A fox plays fetch

Only rarely do we do d**s on this site, but foxes don’t really count as d**s because they’re wild and cute and smart and have bushy tails.  Here’s one that plays fetch (NOTE: I am not recommending the taming of wild foxes).

He’s not really that good at bringing the ball back . . .


  1. Alice Wonder
    Posted January 4, 2013 at 3:14 pm | Permalink

    Wasn’t there an experiment in Russia that involved the domestication of the Silver Fox? I seem to recall there was one, and that they were successful – with the result being a change in both brain size and external morphological characteristics (ears and tail if I recall) as byproducts of the selective breeding for domestication.

    I agree though, wild animals should remain wild and domestic pets should be kept leashed or indoors. Cats do a lot of ecological damage.

    • mknine
      Posted January 4, 2013 at 3:19 pm | Permalink

      it’s insignificant compared to the ecological damage WE do.

    • whyevolutionistrue
      Posted January 4, 2013 at 3:23 pm | Permalink

      Let us NOT, please, start arguing about cats killing birds. This is a video about a fox!

    • Fastlane
      Posted January 4, 2013 at 3:30 pm | Permalink

      Alice, the study you’re alluding to can be found here:

      There is a link with their publications. It is very interesting reading.

    • Frank
      Posted January 4, 2013 at 4:47 pm | Permalink

      As others have noted, the domestication of the long-term silver fox study (over 50 years now?) is a beautiful parallel to dog domestication (which started over 15,000 years ago). I always make a point to discuss this system in my evolution class as a prime example of the power of artificial selection (as an analog to natural selection) AND heterochrony via paedomorphosis. Even within the first 20 or so generations,foxes selected for tameness showed low aggression, actively seeking human company,
      droopy ears, curly tails, reduced corticosteroids, and increased serotonin – traits seen in wild juveniles. The neater videos also show the later, artificial selection for MORE aggessive foxes – they produced vicious brutes!

      • Posted January 4, 2013 at 4:49 pm | Permalink

        There’s also good reason to suspect that humans are similarly domesticating / infantilizing ourselves, which is probably a good thing, all things considered.


        • Antoine
          Posted January 5, 2013 at 6:13 am | Permalink

          Goren do you have any source to recommend on this ? I’ve been interested for some time in the self domestication of humans (after all if domesticated means raised by humans, we’re domesticated animals). I never found much on this though but i’d be interested on how we can make paralels with other domesticated animals, regarding neoteny for instance.
          I’m wondering also if the prevalence of slavery in our far past could have played an evolutionnary role in accelerating human evolution through some kind of artificial selection.

          • Posted January 5, 2013 at 6:20 am | Permalink

            You got me to thinking about changes in human maturation. Those domesticated foxes… If they wind up locked in at a sort of adolescent level, we just might have a parallel. I’m guessing it has to be the case, for foxes, so that they are mature enough to reproduce.

            American children are reaching puberty at significantly younger calendar ages than previous generations. If they get there early and then stay there, somewhere in adolescence with regard to intellectual and/or emotional maturity, that might be a parallel.

            • Posted January 5, 2013 at 8:08 am | Permalink

              That’s a recent trend, probably resulting from environmental (diet / pollution / whatever) causes.

              I’m thinking more long-term evolutionary trends…human face proportions, for example, are closer to the mammalian infantile norm than adults of other species, if I recall right.

              Sorry, no sources that I can remember…perhaps somebody else can step in and tell me if I’m on to something, or merely on something…?


              • Posted January 5, 2013 at 8:27 am | Permalink

                Length of long bones might also be a clue, or just height and shoe/glove size in general (i.e., including the short bones like vertebrae and plate-like bones making up shoulder and hip girdles). Lengthened adolescence correlates with final height, such that boys who reach puberty and puberty’s end soon, with an early growth spurt, teen aggressiveness, facial hair and the like, tend to ultimately wind up shorter than boys to take longer to reach that maturity-conclusion.

                Maybe epi-genetics is involved? I’m not up to date on that area of interest, but it seems possible…

              • Antoine
                Posted January 5, 2013 at 9:42 am | Permalink

                I’ve seen sources stating it may also be a reason why we don’t have much body hair. Much like domesticated foxes got spot and soft ears as a byproduct of selection for tameness, we may have lost our hair as a byproduct of selection for lasting juvenile features. Brain plasticity would be such feature, allowing us to rely on learnt abilities (nurture) during most of our life rather than raw instincts (nature). Weak sexual dimorphism would be another byproduct.

                I can’t help but think of this species of salamander that Dawkins describes in the Ancestor tales, that never reaches its metamorphosis in natural conditions, which means it’s sexually mature as a tadpole. If you inject the right hormone to such tadpole the genes for metamorphosis will actually fire up and you’ll get a new type of adult salamander, probably closely looking like one that used to live quite a long time ago.

                That only science fiction fantasy now, but if we really are neotenic we must hide a bunch of cool genes waiting to be fired up, like we’re 7 billions of children on the planet, each with the adult code sleeping in our DNA.

