The Red Fox (Vulpes vulpes) is the animal most commonly referred to as a fox in the western world, and is the most common of some 27 species of foxes belonging to the genus Vulpes. Fox is the smallest member of the wild dog family group (Canidae), which includes dogs, wolves, coyotes and jackals. Different species of foxes can be found on almost every continent, and their presence all around the world has led to their appearance in the myths and folklore of many cultures.
The Fox is distinguished from dogs by its short strong legs, a narrow elongated muzzle; gold to yellow eyes with vertically slit pupils, erect triangular ears, a thick furry coat and a long bushy tail with a distinctive white tip. The average fox measures 90 to 105 cm (36 to 42 in) long (not including the tail), and stands about 40 cm (16 in) at the shoulder. His coat is usually a shade of rusty-red or reddish-brown with a lighter coloured under-fur.
Foxes are the most
widely distributed wild carnivores in the world, and can be found throughout:
Africa, Asia, Europe and North and South America.
As late as the nineteenth
century foxes were also introduced into Australia.
Foxes live in a wide
range of habitats including: forests,
tundra, prairie and farmland, but prefer
areas with a mixture of vegetation types. They
can adapt easily to various climates and
are increasingly encountered in suburban areas.
Foxes are mostly nocturnal animals, and are swift, agile runners reaching speeds of up to 48 km/h (30 mph) during which they can leap obstacles as high as 2 m (7 feet). Being opportunistic hunters, they feed mainly on earthworms, mice, voles, rabbits, bird’s eggs, fruit, berries, large insects and carrion, and because their prey is usually small, they are solitary rather than pack hunters. When hunting live prey their keen senses of smell, eyesight and hearing enables them to find and locate rodents such as field mice scurrying through the tall grass. Once found they use a pouncing technique that is learned and practiced from an early age, and which enables them to kill their prey very quickly.
partucularly possessive about their food and will not share it with others, an
exception being when feeding vixens during courtship and cubs after birth.
Foxes have a relatively small stomach for their size and can only eat
half as much food in relation to their body weight as can wolves or dogs, foxes
therefore cache any leftover food supplies in shallow holes scattered across
their territories as a resource against starvation in times of scarcity.
Foxes are believed to pair for life and mate in midwinter, then following a 49 to 56-day gestation period, the vixen bears two to eight cubs in a den or underground burrows. The cubs are born with their eyes closed and are attended in the den by both parents for about five weeks. By autumn the young leave the den to seek their own territories. Dispersal can be to areas as nearby as 10 km (6 miles) or as far away as 400 km (250 miles). Foxes live an average 3 years in wild, and have been known to live up to 10 to 12 years in captivity.
Foxes are very territorial and normally live and hunt in the
same area, which is usually about 8 km (5 miles) depending on habitat.
They also mark their territory using urine and faeces and will fight to
defend it from other foxes. To communicate
foxes use a wide variety of calls, they bark, scream, howl, yap and growl.
Foxes make their homes in underground
lairs or dens, sometimes by adapting
abandoned burrows of other animals such as rabbits and beavers.
These their make bigger adding extra tunnels and entrances, thus
ensuring the means for a quick escape should the need arise.
The same den may be used for several generations.
Man is one of the foxes few enemies and hunts them for sport,
particularly the Red Fox. In Great
Britain the Fox Hunt was traditionally an elaborate affair with dogs and
horse-mounted riders giving chase across the countryside.
A common weekend social event for the aristocracy and considered good
sport for the nob’s, but resulting in a cruel and unfiting end for the fox who
when caught was torn to shreds by a pack of baying hounds.
Fox hunting as such was
made illegal in the UK by the Hunting Act of 2004, and became law on the 18th
Foxes are also killed in large numbers for their pelts. Fox fur is a sought after fashion accessory, especially that of the Silver Fox, as such Silver foxes are among the most commonly bred animals on commercial fur farms, along with Minks. Silver Fox fur is traditionally used for collars, cuffs, wraps and stoles, while the more common Red Fox fur is used for trimming and for full fur garments. Wild foxes, although they are often killed as pests for raiding hen houses, are also highly beneficial in controlling undesirable rodents and rabbits.
In terminology a male fox is known as a tod or dog, the female
fox is a vixen; young foxes are known as cubs, kits or pups, while a group of
foxes is known as a skulk. The
term “sly as a fox” is used in Western society to describe a person of
cunning, likewise the term “foxy lady” descibes a woman with sex appeal.
