Home /

Foxes

/ Why Do Foxes Have Tails? (How They Use Them)

Why Do Foxes Have Tails? (How They Use Them)

Misfit Animals is reader-supported. When you buy via links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission at no cost to you. Learn More.

Foxes use their tails for many things. From communicating with other foxes, to ward off predators, it’s no secret that a fox’s tail is an integral part of its life.

The first thing you might notice about a fox is its tail; it is often referred to as one of the most distinctive physical features of the animal. 

Foxes are known for having bushy tails and they certainly use them to their advantage. 

In this article, we’ll explore how foxes use their tails in the wild. 

Why Do Foxes Have Bushy Tails?

Foxes use their tails (or brush) for multiple things, the most important being: a warm blanket in the cold winter month, a signal flag for communication, or balance.

These are all crucial to foxes’ survival.

Related: Why do foxes have tails?

fox standing on the grass

Balance

Foxes will use their tail for balance, particularly when jumping from a high place to a lower one, or when walking on something thin or slippery. 

It can help them maintain their speed as they jump down or slow themselves as they climb up

Foxes can also, like cats, use their tails to rotate themselves, so make sure they land correctly if they’re jumping/falling from greater heights.

Warmth During Harsh Winters

During the winter, foxes use their tails to stay warm. When it’s really cold out, some foxes will tuck part of their tail underneath them like an extra layer of insulation.

They wrap themselves in their tail for warmth by curling up or they can lay on top of one another with the fluffy fur of each animal making a sort of blanket. 

Foxes also use their tails as blankets during the summer months when it’s hot outside and they want to cool down.

This way, not only are they staying cool but that bushy coat is blocking any pesky sunlight from warming things up too much.

Related: What do foxes do in the winter?

fox during winter

Signal Flag for Communication

Foxes communicate with each other mostly through body language and scent marking, but their tails also play a role in communication. 

When foxes are pups, they use their tail to convey playfulness and affection; if a mother is running after her pups, they will often stop and look back at the mother with their tails wagging so she knows they’re playing. 

When foxes are adults and meet each other for the first time, they will greet each other by touching noses and smelling one another’s tails.

The tail can also be used for identification.

fox mother with her pups

How Do Foxes Communicate With Their Tails?

Tails can be used to warn others about possible dangers. When a fox is standing up high, it can spot predators from afar. By raising the tail, the fox can warn other members of the group about dangers ahead.

Foxes can also let others know if they’ve found food. They will, again, raise their tail to get others’ attention.

Foxes’ tails are very expressive and can move in many different ways, depending on the message.

Their tails can be raised and lowered so that they give a signal to other members of the group about what is going on around them.

Related: Do foxes wag their tails?

fox family

Foxes communicate among each other with different types of tail movements; here are some examples:

When the fox comes back to the group, its tail is raised and moves from side to side – this means that all is well and no danger was found.

  • When one fox chases another away from a food source, its tail is raised and the tail tip is moved from side to side – this means that one fox was chasing another.
  • A tail in an “upside-down U-shape” will often mean that a fox wants to play.

Wolves Use Their Tails in Similar Ways

Foxes and wolves belong to the same taxonomic family (Canidae) and as such have many behaviors in common:

  • They make dens in the ground to raise young. 
  • They are carnivores who hunt mammals. 
  • And they use their tails for many of the same things.

Foxes and wolves both use their tails for balance, to warn others, or for communication. [1] 

Wolves also wag their tails mostly for the same reasons. Either to signal excitement or submission to more dominant animals in their pack. 

Tail-wagging can mean that the wolf is excited and if the tail is dropped or hanging low then it’s in an even more relaxed state. 

Wolves show their emotions with other body parts in conjunction with their tails.  Wolves dominant will stand tall, while submissive wolves will stay low to the ground, with their tails between their legs.

The same is seen in foxes.

pack of wolves

Are Fox Tails Sensitive?

Foxes’ tails are sensitive, yes. Much like dogs or cats, foxes have nerves in their tails, meaning, they can feel with their tails.

Foxes’ tails are also very sensitive to their current state of health. If a fox is unhealthy, or generally in a stressed state, its tail will be less bushy, while healthy foxes will have big and beautiful tails.

How Domesticated Foxes Use Their Tails

While you may think that domesticated foxes and wild foxes share the same general behavior, there are quite a few differences. 

Now, domesticated foxes are banned in most places, but one experiment has been running for a long time. Here we see that domesticated adult foxes use their tails differently than their wild counterparts. [2]

Red Fox, Vulpes vulpes, standing and Arctic Fox, Vulpes lagopus, lying, isolated on white

Affection

In the Russian selective breeding experiment to produce domesticated silver wolves, the foxes in later generations showed their affection to human caretakers in a number of ways. 

They licked the hands of their trainers and even petted and picked them up. 

There have been instances where the foxes have been observed to show affection in a play bow with their tails wagging. 

Excitement and Happiness

The foxes in that experiment wagged their tails in apparent excitement as their human caretakers approached them. 

This behavior was observed as early as the sixth generation of foxes that were selected from the original wild foxes that showed tameness.

Wild adult foxes typically won’t show this behavior, though kits (baby foxes), will.

Happy fox

How Foxes Otherwise Communicate

Aside from their tails, foxes are also known to communicate with their own kind through other means. 

There is a patch on their tail that is known as the “violet gland” that emits a floral odor which the fox can use to mark their territories. Foxes have also been known to use vocal communication, as well as body language.

Scent Stations (Urination)

Foxes will mark their territory, to let other foxes know that they need to keep out. They do this with “scent stations” by urinating.

Foxes use their sense of smell to explore the environment by sniffing for scents. 

This is why you can sometimes see a fox sticking its nose into the air, as it searches for a particular scent on the wind. 

They do this because they know that some scents might contain information about new dangers or predators in the area, new sources of food, or even directions to a territory that will be suitable for them to live in. 

foxes playing together

Vocal Communication

Besides body language, foxes make different sounds when they want to communicate with others in their group.

They can communicate with each other by growling, yelping, or with short yapping barks when they are angry or trying to scare something away from their territory. 

Vixens can be very vocal during mating season that you may hear “screaming” sounds at night as they try to attract a potential mate. 

Conclusion

Foxes use their tails to communicate with one another, as extra warmth during harsh winters, or for balance when jumping from place to place. 

Foxes are very expressive animals that give off a wide range of emotions through their movements, vocalizations, and scent stations. 

Domesticated foxes have even been shown to display excitement and affection like dogs do: by wagging their tails.

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.

Looking for something?

Try searching our website!