be noted that the young and newly born fox pups are vulnerable to various predators and other intruder foxes.

So, the mothers always opt to give birth to their young ones and raise them inside the deep den to protect them from the outer world till they become old enough to lead their life by themselves.

It has been also seen that the enough food cache that was stored in the den can help the mother to feed on during her pregnancy time.

As the pups are born, it has been also seen that the fox parents will chew up food, and regurgitate it back to the little fox kits for the first couple of weeks. All of these happens inside their dens.

This adaptation of living inside the dens and storing food and raising their young ones there help them survive well and also protect the youngs from getting killed during their initial stages of growth.

9. They can communicate with each other very well

Foxes also signal each other by making scent posts. This is done by urinating on trees, rocks, soil regions, etc. surrounding their territorial boundaries to announce their presence.

They do also communicate through body language and vocalizations (contact calls and interaction calls) as well.

While fighting they can show various behaviours like biting, scratching, etc. And while playing they can show gaping, pouncing, erect ears and tail, and rolling over each other.

They do also make various sounds like barking, screaming, howling, squealing, and various others during the time they fight, call for each other, or while mating depending on the ongoing situation.

Their communication through scent markings is the most well-studied.

Male foxes have a special organ that is known as the Organ of Jacobson to get the scent of the pheromones from the female’s urine. This organ is located at the base of the fox’s nasal cavity.

This organ helps the male to find a female and also learn if she is ready to mate.

They also have various special furs on their body located in positions like on their muzzles (at around the nose and mouth), and forelegs (around the carpal or wrist joint).

These specialized furs are also called ‘vibrissae’ or ‘whiskers’ which are associated with special nerve cells that are extremely sensitive to any contact, and help them communicate with each other and also to know their surroundings well.

There are various sensitive whiskers (specialized furs) located on the pads of their feet that aid them in navigation.

They also have anal glands at the two anal-sacs, and they do also have a supra-caudal gland located on the upper surface of their tail. These also help them in detecting the scents and communicate with each other from a far distance.

So, it is very much clear that they can communicate with each other very well using pheromones excreted through their urines.

So, in order to send pheromonal signals a male raises one hind leg and sprays urine in front of him. While in the case of the females, they squat and spray urine between their hind legs.

10. They give birth to a litter of 2 to 12 pups in the spring season of the year

Foxes mate for life and will usually be pregnant to give birth once a year. They can give birth to anywhere between 2 to 12 puppies based on the species type and prevailing environmental conditions.

Multiple birth process defines the biological process that caused the delivery of more than one offspring (which is here between 2 to 12 pups) in a single birth event.

This multiple birth is so because the female fox can produce many egg cells from their ovaries to be fertilized by the male’s sperm.

This is so because their canine ancestors have adapted themselves to produce many offspring per birth. And, there is a whole new evolutionary reason for such a cause.

As it has reported that foxes live in some of the harshest habitats where the pups are much more vulnerable to being killed, so the environment has gifted them with an adaptation of multiple ovulation so that they can give birth to multiple pups at a time and increase the chances of their species survival and over time leading to speciation.

It has been reported that almost 20% of the born pups die within one or two weeks in the summer season after birth inside their dens.

While those that have already grown to become teenage also find it difficult to survive during the winter season leading to death in a few of them.

So, taking into consideration their case of less survival in the wilderness there’s a need of giving birth to more pups so that their generation can continue and that the species don’t get extinct over time.

So, we can finally state that their biological process of giving birth to a litter of 2 to 12 pups in the spring season of the year is a very good evolutionary adaptation for them to increase their chances of staying alive in the harsh wild.

11. They have an omnivorous diet

In the wild where there is a lot of competition for food and survival, it becomes really very hard for foxes to survive by establishing a really good balance with its food chain and so with the various food webs respectively.

It becomes hard for them, mostly in the winter season when there is scarcity of food.

So, in order to cope up with such a cause they have learned and have well-adapted to feeding on a wide variety of food items ranging from fleshy items to scavengering around to even feeding on fruits and vegetables.

This has made them turn into being an omnivorous animal. Although, many would like to call foxes carnivores and yes that’s true. But during harsh times, they do feed on seeds, fruits vegetables, etc. and which is why it is always better to call them omnivorous animals.

They are really great cunning hunters that prey upon rabbits, rodents, birds, frogs, insects, butterflies, earthworms, etc., and even on dead rotten flesh, eggs, fishes. And, yes they can be also seen feeding on berries and fruits too.

So, as for having such a type of diverse omnivorous diet, it aids them to better survive in the wild.

12. Their other notable adaptations

Foxes have small, round, compact bodies and this helps them minimize the surface area that is exposed to the cold air.

They do also have short muzzle, ears, and legs which also conserves heat and help them to better thermoregulate.

While hunting or in search of new mates or territories they can be seen to run really very fast with a speed up to 45 mph (72 km/h).

They can grow their fur during the winter season to help them get rid of the extreme cold, while during the summer season they shed excess body fur to help them keep cool and comfortable.

Various other foxes, just like the Arctic foxes, have thick fur on their paws, which allows them to walk on both snow and ice.

