Foxes belong to the family called Canidae, which contains 36 extant species of dog-like carnivores. This family also includes jackals, coyotes, dogs and wolves, among other mammals. Each member of this family is known as canid. Canids are widely distributed across the world, except Antarctica. Canids are one of the oldest living carnivores, dating back to the Oligocene epoch. But before we deep dive into what do foxes eat in the wild, let’s first explore briefly about this amazingly adaptable animal.
When we call “foxes”, it typically refers to the 12 living species from the genus Vulpes. ‘Vulpes’ is a Latin word, which means ‘fox’. All members of this genus are, therefore, known as ‘true foxes’.
Foxes are opportunistic feeders. They can thrive in just about any kind of habitat as long as it offers food and shelter. With flattened skull, pointed snout and strong jaws, foxes are strong enough to chase down virtually any prey with ease. Thanks to their long bushy tail (which is about one-third of their body length), they can keep themselves warm and cozy in frigid environments. They often invade dens of rabbits or marmots.
What Do Foxes Eat in the Winter
Red foxes are the most well-known and widely distributed species among canids. With long whiskers and excellent night vision, they are by far the largest species in the genus. They are solitary and terrestrial mammals.
Being omnivores, they often prey on eastern cottontail rabbits, squirrels, rodents, birds, insects, and fruits. In addition, they may also feed on carrion. They are also known to cache food.
They are pretty smart animals too, thanks in part to their special technique for hunting mice. Once they spot a mouse, they listen carefully and do not move a muscle. After that, they leap high and then pin the mouse down by using their forelimbs.
With batlike huge ears, fennec foxes are also referred to as ‘desert foxes’. They are the smallest Vulpes species, measuring up to only 16 inches in length. Since they thrive in deserts of North Africa, fennec foxes can survive without water for extended periods.
These wily creatures mainly chomp on plant vegetation. Moreover, they also gobble up eggs, insects, reptiles, and rodents.
With fluffy tail, thick coat and furry white body, arctic foxes are arguably the champions of the Arctic winter. Actually, there is a layer of thick fur coat all around their bodies as well as on their feet. Moreover, they wrap around their long fluffy tails and keep themselves warm while getting to sleep. Thanks to the fox’s ‘snow boots’, they can effectively sneak up on any prey in the icy Arctic. The prey cannot hear the muffled footsteps of the fox due to the furry soles.
Arctic foxes typically like to scarf down lemmings and other small rodents. However, when the food supply runs out, they will live off just about anything available. For that reason, insects and berries are also on the menu of these bushy-tailed mammals. Not only this, they may also dine on other animals’ droppings and even leftovers of the polar bear’s hunt.
These hardy mammals may tunnel under the snow and take shelter inside a snow den (for up to 14 days), just in case the weather gets too harsh.
Sources & Further Reading:
Hubbard, T. 2019. “Vulpes” (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed March 31, 2021
Fox, D. 2007. “Vulpes vulpes” (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed March 31, 2021
Fahey, B. and P. Myers 2000. “Canidae” (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed March 31, 2021
Stains, Howard James and Lariviere, Serge. “Canine“. Encyclopedia Britannica, 25 May. 2020
“Fennec Fox“. National Geographic.
“Arctic Fox“. National Geographic.