Outforia Quicktake: Key Takeaways
- Foxes are classified within a number of genera and are part of the family Canidae, meaning they are a type of canine.
- There are 23 living species of foxes, classified into 6 genera, with the largest genus being Vulpes, containing 12 species known as the true foxes.
- Foxes are usually small canines with triangular ears, a flattened skull, pointed snout, and a bushy tail, with most being omnivorous and either nocturnal or crepuscular.
- Baby foxes are called kits, with female foxes known as vixens and male foxes called tods.
- Despite popular belief, foxes cannot mate with domestic dogs due to their different chromosome counts, making it impossible for them to produce viable offspring.
Whether you think they’re sly and cunning or cute and fluffy, there’s no denying that foxes are some of the most captivating animals on the planet.
But with nearly two dozen fox species on Earth today, how much do you really know about these amazing canines?
All foxes are part of the kingdom Animalia, the phylum Chordata, the class Mammalia, and the order Carnivora. They are also all part of the family Canidae. This means that foxes are a type of canine, which is a carnivorous mammal that’s often called a dog or a canid.
Below the family Canidae, however, the classification of foxes gets a little tricky. The 23 living species of foxes are classified into 6 genera.
The largest genus, Vulpes, contains 12 of these species and is known as the true foxes. Meanwhile, the second-largest genus, Lycalopex, contains 6 species that are known as the South American foxes.
The other 4 genera contain either 1 or 2 species each, many of which are more similar genetically to wolves, coyotes, and jackals than to the other foxes.
In many ways, the answer to “what is a fox?” isn’t very straightforward. While most researchers would consider the true foxes and South American foxes to be actual foxes, there’s some debate about all of the other species.
Ultimately, the name ‘fox’ is usually given to any relatively small canine with triangular ears, a mostly flattened skull, a pointed snout, and a bushy tail. Most are omnivorous and either nocturnal or crepuscular, but there are so many differences between the species that it’s difficult to generalize them.
Here are our answers to some of your most commonly asked questions about foxes:
What is the Rarest Fox?
The Sierra Nevada red fox (Vulpes vulpes necator) is probably the rarest fox subspecies. It’s believed that there are fewer than 50 individual Sierra Nevada red foxes left. Other rare fox species include the endangered San Joaquin kit fox, the Darwin’s fox, Simien fox, and the island fox.
What Type of Foxes Live in North America?
There are many types of foxes that live in North America. The most widespread species is the red fox. Other fox species found in North America include the swift fox, Arctic fox, kit fox, and the gray fox.
What Are Baby Foxes Called?
Baby foxes are called kits, but you may hear people call them pups or cubs. Meanwhile, female foxes are called vixens and male foxes are called tods.
What Do You Call a Black Fox?
A black fox is actually an informal name for a silver fox. These animals are not a separate species of fox. Rather, silver foxes are a type of melanistic red fox. This means that they have a large amount of dark-colored melanin pigment in their fur. All of this extra pigment makes their fur appear black.
Is a Fox a Dog?
Technically, a fox is a dog. Foxes are part of the family Canidae, which includes all of the animals that are commonly referred to as dogs. While most people wouldn’t think of a fox in the same way that they think of a domestic dog, they are very closely related species.
Can Foxes Mate With Dogs?
Foxes can’t mate with domestic dogs. This is because the two types of canines have very different chromosome counts in their cells. For example, the red fox has 34 chromosomes while a domestic dog has 78 chromosomes. This makes it impossible for them to produce viable offspring. But, wolves also have 78 chromosomes, which is why there can be dog-wolf hybrids.
The 23 Ferocious Types of Foxes
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We’ll give you a closer look at the world of foxes and introduce you to each of the 23 types of foxes. Read on and learn about how foxes are classified.
There are 23 recognized types of foxes that live on every single continent except Antarctica. All of these foxes belong to the family Canidae, which is the family that includes all of the canines.
Foxes are known for having triangular ears, flattened heads, pointed snouts, and a long fluffy tail. However, there are some major genetic differences between each of the fox species.
The different types of foxes are classified into 6 living genera, which include 23 species and dozens of subspecies. Here’s a look at each type of fox and what makes them unique.
The first fox genus, Vulpes, includes all of the animals that are known as true foxes. True foxes tend to be much smaller than other types of canines.
Researchers have identified 12 living species of true foxes as well as at least 4 extinct species using fossil records. This is what you need to know about each of the 12 types of true foxes that roam our planet.