They can communicate via. pheromones by urinating which helps them to mark their territorial boundaries.

Their pointed, long, thin nose aids to process evaporative cooling and most likely forms part of a brain cooling mechanism. This adapts them to warm climates and helps them survive and stay cool.

Foxes can see less color and their vision is a bit faded as compared to that of humans. In fact, foxes possess dichromatic (two-colour) vision that essentially makes them red-green colour blind.

Foxes have more rods than cones in the retina. So, that’s why they can see clearly at night time. And also due to this, they can differentiate between shades of grey, and so can better pick out movement than we humans can.

Their sharp, pointed teeth are typical to carnivores and help them to tear through the meat. And that their semi-retractable claws aid them to climb trees and grab prey very easily with a leap.


How do foxes survive in the forest?

So, we have learned about so many adaptations till now, here in this post. All of these adaptations are actually the ways and capabilities that foxes have adapted to survive in the wild.

These adaptations help the foxes to directly or indirectly interact with their type of environment and the situations persisting there all biochemically, physiologically, and physically.

So, the first is that foxes live inside the deep burrows or dens that help them in a number of ways from the various harsh environmental effects.

They do also follow an omnivorous diet by feeding on meat, fruits, and vegetables. Mostly they are carnivores and feed on the meat of their prey.

Winter is the hardest season for them. So, during this time they choose to mate and stay inside their dens, and as the late spring season approaches, they give birth to their pups who grow well during the summer to autumn season of the year.

During the summer to autumn season of the year, there is enough food available to them. So. they are seen storing it for future stock inside the burrows for the winter harsh scare food conditions.

They have well-designed, muscular, well-streamlined bodies to help them run very fast and catch their prey. Their sharp claws and jaws are strong enough to kill their type of prey very easily.

These senses of smell, touch, vision, and hearing are really very good. These help them to better communicate, protect their territories, breed well, and lead a very social life.

And yes, they are very social animals with at least 7 to 14 members in each family. They mate for life and stay happily with their siblings, mate, and pups, until and unless someone chooses to get out of the skulk (fox’s family) to start its own skulk.


How do foxes adapt to winter weather?

Yes, foxes had great adaptations to adapt to the winter season very well. As the winter approaches, they re-grow their body fur and make their adipose tissue thick with fat deposits which better helps them to insulate in order to conserve the body heat.

Their long thick body fur works to protect them from the snow and winter air by just acting like a thick jacket over their bodies.

During the winter season, they mostly stay inside their dens so that they come in less contact with snow and harsh winter air.

They have already stocked food inside their dens during the early summer to autumn seasons which will now help them survive inside the dens without the need for much coming outside in the cold.

Their thick body fat is the result of fulfilled eating during the summer to autumn time of the year. This thick layer of fat will now provide them with a good amount of energy without the need for fulfilled eating.

Those winter or cold areas living foxes have small body parts, including their legs, necks, and ears compared to the rest of the fox family. As a result of these, they have less body surface to be exposed to the external cold atmosphere and thus allowing them to keep more heat conserved in the body and stay warm.

They also grow thick fur in the paws that help them to better protect their feet from the wintry conditions, and thus minimizes the loss of their body heat to the surroundings.

We all have noticed that foxes have thick fur, right? In fact, those that live in the far colder regions like for example the Arctic Fox have very thick tail (or the so-called “brush”).

Their tail is used as a warm cover in cold weather to insulate and better protect them while they remain sleeping by curling like a ball inside their dens.


How have foxes adapted to urban life?

Foxes being omnivorous, quick-moving, and quick-learning animals have adapted very well to urban life. People now consider them as good pest controllers as they are often seen feeding on crows, pigeons, rats, and other rodents.

They can also be seen finding food from the human garbage and feeding on them with ease.

Those that have made their territories inside peoples’ yards act as a watch guard security for that place.

In fact, if you remove a fox from an area they have habituated, then chances are very high that new foxes may claim that left-over territory within a matter of days.

Urban foxes primarily scavenge for food. And so, they have developed strong stomachs and immune systems to cope up with this behaviour.

In the urban areas, it has been seen that the foxes’ behaviour is directly influenced by how humans act towards them.

Meaning that the fox population in the urban cities is limited due to the less availability of enough resources for them. And so, if people encourage close contact and provide them with the resources like food, etc then this could lead to an increase in their population count over time in the urban areas.

In urban cities, they do rarely live in dens. In fact, they make their habitats in areas of abandoned buildings, plots, behind the walls, water holes, shed-roofs, nearby the drains, garbage plots, under the trees, on railway embankments, etc.

In short, for urban foxes, the search for new territories can lead the animals into man-made structures.

Their coming to urban areas is a result of the consequent destruction of hedgerows, scrubs, forests, and their natural habitat loss in the wild due to human intervention with nature over time.

It has been seen that those foxes that live in the urban parts grow larger as compared to those that live in wild. This is because they get abundant food from garbage bins and also due to the lack of predators and harsh environmental conditions.

However, a large number of foxes getting killed over time due to sudden road accidents have also been reported.

So, the urban foxes have now learned and have adapted a lot of new ways to act and move in urban life without bringing much risk to their life.

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