The word “vixen”, normally the common name for a female fox, is also
used to describe an attractive woman, and implies that the woman in question may
have a few questionable or spirited qualities.
Some other foxes include the: African sand fox (Vulpes pallida ), Arctic Fox (Alopex lagopus), Bengal fox (Vulpes bengalensis), Blanford's fox or Hoary fox (Vulpes cana), Cape Fox (Vulpes chama), Corsac or corsak fox (Vulpes corsac), Fennec Fox (Fennecus zerda), Grey Fox (Urocyon cinereoargenteus), Kit Fox (Vulpes velox macrotis), Ruppell Sand Fox (Vulpes rueppellii), Silver fox (Vulpes fulva), South African silver fox (Vulpes chama), Swift Fox (Vulpes velox) and the Tibetan sand fox (Vulpes ferrilata).
In many cultures the fox is known as a familiar animal
possessed of magical powers, and in folklore he is typically portrayed as
a symbol of trickery, wisdom and cunning. In
Japan the fox-like “Kitsune” is a powerful animal spirit that is
highly cunning and mischievous, a trickster god renowned for his mischievous
metamorphic abilities. He is
regarded in Shinto lore as the messenger who ensures that farmers pay offerings
to the rice god. In Buddhist
beliefs the fox is considered an evil agent of possession.
In Chinese mythology “huli
jing” (the fox spirits) lure men away from their wives. The Moche people of ancient Peru worshipped animals and often
depicted the fox in their art.
In folklore, the ancient Greek writer Aesop has been credited with many beast fables and universal tales, many of which have been passed down from oral tradition and convey a moral truth. Perhaps the best known today is “The Fox and the Grapes”, a tale about a hungry fox who sees a bunch of ripe grapes hanging from a vine, but unable to reach them the fox turns away declaring “I am sure the grapes are sour”. The moral associated with this tale is that things beyond our reach are often despised.
“Reynard the Fox” is tale from the medieval verse cycles known as the beast epics, many of which feature animals acting in human roles. They first made their appearance in the Alsace-Lorraine region of France during the 12th century, from where their popularity spread across Europe. Perhaps the best known of these epics is: “Le roman de Renart”. The story tells how Reynard the fox is summoned to the court of King Noble the lion, having been accused of various misdeeds by other animals, led by his archrival Isengrim the wolf. As the story progresses Reynard repeatedly demonstrates how cleverness can triumph over brute strength. While amusing on the surface, the beast epics are also satirical commentaries on medieval life, in which the Church and nobility were the primary targets.
Europe, the fox is described as being smart, devious, greedy and two-faced (the
German saying “schlau wie ein Fuchs” (“clever as a fox”) refers
to this). On the one hand, the fox
saves its own skin with its slyness, while on the other hand its trickiness
helps it to take advantage of others. Also in the Europe of old, the fox was a
symbol of fertility and the weather. In
ancient Greece, Dionysus the Greek god of fertility, vegetation and ecstasy,
often appeared dressed in a fox fur. In
connection with the weather it was said “the fox is brewing” when a
thunderstorm was building, and the Finns refer to the northern lights as “the
fire of the fox”.
from the Medieval period to the French Revolution, the fox came to symbolise the
survival strategies of the peasantry. Peasants
were commonly regarded as the under-dogs and admired the guile and wit needed to
out maneuver the powers of the aristocracy, State and Church authorties, just as
they saw the fox use these same qualities to raid their livestock under cover of
Since time began animals have been revered and worshiped as spirits of nature, known to the ancients as power animals or the animal guides of the Gods, but when Christianty came along many of these aninmals became demonized as representing evil. The fox due to its blazing red color became a symbol for the devil. Foxes were also known carriers of Rabies, a form of canine madness that threatened humans, domestic animals and other wildlife, which added to its association with diabolism.
Sadly in more recent years the fox is again attracting a bad reputation.
Microsoft ® Encarta ® 2006. © 1993-2005 Microsoft Corporation. All rights reserved.
Ultimate Reference Suite 2005
Written and compiled on the 26th December 2007 © George Knowles
Fox is a wide-spread totem, touching almost every society
throughout the world, not only because this wondrous creature is
physically found in almost every area of the world, but also for its many valuable
attributes that can teach us so much. There are many reasons for the
typical fox-related similes and phrases, such as “sly as a fox”,
“clever (or cunning) as a fox”, “like a fox in a hen house”,
“silver-tongued fox”, “foxy lady” or “vixen” (the term used to
designate the female of the species), and below you'll see why.
