Ecology and behaviour: Social life

Family life

A close up of two foxes
A pair of foxes; © C. Soulsbury

Most people that have seen a fox have probably met just one animal on its own. Indeed since foxes travel and hunt on their own, they are said to be solitary animals. This is not to say that they avoid other foxes but to exemplify the fact they do not hunt in packs like some other canids, such as wolves.

For a long time it was believed that foxes lived a solitary life, meeting only during the mating season, but now we know that this is untrue. The dominant male and female fox form a pair that may last for life, i.e. foxes are generally monogamous. The pair travel, hunt and feed independently but occasionally meet, either briefly or for longer periods during which they play or groom each other.

In some areas, such as in urban areas, it is common for some other adult foxes to be present in addition to the breeding pair. These additional animals (sometimes called helpers) are subordinate to the dominant pair and generally are offspring of the pair, which remained with their parents past the normal age of dispersal when the family should break up. So, in certain conditions, foxes live in social groups rather than solitarily.

Outside the family

Foxes are territorial animals, i.e. they defend the area where they live against other foxes. That said, the use of scent marking to delimit their own space is a very effective way of communication and neighbours normally avoid meeting each other. If neighbours do meet, these encounters are generally benign, avoiding direct fights. Foxes are more aggressive towards strangers rather than other neighbouring foxes.

Because of this territorial behaviour, if a fox is removed for a length of time from its territory, another fox will move in. This means that eliminating one animal from an area does not eliminate the presence of foxes altogether. On the other hand, foxes can easily be excluded from certain areas using non-lethal control methods (link to the Deterrence page of The Fox Project).

Question & Answer

TopDo foxes hunt in packs?

Two wolves running
Grey wolves hunt in packs or alone

No, they don't.

Unlike wolves, foxes are solitary hunters which means that even if in some areas they may form groups, they hunt for food on their own. Fox cubs may sometimes be seen playing together with bits of food but this is simply a 'game' and adult foxes have never been reported hunting together. Very occasionally cubs can be seen hunting with the vixen.

 

TopWhat is a breeding pair?

A pair of arctic foxes greeting
A pair of arctic foxes

A male and a female paired to produce offspring. In animals that live in groups, there are usually several males and females in each group. However, in some circumstances, only one male and female in a group reproduces and they are the breeding pair.


References

  • Harris, S. & Baker, P. (2001) Urban foxes. Whittet Books, Suffolk.
  • Larivière, S. & Pasitschniak-Arts, M. (1996) Vulpes vulpes. Mammalian Species 537, 1-11.
  • Lloyd, H.G. (1980) The red fox. Batsford, London.
  • Nowak, R. M. (2005) Walker's carnivores of the world. John Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, Maryland, USA.