The English country gentleman galloping after a fox: the unspeakable in full pursuit of the uneatable.

OSCAR WILDE (1854-1900)

Foxes

WILLIAM BLAKE (1757-1827)

The fox provides for himself, but God provides for the lion.

Jumping Foxes


A team in the Czech Republic has studied foxes’ ‘mousing’ jumps and concluded that they strongly prefer to pounce in a North-Easterly direction. In this direction they kill 73% of the time. In the exact opposite direction they are still pretty successful at 60%, but in all other directions only 18% of their pounces are successful.

The team suggests that they must be using the Earth’s magnetic field in some way. Other scientists describe the hypothesis as ‘highly speculative but not implausible’ and note that nobody has yet suggested an alternative which fits the data.
 
In the northern hemisphere the magnetic field tilts downwards at about 65˚. The idea is that the fox searches for the spot where the angle of the sound hitting its ears matches the slope of the Earth’s magnetic field; it then knows that it’s a fixed distance away from its prey, and exactly how far to jump to land on it.
 
The same group was responsible for the observation (made from Google Earth) that herds of cattle tend to align in a North-South direction, except when they are close to high-voltage power lines, which produce magnetic fields of their own.
 

Scavengers of Suburbia


Almost everything people think they know about urban foxes is an urban myth. So-called urban foxes are mostly suburban - they are scarce in industrial areas, and most common in commuter towns in the south-east of England. They began moving into town in a big way in the 1930s, when so much rural land became suburbanised; areas of low-density, semi-detached housing with big gardens are perfect for foxes. Britain has far more urban foxes than any other country. North American cities have racoons instead. 
 
The number of urban foxes is not increasing; the population reached its maximum supportable size many years ago, and nowadays the count of surviving cubs every year is almost identical to the number of deaths. When culling increases the death rate, the number of vixens breeding also increases, so as to maintain the population. Culling increases the nuisance caused by urban foxes, as a newly vacant territory will be fought over by several foxes, competing through screaming, defecating and urinating. 

Urban foxes are just as healthy as country foxes; the town is, if anything, a better environment for them than the countryside. However, the distinction is perhaps a false one: many foxes live in both country and town at different periods of their lives. 

Contrary to urban myth, town foxes don’t live mainly by feeding from bins. This is demonstrated by their maintaining population levels in areas which switch from dustbins to wheelie bins. In fact, foxes will eat almost literally anything, and the urban fox’s diet has been found to include earthworms and insects, moth larvae, pigeons, rodents, a lot of beetles and plenty of fruit and veg. They also take birdseed and peanuts from bird tables. They’ll happily eat bones which, while dangerous for domesticated dogs, do foxes no harm. 

The word ‘alopecia’ comes from the Greek alopex for ‘fox’. Foxes lose their fur when afflicted with a skin disease (mange).

Pliny the Elder suggested that headache sufferers tie a fox’s genitals to the forehead.

Screaming Rodent Killers


In Britain, any nuisance caused by foxes to humans is minor, localised, and far outweighed by their indispensable role as rodent-killers. That’s little comfort, admittedly, if they dig up your lawn or sport field. Mistaking the smell of blood and bone fertilisers on the grass for the presence of dead meat, the foxes try to dig up the corpse - and when they don’t find it, they just keep digging, leaving big holes a couple of feet deep. 
 
The terrifyingly human scream of a fox often results in 999 calls, but actually foxes live mostly in silence. On average, they will only give voice once or twice a week. Foxes live in small family groups (three or four adults and four or five cubs), but always hunt alone; there is, despite another urban myth, no such thing as a 'fox pack'. 

If they can get underneath your house, foxes will happily nest there. At night, the noise of the cubs screaming at each other as they play chasing and fighting games beneath your floorboards is said to be indescribable - but perhaps not quite as bad as the smell of their urine, faeces and carrion. The dust they raise and the flies they attract are but minor irritations by contrast. You’ll have to move out anyway - the foxes will chew through your electricity and phone wires, and gas and water pipes. 

BENJAMIN FRANKLIN (1706-90)

The sleeping fox catches no poultry.

Hungry foxes have been known to urinate on hedgehogs to force them to unroll before eating them.

Finland is the world's major producer of farm-raised foxes.

King Charles XII of Sweden killed a fox at the age of seven, his first wolf at ten and his first bear at eleven.

Cats and foxes generally ignore each other, but if a cat does turn nasty the fox will run away.