The fox is one of the most craftily ingenious and highly skilled animals in
nature, and it is very willing to pass on these skills to you.
If Fox has called on you, you may soon find the following show
up in your life: An awakening and a keen awareness on how to advantageously
use camouflage, shapeshifting and invisibility in your day-to-day life, how
to swiftly and skillfully manipulate your surroundings or out-maneuver an
opponent, and how to travel between worlds with ease. You may also
find yourself experiencing an enhanced and stronger connection to your
children and family in a protective way. And when Fox enters your life
(and you WILL know exactly when he does, as you begin to move in a quicker
manner and yet with a stealth and intuition beyond compare), you will find
that you will begin to have an uncanny sense of self-preservation, an emerging
ability to more quickly sense danger (and thus be able to avoid it), and an
increase in practically all of your senses...both physical and metaphysical, and
Fox is in the dog family, but moves like a cat. There is
a certain stealth yet quickness to their pace. They are light on their
feet, almost prancing, as they walk on their toes - tiptoeing around in
an agile and ever-watchful manner. But they certainly know when
to pounce. And they certainly can run. Fox runs like the wind - swift
and invisible. Their stamina is great. In these teachings, Fox
medicine will bring a quickening and a connective cohesiveness to your own mental
and physical response timing. A popular ballroom dance called the Fox Trot
is named after the fox and his gait, and it mimics one of his
important lessons. The dance is comprised of a variety of slow and fast
steps, just as the fox can teach when it is best to slow down, stay
silent and observe, or when it is best to quicken your pace and strike
while the iron is hot as each opportunity presents itself.
Fox has always been thought of as being a messenger.
The Native American Apache tribe gave credit to the fox for stealing fire from
the gods and bringing it to man. Many other Native American tribes
believed Fox brought with it the power of healing. Early
Egyptians believed that the fur of a fox would bestow them favor from
the gods. And in ancient Persia, it was the fox which they believed
helped their dying find the way to their next life. The phrase
“silver-tongued fox”, which is meant to refer to someone who speaks with
eloquent and artfully sly persuasive speech, no doubt stems from
quicksilver Fox’s association with the swift messenger god, Mercury. A
person with Fox as their totem will be the beneficiary of many a valuable
Being mostly nocturnal, the fox is associated with
feminine energy - the receptive and intuitive realm. Fox energy assists
with understanding the world of magick. It is about creation and gives
knowledge and understanding to the process of being creative. Working
with the spirit of Fox will reveal what is being molded and shaped within
your own world, as Fox will offer you many lessons in the art of shapeshifting
and/or invisibility and how to use it to your advantage. A person
with Fox Totem will also be introduced to that which is “hidden”,
be it in discerning what the true motives are in another, or in finding hidden
depths to one’s own psyche.
In health and healing, Fox shows you how to improve your own
digestive system by learning to eat smaller amounts of food more
frequently. Not only is this found to be better for our internal
systems, but it will keep you trimmer and lighter on your feet, bringing
energy and a greater vitality to your person as a whole. Mentally, Fox
will help keep you sharp and keen-witted, as the mental exercises of Fox
Medicine are quick and many. Fox’s highly developed sense of smell may
lead you to the physical benefits of aromatherapy. Metaphysically,
this higher sense of smell will help you sniff out that which is good for you
and alert you to that which is not. Fox may also bring you a
higher sense and greater movement toward sexual and sensual expression.
This fascinating and clever creature has the
ability to move discreetly within the shadows - a good lesson for us, to remember
to be discreet in our own speech and behavior. Prudence and self-restraint
alone are a double-edged sword and can be good or bad depending on the
situation one finds oneself in, but wise self-restraint will never be
bad. A fox has keen eyesight and excellent peripheral vision;
their uniquely cat-shaped eyes can pick up the slightest movement at the
very edge of their vision. Along with that, their sense of hearing
and smell are extraordinary. This gives those with Fox medicine the
ability to see in great depth, to hear what is not being said, and to sniff out
where any problems or dangers may lie. Fox teaches how to watch
from the shadows, gaining insight about anything or anyone around you.
This art of blending or melding into the landscape is called the art of
invisibility... a type of camouflage, if you will, and one that allows its
practitioner to virtually disappear even when amidst a large crowd.