              • microraptor
                Posted January 5, 2013 at 11:10 am | Permalink

                Actually, Richard Dawkins talked about exactly what you’re thinking of in both The Ancestor’s Tale and The Greatest Show On Earth. One of the most interesting details was about skull shape- humans and chimpanzees have very different skull shapes, as adults. However, the skull shape of a juvenile chimpanzee is very similar to that of a juvenile human, and much closer to that of an adult human than the adult chimpanzee’s is.

              • Posted January 5, 2013 at 11:54 am | Permalink

                Thanks for the follow-ups…good to know I’m not totally nuts and to get some idea of where I got the idea from!


              • John Scanlon, FCD
                Posted January 5, 2013 at 11:55 pm | Permalink

                Any genes that might have been hanging around unexpressed for millions of years will have been mutating at the background rate and not subject to normalising selection, so they’re not going to produce anything very viable if they get ‘fired up’. In fact a lot of our genomes is exactly this kind of junk DNA, including extra copies of currently functional genes, old retroviruses, and repetitive sequences that evolve more by chemical selection in the nuclear environment than by natural selection in the gene pool.

    • docbill1351
      Posted January 4, 2013 at 6:07 pm | Permalink

      To m the cool thing about that study was that several traits followed a gene, if that makes sense. Correct me please!

      But nice pet meant scrawny tail, for example. Droopy ears.

      Can’t breed a nice fox because “nice” is related to other things.

      Am I clued or clueless?

      • Frank
        Posted January 4, 2013 at 9:36 pm | Permalink

        Yes, I think you are “clued”. What I think you refer to is the phenomenon in which selection for particular alleles (at however many genes) associated with tameness has simultaneous effects on other traits – usually because of pleiotropy – genes that affect tameness simultaneously influence multiple traits. In artificial selection, a trait that is desirable and used to select parents is referred to as the target of selection, but, as a result of pleiotropy, other traits inevitably change as correlated responses to selection. Ditto for selection in nature.

  2. Posted January 4, 2013 at 3:19 pm | Permalink

    Very cute, but I agree that they shouldn’t be pets.

    I just started student teaching at an urban school in Raleigh, NC (one not far from downtown). One day I walked out the front doors just as the final bell rang to see a gorgeous grey fox moving into the courtyard right in front of the school.

    Apparently he/she has a den in that very courtyard and is well-known around the place. I suspect the fox knew that the bell meant students would pour out of the school shortly and was heading off to hide.

    Oh yeah, Jerry, I’m working with a biology teacher and will get to teach the unit on evolution this semester. I’m very excited about that.

  3. Diane G.
    Posted January 4, 2013 at 3:24 pm | Permalink

    Such a beautiful animal.

  4. abrotherhoodofman
    Posted January 4, 2013 at 3:33 pm | Permalink

    Jerry doesn’t do d**s or g**s on WEIT.

  5. Brygida Berse
    Posted January 4, 2013 at 3:44 pm | Permalink

    Forget fetching! It learned to sit on command!

    • Posted January 4, 2013 at 4:06 pm | Permalink

      Agreed! Much farther from a natural or instinctive behavior!

    • Marella
      Posted January 4, 2013 at 4:32 pm | Permalink

      That was my first thought too, amazing. I wonder how many commands it can understand and follow.

  6. Scott near Berkeley
    Posted January 4, 2013 at 3:46 pm | Permalink

    Two comments:

    In my early to mid-twenties, when I had a stream of cats in my household (my current wife is allergic to furry beasts), several of the cats learned to fetch. One used to drop the little rubber ball on my face in the early AM, and in response I’d throw it out the bedroom door and down the stairs, exactly what the cat wanted!! Twenty seconds later, the ball on my face again.

    Up at Denali National Park, there are scads of tourists in the summer. Without going into detail about the food chain, the Arctic Foxes in the park have become tolerant of humans in an entertaining way, as they can maximize food by tolerating humans. As you walk along an eight-foot wide asphalt path, foxes will pass you going in the opposite direction, clinging to the edge of the path and purposely avoiding eye contact as they trot along (“nope, no one on that side…no humans around…don’t see anything…looking up , looking down, looking left, NEVER right..”). You can make them acknowledge you, and make them retreat into the bushes, but that’s mean!!

    IMO, Denali’s about as domesticated as I like to see foxes (though the video was entertaining! Thanks!!).

    • darrelle
      Posted January 5, 2013 at 7:46 am | Permalink

      I’ve shared a home with two different cats, a black female mix named Kitani (no longer with us), and our current companion a female Mandalay named Coco Chanel (she’s a Haute Couture kitty), that both love(d) to play fetch. They were/are both serious badasses too. I wonder if that has any connection with the fondness for fetching?

  7. marycanada FCD
    Posted January 4, 2013 at 4:02 pm | Permalink

    Gorgeous markings.

    • Diane G.
      Posted January 4, 2013 at 4:07 pm | Permalink

      . . . Which recalled the posts on heat-related coloring in Siamese cats.

  8. Posted January 4, 2013 at 4:24 pm | Permalink

    Others have posted on the Russian experiment, I see. I’m pretty sure, as a commercial offshoot of their research, one can now buy a (properly-licensed and everything) domesticated fox.