First up on our list is the Bengal fox (Vulpes bengalensis). Also known as the Indian fox, the Bengal fox lives only on the Indian subcontinent to the south of the Himalaya.
It is among the smallest of the true fox species, though it has a particularly bushy tail that can account for upward of 60 percent of its total body length. Most Bengal foxes will eat whatever small animals that they can find, including an array of lizards, insects, birds, and rabbits. These opportunistic feeders are also known to snack on eggs and fruits.
The Bengal fox is currently listed as a species of least concern by the International Union for Conservation and Nature (IUCN). However, its population is decreasing due to a mix of factors including widespread habitat loss, hunting, and various diseases like canine distemper.
Named for the English naturalist William Thomas Blanford, the Blanford’s fox (Vulpes cana) is a small canine that lives in parts of the Middle East and southwestern Asia.
The species has an interesting distribution as it’s found primarily in Iran, Pakistan, and Turkmenistan. But, it’s also known to live in scattered populations around the Arabian Peninsula in Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Oman, and the United Arab Emirates.
Most Blanford’s foxes are brownish-grey in color, which helps them camouflage in the sandy desert environments that it calls home. The species is listed as of least concern by the IUCN because of its relatively stable population. Nevertheless, the species still faces some long-term threats, most of which include hunting and habitat loss to human development.
Also known as the silver-backed fox or the cama fox, the Cape fox (Vulpes chama) is a small canine that lives throughout southern Africa. Interestingly, it is the only true fox species that’s found in sub-Saharan Africa. The species’ current range includes South Africa, Angola, Namibia, Botswana, and potentially both Lesotho and Eswatini.
The Cape fox prefers to eat small mammals like field mice, hares, and other small rodents. However, they have been known to eat steenbok and even domestic sheep. One step lower on the food chain, the species is frequently preyed upon by honey badgers, black-backed jackals, and caracals, as well as certain types of big cats like lions and African leopards.
Even though the Cape fox is fairly widely hunted and persecuted by humans, it is listed as a species of least concern by the IUCN. The species has a fairly stable population throughout its large range. Additionally, its preferred habitat (savanna and shrublands) isn’t particularly threatened by human development.
One of the most widely distributed fox species, the Corsac fox (Vulpes corsac) is found throughout Central Asia. This fox prefers to live in semi-desert and steppe environments in countries like Mongolia, Russia, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, and even northern Iran.
The Corsac fox is particularly well adapted to its arid environment living for extended periods of time without water. It’s an opportunistic feeder that sometimes forms packs. The species’ preferred food is small rodents and mammals, though it eats insects when necessary. Due to their small size, Corsac foxes are often preyed on by gray wolves and even eagles.
Throughout most of its range, the Corsac fox is hunted for its fur. Even so, it’s listed as a species of least concern with a relatively stable population. The species’ biggest threat is habitat loss from overgrazing by livestock, which is causing desertification throughout much of its range.
The elusive Tibetan sand fox (Vulpes ferrilata) is a small canine that lives high up on the Tibetan Plateau. Although relatively little is known about the species, researchers believe that it can live as high as 17,400 ft (5,300 m) in elevation on the arid steppes of Central Asia.
Most Tibetan sand foxes live far from major areas of human development in rural parts of southwestern China and northwestern India. Here, it preys on marmots, Plateau pika, and woolly hares. It’s also known to scavenge musk deer, Tibetan antelope, and blue sheep carcasses.
Currently, the Tibetan sand fox is listed as a species of least concern, though this is mostly due to its widespread range. The species became an internet sensation for a short period of time after a photographer won The Guardian’s 2019 wildlife photography contest with a photo of a Tibetan sand fox hunting a marmot.
1.6 Arctic Fox
Arguably the most easily identifiable fox species, the stunning Arctic fox (Vulpes lagopus) is found throughout the northernmost reaches of the Northern Hemisphere. It lives in nearly all areas of the Arctic, including in Svalbard, Greenland, northern Canada, and Arctic Russia. The species is also found as far south as the Kenai Peninsula in Alaska.
Plus, the Arctic fox is the only native land mammal in Iceland. Scientists believe that the species made it to Iceland at the height of the last glacial period when the island was connected to other land masses by a large ice sheet.
