Foxes are opportunistic predators that will eat anything they can find. Their diet consists mostly of small mammals, such as rabbits, rodents, and hares. They will also eat birds, insects, and fruits and vegetables. Foxes are Mesocarnivores. This means they have a diet that consists of about 50%-70% meat, with the remainder made up of anything else available to them from insects or fungi, to fruit and vegetables.
The difference between a mesocarnivore and an omnivore, is that an omnivore may or may not eat meat. They can survive with or without.
What Different Fox Breeds Eat And How They Hunt
Because they are so widely distributed geographically, the available food differs from region to region. This has a direct impact on the feeding habits, and the sources of food.
Here are the diet and hunting habits of the different breeds of fox.
Gray Fox Diet & Hunting
Gray foxes are solitary hunters that eat an omnivorous diet.
The most important food source for gray foxes is probably cottontails, but voles, rodents, shrews, and birds are readily captured and eaten. Gray foxes consume plant material as well and eat whatever fruits are available.
Generally speaking, gray foxes eat more plant matter than other species of fox.
Red Fox Diet & Hunting
Red foxes are a classic example of a mesocarnivore, and occasionally considered omnivores. In Britain, the red fox feeds mainly on small rodents such as field mice, voles and rabbits, however, they will also eat birds, insects, earthworms, grasshoppers, beetles, blackberries, plums and mollusks and crayfish, amphibians, small reptiles and fish. Almost anything it finds, often eating carrion (dead animal carcass) or preying on new-born lambs in the spring. Foxes have also been known to kill deer fawns.
Foxes typically eat 0.5 – 1 kilograms (1 – 2 pounds) of food a day. With their acute sense of hearing, they can locate small mammals in thick grass and they are able to jump high in the air to pounce on the prey. This resourcefulness is one of the main reasons they have been able to populate our towns and cities with great success.
Foxes are superb hunters, able to sprint, turn and jump with surprising ease for a dog. Surplus food is buried, they typically store the food in shallow holes (5 – 10 centimetres deep). This is thought to prevent the loss of their entire food supply in the event that another animal finds the store.
Fennec Fox Diet & Hunting
The fennec fox is an omnivore and eats a variety of different foods, including insects, rodents, snails, lizards, geckos plants, fruits, roots, and eggs. They eat foods both above the sand and below the surface, using their ears and excellent hearing to hunt down their prey.
They have adapted to the desert environment and are able to live with very little water. Most of the water they need comes from the plants they consume. Their kidneys are specially developed to ensure that there is minimal water loss in their day to day lives.
Peruvian Fox Diet & Hunting
The Peruvian Fox is a mesocarnivore and primarily feeds on small rodents, amphibians, lizards, birds, beetles, berries, grass, nuts, seed pods and carrion (animal carcass). They are closer in relation to dogs than they are to other fox species.
How Do Foxes Eat?
Foxes typically eat their prey whole, but they can also break down bones and skin to extract the nutrients they contain.
They are know to break their prey’s neck and puncture their throat to deliver a killing blow.
They will often store food in shallow underground holes that they dig If they can’t finish a meal in one go.
This is to prevent other competing species coming along and stealing their hard earned food.
Are There Any Foods A Fox Can’t Eat?
Foxes are able to digest a wide variety of foods, including meat and plant matter. However, there are a few items that they cannot eat, including:
- Hair: Foxes cannot digest hair, so they typically spit it out after eating.
- Bones: Foxes can break down bones and skin to extract the nutrients they contain, but they cannot digest them.
- Celery: Foxes find celery distasteful and will not eat it.
As a Canidae species, foxes have similar problems digesting many of the foods that dogs and wolves are not able to eat. However, there is wide evidence of undigested cherry stones, plums, dates and figs in examined fecal matter of the rex fox, that suggests that they are able to eat these fruits without the same level of sensitivity that other Canid species have to these foods. Some of the most notable foods that are toxic to foxes include:
- Chocolate – It’s the Theobromine in chocolate that can cause problems for canid species including foxes. This vasodilator acts as a stimulant of the heart as well as a blood vessel widener. The higher the cocoa content the more dangerous the chocolate.
- Most Pitted Fruit – Fruit with a pit or stone such as prunes, apricots, peaches, plums or cherries are all dangerous for foxes. While the flesh of these fruit is generally ok, every part of the plant, stem and stone are toxic. They contain Cyanide which disrupts cellular oxygen transport. This in turn means that blood cells can’t get enough oxygen and symptoms can be nasty.
- Figs – The compounds in Figs that are harmful to foxes are the Proteolytic enzyme (ficin), and psoralen (ficusin). In small amounts this can be ok, but it can cause gastrointestinal and dermal irritation.
- Grapefruit – The fruit is ok, but skins and plant material can cause problems including vomiting, depression and dermatitis.
- Raisins/ Grapes – Although we are not 100% sure why Grapes are dangerous to foxes it is believed to be the tannins in the grapes that cause kidney problems. Symptoms of poisoning may result in sickness and diarrhoea as the body tries to process the toxins.
- Star fruit – Star fruit contains soluble calcium oxalates, which bind with calcium in the body. If enough is eaten, it can result in acute renal failure and death.
- Acai – Acai contains theobromine, the same compound that makes chocolate toxic to foxes.
- Onions – Any plant belonging to the onion family is not healthy for foxes to eat. These include: Leeks, Shallots, Onions, Chives and Garlic. They commonly cause blood disorders and anemia, leading to more severe health issues.
Hunting Tactics Of Foxes
Foxes have a very strong sense of smell which allows them to hunt down prey even in the dark. They also have sharp claws and teeth which help them to catch and kill their prey. They are expert hunters of small rabbits and rodents. In urban areas they are also scavengers, and will rake through bins and garbage for food.
Like other Canidae species, they stalk their prey and have excellent hearing. Similar to coyotes, they will use a pouncing technique that allows them to kill small prey quickly. They use their excellent hearing to listen for small animals moving under the ground, or under snow in winter. Once located, they will dig and pounce to catch their prey.
Unlike other Canidae species, foxes tend to hunt or forage alone. They commonly live in family packs of three or four, but hunt alone.
The Importance Of Foxes In The Ecosystem
Foxes are an important part of the ecosystem. They play a crucial role in controlling the population of small mammals, which can damage crops and cause other problems. Foxes are also an important food source for other animals, including coyotes, owls, and bobcats.
Foxes are also an important part of the human ecosystem. They provide us with valuable services, such as controlling the population of rodents and other pests, particularly in urban areas.
Threats To Foxes
Foxes are facing a number of threats, including:
- Habitat loss: Foxes need a lot of space to live and hunt, and they are losing their habitat due to development and deforestation.
- Hunting: Foxes are often killed for their fur or because they are considered a nuisance.
- Disease: Foxes are susceptible to a number of diseases, including rabies, mange, and distemper.
- Traffic accidents: Foxes can get killed by cars when they cross roads.