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Fox Body Language: How They Communicate With Their Body?

Foxes are known for their cunning behavior. They always seem to be sly and sneaky, but fox body language is quite simple if you know what to look for. 

The fox’s tail, ears, and facial expression all provide insight into how they feel in different situations. 

Foxes also use these same tools to express aggression, submission, or defensiveness when dealing with other foxes or predators. 

In this article, we will explore the body language of foxes, and dive deep into how they communicate with each other.

Fox Body Language

Foxes communicate through body language: they use different postures, tail positions, and facial expressions to tell other foxes how they’re feeling at any given moment. 

These fox communication signals vary depending on the message they’re trying to communicate. 

Although humans know about the body language of foxes, it can still be difficult to interpret. Many of the signals can mean things, such as a fight can be both playful or aggressive with dogs.

Posture

Fox’s body language includes posture. How they carry themselves. This includes:

  • Standing up tall to show dominance/aggression
  • Crouching down close to the ground to show submission
  • Laying down un their back to show submission
fox active at night

Tail

The tail also has different types of signals that a fox can use to communicate. When foxes are excited and happy their tails move around quickly. When foxes feel threatened or nervous their tails move slower. 

If a fox is dominant, its tail will be raised, while a submissive fox will walk with its tail between the legs.

Foxes raised domestically by humans have also learned to wag their tails to show excitement, affection, or anticipation. The domesticated foxes in a Russian study were observed to wag their tails in anticipation or during feeding time.

Related: Why do foxes have tails?

Red fox in nature

Ears

Foxes also use the position of their ears to communicate with other foxes about how they’re feeling. Erect and tall ears, combined with a tall tail, indicated dominance, while flat ears signal submission or that they’re feeling threatened.

head of the fox

Facial Expression

Foxes also use facial expressions to communicate meaning. 

When their face muscles are held in a relaxed position it indicates that the fox is very happy, excited, or playful. If they’re holding tension around their eyes or mouth that fox body language is showing they’re feeling stressed and anxious.

Happy fox

Aggressive Body Language

You can very quickly spot an aggressive fox: their tail will be held high and rigid, and their lips will pull back to show their teeth. Their ears will also stand up straight on top of their head, and they’ll have an intense facial expression.

Foxes will also use vocal communication, such as snarling or growling, to show aggression.

Foxes display aggression with their body language for a few reasons: 

  • To drive other foxes, animals, and people away from their territory.
  • When they’re excited and want to play (playful aggression) or as part of mating behavior.
  • When foxes engage in territorial disputes with each other.
  • If they, or their family, is threatened.

Related: Are foxes dangerous?

fox solo

Submissive Body Language

When foxes feel threatened or frightened by another animal or human, their body language communicates fear or submission.

They may lower themselves to the ground with their tails between their legs, make themselves as small as possible, and pin back their ears against its head. 

This is much the same behavior seen in wolves, or domestic dogs when they’re submissive towards others.

Red fox walking on foliage in autumn nature in detail.

Defensive Body Language

Foxes’ defensive body language may look a bit like aggression. Foxes, and most other predators, will turn aggressive when they need to defend themselves.

Foxes may also respond to threats by running, but it very much depends on the situation.

If you threaten their kits, they’ll turn to a more aggressive posture, and even snarl or growl at you. If they’re alone, and you threaten it, they may just run.

fox mother with her pups

Other Forms of Communication

Foxes are an interesting animal to study because they have a complex system of communication. 

Foxes communicate in many other ways, such as making noises like yelping, barking, or screaming. They also use scent marking and other social behavior to communicate within their family group and with other foxes.

Vocalization

Fox noises vary depending on the message. Fox sounds vary from high-pitched yelps to growls and hisses if angered. They may also purr, cackle, pant, and more. 

Foxes purr when they feel safe and are cuddling with their kits. This purring sound is also observed in the wild as the female feeds its pups. 

Tame and wild foxes will use different vocalizations towards humans. Tame foxes cackles and pants, while aggressive foxes cough and snort. [1]

foxes playing together

Scent Marking

Foxes use scent marking as a form of communication. Every fox has its own, unique scent. This scent is used to mark territories, and will even be used as identification.

This scent is very unpleasant to humans and is secreted by their scent glands.

Foxes have scent glands all over their body, from their tail to their mouth area. They also have scent glands on their feet.

Other methods of scent marking used by foxes include urination and fecal matter.

When foxes smell other foxes’ scent markings, they can quickly identify how dominant the fox is. This way, they know whether to keep their distance or if they have a fighting chance to conquer a territory.

Related: Do foxes smell?

Two red fox touching with nose on meadow in summer

Actions

Another form of fox communication is through tactile communication and other actions. Touching, feeling each other, grooming, and nibbling are a big part of how foxes communicate.

Adult foxes will groom each other during the breeding season. The adults will also lick and groom their kits to help clean them, as well as to show affection. 

Foxes that have been tamed and live with humans also show cuddling and affectionate behavior towards their caretakers. 

This cuddling among wild adult foxes is uncommon but it happens when adults cuddle their kits for warmth and affirming their family bonds. 

Related: Are Foxes Affectionate? 

red fox cubs sitting by the den

Conclusion

Foxes use body language to communicate meaning. They use a variety of tools, such as their posture, tail positioning, ear positioning, as well as facial expression.

They use their body language to show aggression, submission, and defensiveness. Each of these messages has its own traits.

Aggressive and dominant foxes will keep their tail high, and ears erect. They stand tall, to show that they’re the dominant fox. Submission is the complete opposite, and they show this by staying low to the ground, with the tail between their legs. Their ears will also be flattened.

Besides body language, foxes make use of vocal communication, actions, and scent marking to communicate. Scent marking is used to mark territories, as well as for identification.

About Dennis Stapleton

Dennis Stapleton has a passion for animals, especially dogs, and their relatives. He’s intrigued by their social structure and loves to write and teach about the world's most popular pet animal.