The Arctic fox is perhaps best known for its gorgeous white winter fur coat. There are actually two color morphs in this species: the white morph, which is nearly completely white in winter, and the blue morph, which remains a dark grey color all year long.
1.7 Kit Fox
Featuring a small body and massive ears, the kit fox (Vulpes macrotis) is an adorable canine that’s found throughout the southwestern United States and northern Mexico. It prefers to live in semi-arid and arid regions in the Great Basin and the Sonoran Desert.
Like most fox species, kit foxes are scavengers and omnivores, however, they primarily prefer to eat meat. The species’ primary food source is the Merriam’s kangaroo rat, but it’s also known to eat black-tailed jackrabbits.
The kit fox is closely related to the swift fox (Vulpes velox) and some interbreeding is known to occur. There are also a number of kit fox subspecies, including the endangered San Joaquin kit fox (Vulpes macrotis mutica), which lives only in California’s San Joaquin Valley.
Aptly named, the lightly colored pale fox (Vulpes pallida) is one of the least-studied canines in the world. It lives in a very remote part of the African Sahel between Sudan and Senegal. The species prefers arid environments where its pale fur can blend in with the desert sand.
Researchers believe that there are at least 5 subspecies of the pale fox, most of which are distinguished by their geographic location. All of the species share a similar small build, short legs, and relatively thin fur.
The pale fox is listed as a species of least concern by the IUCN. Scientists believe that there are anywhere from 10,000 to 100,000 individuals in the wild, but more research is needed to understand the species’ true range. Furthermore, habitat destruction for agricultural and oil production is a major threat to the pale fox’s long-term well-being.
Named for German naturalist Eduard Rüppell, the Rüppell’s fox (Vulpes rueppellii) is a beige-colored canine with a wide geographic distribution.
The species lives primarily in North Africa, though it can also be found on the Arabian Peninsula and in Iran, Israel, Jordan, and Syria. Most Rüppell’s foxes live in arid and semi-arid regions where they feed on everything from beetles to succulents.
Interestingly, since the Rüppell’s fox lives in desert environments, its natural range is growing as a result of the rapid desertification of North Africa and the Middle East. While it tends to avoid the extreme heat, its habitat has expanded to new areas, such as the Emirate of Abu Dhabi where it takes shelter in the Al Hajar Mountains.
Once threatened with extirpation, the swift fox (Vulpes velox) is a small canine found in the western Great Plains and southern Rocky Mountains of the US and Canada.
Most swift foxes prefer to live in short-grass prairies where the species’ orange-tan coat blends in well with the surrounding environment. It generally eats rabbits, insects, birds, and mice, but it will also feed on carrion.
During the 1930s, the swift fox was extirpated in Canada and almost driven to extinction in the United States, the result of a widespread predator hunting program that tried to kill coyotes and the various types of wolves in the region. Even though the swift fox doesn’t kill livestock, it was still persecuted during the program.
Since then, a reintroduction program has successfully stabilized the swift fox population. The species is no longer listed as endangered in the US and the IUCN considers it to be a species of least concern.
The most common fox species in the world, the red fox (Vulpes vulpes) can be found everywhere from the jungles of southeastern Asia to the Great Plains of North America.
In fact, the red fox is one of the most common canines on the planet. The species is native to most of North America, Europe, Asia, and northwestern Africa. It was also introduced to Australia by European colonists in the 1830s, though it has now become a conservation issue on the continent.
Although all red foxes are part of the species Vulpes vulpes, there are at least 45 subspecies. Most of these subspecies are geographically isolated from each other and they contain everything from the British Columbia red fox (V. v. abietorum) to the Palestinian fox (V. v. palaestina).
Due to the red fox’s extensive range, the IUCN lists it as a species of least concern. However, the fox is one of the most highly persecuted canines around the world. Many people treat the species as a pest while others hunt the red fox for its soft fur.
The final species of true fox is the adorable fennec fox (Vulpes zerda). This species lives in the Sahara Desert and in the most arid parts of Israel where it thrives in extreme heat.
The fennec fox is known for its huge ears, which are a special adaptation that allow it to dissipate body heat. Its ears also provide it with a keen hearing ability, allowing the fox to hear small rodents and other prey that are burrowing underground.
Many researchers argue that the fennec fox is the world’s smallest canine as it has an average weight of about 4.2 lbs (1.9 kg). It is listed as a species of least concern due to its wide distribution. Nevertheless, the fennec fox is threatened by hunting and habitat loss.