    I rather suspect that the fox pictured above is one such example….



  9. Marella
    Posted January 4, 2013 at 4:33 pm | Permalink

    I suspect I’d not be allowed to own a fox in Australia but I’m not sure.

  10. Sarah
    Posted January 4, 2013 at 5:04 pm | Permalink

    You’re welcome to as many London foxes as you want. We are overrun with them. This fox is amazing–it’s behaviour is so like a dog’s! Even jumping up to grab the tennis ball in its excitement. Fascinating!

  11. infiniteimprobabilit
    Posted January 4, 2013 at 5:30 pm | Permalink

    “Only rarely do we do d**s on this site, but foxes don’t really count as d**s”

    I seem to recall reading (possibly even on this site) that d**s were entirely descended from wolves, no fox DNA at all.

    So therefore foxes aren’t d**s, period, and it would be entirely acceptable for foxes to inhabit this site.

    • microraptor
      Posted January 4, 2013 at 6:31 pm | Permalink

      The Vulpes genus split off from the base canine family long before the modern grey wolf appeared.

      • infiniteimprobabilit
        Posted January 5, 2013 at 3:11 am | Permalink

        Ummm. Forgive me, does that mean I’m right or wrong? My recollection was that dogs were entirely domesticated from wolves.

        • darrelle
          Posted January 5, 2013 at 8:40 am | Permalink

          That is correct. Dogs are descended directly from wolves, and no other species, as best current genetic studies can determine.

          The common ancestor of dogs and foxes occurred before the modern grey wolf existed, is another way of saying what microraptor said. Vulpes (foxes) are a different line that branched off in a different direction from the line that led to wolves, and then onto dogs.

          • infiniteimprobabilit
            Posted January 5, 2013 at 4:27 pm | Permalink

            Thanks, I thought that’s what it meant.

            I’ve just realised my ‘no fox DNA at all’ was a rather confusing statement – in fact meaningless when you look at it harder. I doubt if there’s anything that can properly be called ‘fox DNA’, I’m sure foxes share much DNA with dogs – and porcupines, and us.

            • microraptor
              Posted January 5, 2013 at 6:21 pm | Permalink

              Fox DNA would be genes that had evolved only after foxes split off from the rest of the canines. It is, in fact, a coherent statement. Domestic dogs wouldn’t have and fox DNA because there hasn’t been any crossbreeding between the two tribes since the split (whereas you can find dogs with coyote DNA, since domestic dogs and coyotes can and do occasionally interbreed- dogs and wolves can as well, but they’re now considered the same species so the difference isn’t as significant).

              • microraptor
                Posted January 5, 2013 at 6:22 pm | Permalink

                That should be “Domestic dogs wouldn’t have any fox DNA.”

    • Posted January 5, 2013 at 8:03 am | Permalink

      Gah — I was going to look it up on that nifty new interactive Web site with the tree of life, but I can’t for the life of me either remember what it was called well enough to find it with Google!


    • John Scanlon, FCD
      Posted January 6, 2013 at 12:09 am | Permalink

      It depends what you mean by ‘d**s’. Foxes, like wolves and jackals and dholes and African hunting dogs and a diverse bunch of South American weirdos, comprise Canidae or d**s sensu lato. If you want to restrict ‘d**’ to Canis lupus familiaris, be aware that it’s not the only natural or possible usage of the word.

      What’s a male fox called? I think you’ll find it’s actually a d**.

      • infiniteimprobabilit
        Posted January 6, 2013 at 1:50 am | Permalink

        I think in this context ‘d**s’ would be taken to mean domesticated d**s, unless there was some reason to think otherwise. Certainly in the present instance where we’re talking of a fox behaving like a domestic d*g.

        In similar fashion to ‘cats’ which I think would usually be taken to refer to domestic cats, unless the context suggests otherwise.

        Obviously there’s no hard-and-fast rule and the context is significant.

  12. Steve
    Posted January 4, 2013 at 6:01 pm | Permalink

    In the early 50’s I had two pet foxes at different times. They were named “Rommel” (what else for a 11 year old) and “Tippy” (not very imaginative). They were wonderful pets, came when you called,and very playful.
    A bit of cat and a bit of dog in one package. Great pets for a young biologist.

  13. Posted January 4, 2013 at 6:36 pm | Permalink

    Beautiful animal.
    I’m surprised at the number of pet fox videos on youtube. Would prefer for them to be in the wild.


  14. Posted January 4, 2013 at 8:04 pm | Permalink

    Did you see this video of wild foxes playing and jumping on a trampoline?
    Amazing behavior.

  15. Posted January 4, 2013 at 9:32 pm | Permalink

    Very cute post. But d*gs, f*xes and c*ts are completely inferior to frogs.

    • infiniteimprobabilit
      Posted January 5, 2013 at 4:13 am | Permalink

      Frogs? They’re amphibians, and uncomfortably close in squidginess to c*ph*l*p*ds. You are treading on dangerous ground…

      (Personally, I think frogs are cute. But not as cute as kittehs)

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