Vulpes is a genus of the Canidae. The members of this genus are colloquially referred to as true foxes, meaning they form a proper clade. The word ‘fox’ occurs on the common names of species. True foxes are distinguished from members of the genus Canis such as dogs, wolves, coyotes, and jackals by their smaller size (5-11 kg) and flatter skulls.[2] They have black, triangular markings between their eyes and nose, and the tips of their tails are often a different color from the rest of their pelts. The typical life span for this genus is between 2–4 years, but can reach up to a decade.[2]

Extant Species

Within Vulpes there are twelve separate and distinct extant species and four fossil species.

The arctic fox is sometimes included in this genus as Vulpes lagopus based on the definitive mammal taxonomy list, as well as genetic evidence.[1][3]

Foxes of this group (including the fennec and Arctic foxes) possess eyes with pupils that retract into vertical slits in bright light.

The red fox, Ruppell's fox [4] and Tibetan sand fox [5] possess white-tipped tails. The arctic fox's tail-tip is of the same color as the rest of the tail (white or blue-gray)[6] The Blanford's fox usually possesses a black-tipped tail, but a small number of specimens (2% in Israel, 24% in the United Arab Emirates) possess a light-tipped tail.[7] The other foxes in this group (Bengal, Cape, Corsac, Fennec, Kit, Pale, and Swift) all possess black-tipped or dark-tipped tails.[8]

Fox on grass

Red fox in Sussex

Fossil species

Early History

The oldest known fossil species within Vulpes is Vulpes riffautae, which dates back to the late Miocene (which is within the Neogene) of Chad. The deposits these fossils are found within are approximately 7 million years old, which might make them the earliest Canidae in the Old World. They are estimated to have weighed between 1.5-3.5 lbs. Vulpes skinneri, from the Malapa Fossil Site from South Africa is younger than Vulpes riffautae by approximately 5 million years, and shows up in the early Pleistocene.[9]

There are two other extinct, less documented, fossils: Vulpes praeglacialis and Vulpes hassani. Vulpes praeglacialis was discovered in the Petralona Cave in Chalkidiki, Greece. The age of the deposits (Early Pleistocene) makes Vulpes praeglacialis the earliest occurrence of Vulpes in Europe. Vulpes hassani is found in a Miocene-Pliocene deposit in Northwestern Africa.[10]

In the Pleistocene, Vulpes had a fairly wide distribution, with eight species found in North America. Of these eight, six are non fossil, and three species still remain in North America (Vulpes velox, Vulpes macrotis and Vulpes Chama). The remaining three moved on to sections of Africa over time. Vulpes stenognathus is extinct, but has extant sister taxa including Vulpes chama, Vulpes rueppellii, Vulpes velox, Vulpes vulpes which fits with these species all evolving together in North America.[11]


Vulpes lagopus

Arctic fox range

Vulpes lagopus distribution

Arctic foxes inhabit all of the Arctic (Greenland, Russia, Canada, Alaska, Svalbard), also Iceland and parts of Scandinavia and hold the title of being the only native land mammal in all of Iceland. This fox arrived in Iceland during the climax of the last ice age, when the seas were frozen solid enough to walk across. There are two extant subpopulations of this species alive today.[12] The arctic fox is most closely related to kit (Vulpes macrotis) and corsac foxes(Vulpes corsac).

Vulpes bengalensis

Bengal fox range

Vulpes bengalensis distribution

Bengal foxes are endemic to India and live throughout the subcontinent, and have not been placed on the endangered species list, but have become threatened by lack of native habitat due to human expansion.[13]

Vulpes cana

Blanfords fox range

Vulpes cana distribution

Blanford's fox dwells in section of the Middle East including Afghanistan, Egypt, Turkestan, Iran, Pakistan, and Israel. This species prefers semi-arid environments.[14]

Vulpes chama

Cape fox range

Vulpes chama distribution

The cape fox is only found in the south of Africa, including Zimbabwe, Botswana, and South Africa. They thrive in semi-arid and arid environments with rich grasslands.

Vulpes corsac

Corsac fox range

Vulpes corsac distribution

Corsac foxes live in Central Asia. Like Vulpes chama and Vulpes cana, they do best in semi-arid deserts. This fox is within the holarctic clade of foxes. This clade also contains the arctic fox (Vulpes lagopus), swift fox (Vulpes velox), and red fox (Vulpes vulpes). Their possible ancestor is Vulpes praecorsac, meaning that they may have had a much wider distribution in the past (Europe and Crimea).[15]

Vulpes zerda

Fennec range

Vulpes zerda distribution

The fennec fox lives in the northernmost sections of Africa. It was not previously within Vulpes, but genetic evidence shows its close relation with Blanford’s fox (Vulpes cana), making it a true fox.[16]

Vulpes macrotis

Kit fox range

Vulpes macrotis distribution

Kit foxes are an arid dwelling North American species. They are found in Oregon, Colorado, Nevada, Utah, California, New Mexico, and Texas. They also have a small population in Mexico.