Although they’re not “true foxes,” the members of the genus Urocyon are closely related to the genus Vulpes.
Interestingly enough, the two fox species in the genus Urocyon are considered to be the basal (root) of the entire canine family. This means that all living canines are believed to have evolved from the genus Urocyon.
Here’s what you ought to know about the two types of foxes in the genus Urocyon.
2.1 Gray Fox
The gray fox (Urocyon cinereoargenteus) is a relatively small canine that lives throughout North and Central America. At one point, it was particularly dominant in the eastern United States, though the red fox has now become the primary wild canine in that region. Today, the gray fox is more prevalent in the western part of the continent.
When compared to other types of foxes in its range, the gray fox is fairly easy to identify. It has a much more grizzled face and it features a black stripe down its back and tail. Plus, these canines prefer to live in woodland areas. In fact, it’s one of the most highly skilled tree-climbing foxes.
Despite its ever-shifting habitat and the constant threats from human development, the gray fox is listed as a species of least concern by the IUCN. However, there are at least 16 subspecies of the gray fox, some of which are regionally endangered or threatened.
Of all the world’s fox species, the island fox (Urocyon littoralis) is one of the most fascinating. This aptly named species lives only on six of the eight Channel Islands off of the coast of southern California.
The island fox is a particularly small canine species, a character trait that many researchers attribute to the species’ isolation from mainland gray foxes. It has a similar coloration as the gray fox, but the island fox is impossible to misidentify as it’s the only canine in its range.
There are 6 recognized subspecies of the island fox. Each subspecies lives on a different island in the Channel Islands. These include:
- San Clemente Island – Urocyon littoralis clementae
- Santa Catalina Island – Urocyon littoralis catalinae
- San Nicolas Island – Urocyon littoralis dickeyi
- Santa Cruz Island – Urocyon littoralis santacruzae
- Santa Rosa Island – Urocyon littoralis santarosae
- San Miguel Island – Urocyon littoralis littoralis
Researchers believe that all of the subspecies are capable of interbreeding, though they have both visual and genetic differences.
At least four of the subspecies are classified as endangered in the US, including the Santa Cruz Island subspecies, which has fewer than 100 individuals in the wild. The island fox as a whole is listed as near threatened by the IUCN due to the threat posed by introduced diseases.
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The genus Otocyon contains a single fox species, the bat-eared fox. Like the two species in the genus Urocyon, the species of the genus Otocyon is considered a basal (root) species for all canines.
Interestingly, researchers once believed that this species was a type of jackal, but it was later reclassified as being more closely related to foxes. This is what you need to know about the sole fox species in the genus Otocyon.
The bat-eared fox (Otocyon megalotis) is a relatively small fox with large ears. It has a tan-colored fur coat around its body that transitions into a dark brown or black on the tail, limbs, and ears.
There are two recognized subspecies of the bat-eared fox, both of which live on the African savanna. The two subspecies are separated geographically, with one (Otocyon megalotis megalotis) found only in southern Africa and the other (Otocyon megalotis virgatus) found only in eastern Africa.
Overall, the bat-eared fox is listed as a species of least concern by the IUCN. The species is well-adapted to its arid environments as its large ears provide a streamlined way to dissipate body heat and cool off in extreme temperatures.
After the genus Vulpis, the genus Lycalopex contains the largest number of fox species. These species are collectively called the South American foxes in English, but they are also known as zorro in Spanish and raposa in Portuguese.
As the name suggests, the South American foxes are all found in South America. They are more closely related to the genus Cerdocyon than the true foxes. But they share many physical similarities with the true foxes.
There are six living species of South American foxes. Here’s a quick look at each species.
Sometimes called the Andean fox, the culpeo fox (Lycalopex culpaeus) is the second-largest canine in South America. It boasts a reddish-gray fur, which helps it thrive in its natural habitat in the various plateaus and montane deserts of western and southern South America.
Due to the species’ large size, the culpeo fox is capable of hunting some fairly large prey. It mostly eats rabbits and other small mammals, but it’s been known to eat young guanacos and even domestic livestock.
The culpeo fox is a species of least concern with a stable population. It was once domesticated into the Fuegian dog, though this breed went extinct during the early twentieth century. Nowadays, the species’ biggest threat is human hunting and introduced diseases.