When using this skill, most will never even realize Fox is there. And
while Fox is there, he will observe undetected, and thus know best when to
move and when to stay still in order to avoid mishap. For those who study
with Fox, learning this magickal feat can be most helpful. It
will allow you to be able to slyly slip out of any given situation in order to
take time for that second look at what is truly going on around you or behind
the scenes. This brings clarity, and with that, a better chance to gain
knowledge and wisdom.
Fox is also widely known for being extremely adept at
shapeshifting - the ability to control and shift one’s energy in order to
transform and take the shape of another person, creature or entity. Today
this is mostly done within our imagination and during some form of intense
trance work. But in the past, and according to Ted Andrews of
“Animal-Speak” fame, “In the early evolution of humanity, before we were
so solidly locked within the physical form, we could probably mold our shapes.
When the body was less dense, we may have indeed been able to metamorphose into
another shape”. Some today still profess to be able to accomplish this.
And Fox is one totem that is very strongly connected to, and very capable
of this ability. Our lesson here is that after our studious
observations from the shadows, we then take the time to put ourselves in
another’s shoes, so to speak, by shapeshifting into whatever person, animal or
thing that we feel we need better insight into, and that we use our own
cleverness and cunning not only for our own advantage but for
other’s as well.
This practice of lingering in the shadows...of dwelling on the
edges and living in the border lands...gives Fox the ability to walk easily
between worlds. Observing Fox Spirit can guide you on how to do
the same, and once you do, you may find yourself quickly becoming able to see spirits
and otherworldly entities. So do not be surprised if faeries or elementals
or the like begin to make themselves known to you while following in
This ability to move invisibly and outwit many has given Fox
the reputation of being a Trickster. Their sly and cunning personalities no
doubt brought that idea to the forefront of early man’s mind. But it was
that same sly and cunning personality that has taught many how to work
these traits to their favor. So it is no surprise that ancient
people, who observed and mimicked this canine wonder, came to
believe that Fox was a messenger of the gods. Some even believed Fox
was the devil. And though devilish and underhanded they may seem at
times, within all their foxy traits lies great wisdom along with practical and
magickal skill. It is up to us individually in how we use it. It can
be used to help bring harmony into your life, by listening to the messages
Fox brings you and by using the gifted skills to peek into another’s
realm, thus gaining understanding and hopefully cultivating empathy
and compassion. Many of Fox’s teachings can be used for
personal gain, but better yet, for the good of all.
All the traits listed above strongly suggest that Fox has the
ability to teach of magick and how to skillfully manipulate anything one wishes
to - from the smallest of daily maneuvers to the greatest of
universe-changing feats. Keen sight and stealthy observation, along
with excellent hearing, bring greater potential in your own realm for
an increase in clairvoyance and clairaudience. Intuition plays a big
part in the world of the fox, and so it will be in your own life, if you’ve
harkened to the call of Fox Spirit.
Another form of magick through the teachings of Fox deals with
“charming”, listed by Andrews as “fox's cleverest hunting technique”.
In this technique, the fox behaves like a snake charmer. He will
approach his prey by using funny non-threatening antics, such as leaping
into the air, chasing himself around in circles, or rolling around on the
ground. These diversions are meant to take the other animal’s attention
away from the fox’s true intent. Closer and closer Fox will
come, totally unbeknownst to his prey. Using this form of behavioral
camouflage in our own lives can help tame the wildest beast
or most formidable enemy. On the opposite spectrum, another diversion
technique that Fox teaches so well is that of clever maneuvering. This
technique is used as protection and is to keep the fox, himself, or his family from
falling prey to others. When confronted with that possibility, Fox
(who is already quick to know if danger is near, and who already has
confidence he can out-maneuver any pitfall, and who is already sure-footed
and swift to begin with) will, when being hunted, psyche out his opponent
by rapidly running atop a wall or embankment, or by running around in
circles to double-back on his own trail, or by crossing a stream
diagonally...anything to break the scent and thus elude the predator.
Agile and unpredictable, and able to circumvent many precarious or threatening
situations, are prime examples of Fox’s quick thinking and innate ability to
protect itself and its family.
Fox is a survivor.
Of all these things and many more, Fox can be a most valuable
“Animal-Speak” - by Ted Andrews
Written and compiled on the 10th January 2008 © Patricia Jean Martin
My grateful thanks to Pari for completing this article. Pari is a wonderfully gifted commercial artist, illustrator and writer, and her website is well worth a visit containing as it does many of her original paintings: see www.peacefulpaths.com :-)
Let there be peace in the world - Where have all the flowers gone?
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