Vulpes pallida

Pale fox range

Vulpes pallida distribution

The pale fox lives in upper middle Africa and is an arid dwelling species.[17]

Vulpes rueppellii

Rueppellii fox range

Vulpes reuppellii distribution

These foxes are specific to Northern Africa and well as sections of the Middle East.[18]

Vulpes vulpes

Red fox range

Vulpes vulpes distribution

The red fox is the mostly abundant and most widely distributed species of Vulpes. They currently live in most sections of the Northern Hemisphere. They also are present in Australia, though were brought there by man for fox hunting in the 1830s and are considered an invasive species. This species’ ancestor (either Vulpes alopecoides or the related Chinese V. chikushanensi) originated in the Early Pleistocene and are most closely related to the Ruppell’s fox (Vulpes rueppellii).[19]

Vulpes velox

Swift fox range

Vulpes velox distribution

The swift fox is found in the western grasslands of North America, specifically Montana, Colorado, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Texas as well as some sections of Canada. This species is most closely related to the kit fox (Vulpes macrotis), but lives in a different section of North America. The two can interbreed.[20]

Vulpes ferrilata

Tibetan sand fox fox range

Vulpes ferrilata distribution

The Tibetan sand fox, as the name suggests, is endemic to the Tibetan and Ladakh plateau in Nepal, China, Sikkim, and Bhutan. This species lives in altitudes up to 5300 meters and semi-deserts.[21]


Vulpes has a very similar bone structure to its canid relatives but does have some modifications. Although canid limbs are designed specifically for running quickly on land to catch prey, Vulpes avoid rapid sprints excluding being chased and have become more specialized for leaping and grasping prey. In grey foxes, this adaption is used for climbing.[22]

The adaptions for leaping, grasping and climbing include the lengthening of hind limbs in relation to forelimbs as well as overall slenderizing of both hind and fore limbs. Muscles are also emphasized along the axis of limbs. Specific to climbing, gray foxes develop a wider range of motion for the radius and the ability to move their hind limbs away from the midline of their bodies.[22]


This genus is omnivorous and prone to scavenging. The foods of choice for Vulpes consist of invertebrates, a variety of small vertebrates, grasses, and some angiosperms. The typical intake per day is approximately 1 kg. True foxes exhibit hoarding behavior or caching where they store away food for another day out of site from other animals.[23]


Vulpes can dwell in a number of habitats including alpine, forest, desert, coastal, farm, and urban but thrive in environments rich in food and shelter. They can be found in great numbers in suburban/residential regions. For the most part, this coexistence is agreeable for both fox and man, but can sometimes result in house pet (cat) disappearances.[24]


Predators are dependent on location but common include humans, bears, and large birds of prey, such as eagles.


General overview

Though this varies in intensity from species to species, foxes operate within a hierarchical society, where dominance is established early in life. Dominant kits will receive more food and are subsequently larger. If there is a dispute in the hierarchy, dominance is determined by fighting. The loser may be subjected to rejection from their social group, as well as serious injuries. These social groups consist of three to four adults and have not been documented surpassing ten adult individuals.[25] Vulpes are usually nocturnal, but do occasionally hunt and scavenge in daylight during winter months.


A male is referred to as a dog fox, and the female as a vixen. They are very similar in appearance, though dogs have larger heads. Mating occurs in late winter. This mating process starts when the vixen digs out an undisclosed number of potential breeding dens and begins to release a mating scent. Gestation takes 7–8 weeks, putting typically birth occurrence in March, and on average, kits begin to emerge in late April. The parents will work as a unit in the upbringing of their offspring, but do not mate for life.[25]

Post birth

Born deaf and blind, kits or cubs require their mother’s milk and complete supervision for the first four to five weeks out of the womb but begin to be progressively weaned off after the first month. Once fully weaned, kits will seek out various insects. The parents will supplement this diet with a variety of mammals and birds. During early to middle July the kits are able to hunt on their own and will soon move away from their parents.[25]


Though rare, domestication has been documented. The most notable case documented is the domestication of the silver fox in Novosibirsk, Russia at the Siberian Institute of Cytology and Genetics.[26] In this study, generations of silver foxes were divided into those with friendly traits and those with unfriendly traits. After fifty years, the friendly foxes developed “dog-like” domesticated traits such as spots, tail wagging, enjoyment of human touch and barking.

Earth’s magnetic field and foxes

Recently documented by Jaroslav Cervengy, red foxes (Vulpes vulpes) have been hurling themselves into the air and pulling out mice from under thick layers of snow. While airborne, they are able to adjust their flight pattern and land directly on top of their prey. Though this practice is not always successful, early research believes there is a connection between success and the direction the fox is facing. When jumping approximately 20 degree from “magnetic north”, the fox is 73% successful, but facing any other direction, they are below 20% accurate.[27]

Vulpes in culture and literature

Main article: Foxes in culture


  1. ^ a b Template:MSW3 Wozencraft
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  3. ^ Bininda-Emonds, ORP; JL Gittleman; A Purvis (1999). "Building large trees by combining phylogenetic information: a complete phylogeny of the extant Carnivora (Mammalia)" (PDF). Biol. Rev. 74 (2): 143–175. PMID 10396181. doi:10.1017/S0006323199005307. Retrieved 2008-07-30.  This link is dead.
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