Darwin’s fox was identified by its namesake scientist, Charles Darwin, on Isla San Pedro off the coast of Chile in 1834. It is also found on Isla Grande de Chiloé, but its major population center is in the area around Nahuelbuta National Park.
The Darwin’s fox is a very small canine with a darkly colored coat. It only lives in temperate rainforests, and it’s believed that there are only about a few hundred to a few thousand individuals left in the wild.
More commonly known as the chilla or the Patagonian fox, the South American gray fox (Lycalopex griseus) is a slender canine that lives in the southernmost part of South America. It was also introduced to the Falkland Islands in the early twentieth century. There are still small populations of the fox on certain islands in the archipelago.
When compared to other foxes, the South American gray fox is relatively large. It can weigh up to around 12 lbs (5.5 kg) and it has a particularly thick fur coat.
For the most part, the South American gray fox lives in semi-arid areas, but it can also live in forested regions and on the Patagonian steppe. The species as a whole is listed as being of least concern, but it has long been hunted for its fur coat.
The Pampas fox (Lycalopex gymnocercus), or Azara’s fox, is a medium-sized canine that lives throughout the Pampas region of South America, as well as parts of Bolivia and Paraguay. The Pampas is the massive fertile lowland area that covers parts of northern Argentina, Uruguay, and the state of Rio Grande do Sul in Brazil.
Physically, the Pampas fox is very similar to the culpeo fox, even though it is slightly smaller. There are 5 recognized subspecies of the Pampas fox, though there’s some debate among researchers about their geographic ranges.
The Pampas fox is a species of least concern, but it is at threat of habitat loss due to the widespread agriculture in its range. It’s also been hunted for centuries for the fur trade and by farmers looking to protect their livestock.
More commonly known as the Peruvian desert fox, the Sechuran fox (Lycalopex sechurae) is among the rarest canines in northern South America. It lives only in arid locations in coastal Peru and Ecuador, including in its namesake, the Sechura Desert.
Due to the extreme temperatures in its habitat, the Sechuran fox is nocturnal. It’s an opportunistic feeder, too, as it will eat anything from fruits and seeds to eggs and carrion.
Human development and habitat loss are the primary reasons why the Sechuran fox is listed as near-threatened. Additionally, the species has long been hunted for use in folk medicine and to protect livestock. The species is partially protected in Peru, where it can’t be hunted without a license.
Most hoary foxes have short, grizzled coats that are primarily grey in color. They are relatively small and slender for a fox species, though this smaller stature makes the hoary fox an agile hunter.
Like many other fox species in the region, the hoary fox is nocturnal and generally eats insects like dung beetles and termites, but it will also eat small rodents if given the opportunity. The hoary fox is at risk of widespread habitat loss due to agriculture and human development.
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The genus Cerdocyon is yet another monotypic (single species) type of fox. It contains just one species, the crab-eating fox. It is closely related to members of the genus Lycalopex and the various wolf species.
Also known as the bush dog, maikong, and wood fox, the crab-eating fox (Cerdocyon thous) is a dog-like canine that lives in large parts of South America.
Even though it shares a range with a number of species in the genus Lycalopex, the crab-eating fox is relatively easy to distinguish from the other South American foxes. In particular, it is fairly large for a fox and it has a mostly grayish-brown coat with short, thick hairs.
Crab-eating foxes are skilled hunters that can live in a range of habitats, from subtropical forests to savannas. Although it is somewhat threatened by invasive species and introduced diseases, it is a species of least concern with a relatively stable population.
The final fox species, the Simien fox, belongs to the genus Canis. There is actually some debate among taxonomists about whether this species really is a fox as it’s part of a genus that also includes coyotes, golden jackals, domestic dogs, and all the different types of wolves. This is what you need to know.
The Simien fox (Canis simensis) is perhaps better known as the Ethiopian wolf or the Simien jackal.
However, most researchers don’t believe that the Ethiopian wolf is actually a wolf, despite its genetic similarities. Additionally, the Simien fox is more similar in build to a coyote than a fox.
Unfortunately, we can’t settle this taxonomic debate in this article. But since many people consider the Ethiopian wolf to be a fox, we’re happy to include it on our list of the different types of foxes.
The Simien fox is one of the most highly endangered fox species. It’s listed as endangered throughout its range by the IUCN. The species lives to live in shrublands and montane environments in Ethiopia, but habitat loss and introduced diseases are wreaking havoc on the species.