Foxes hunting under snow

I’ve posted before on the amazing ability of foxes to find prey beneath a thick cover of snow, and on recent evidence (see here as well) that they use the Earth’s magnetic field as a beam, achieving the greatest success by far when jumping (in Czechoslovakia) toward the north-northeast or (180° around) south-southwest. (Question: are the directions the same for foxes in the southern hemisphere?)

This is truly an amazing finding if true, and shows that animals have senses that we can’t even imagine. As the geneticist J. B. S. Haldane said, “I have no doubt that in reality the future will be vastly more surprising than anything I can imagine. Now my own suspicion is that the Universe is not only queerer than we suppose, but queerer than we can suppose.”

Now you’ve had your science lesson, look at these foxes! These two videos, involving red and Arctic foxes, are breathtakingly beautiful.



  1. Posted May 31, 2017 at 2:42 pm | Permalink


    • Posted May 31, 2017 at 4:18 pm | Permalink

      Good catch. I read right past it without thinking twice.

  2. Merilee
    Posted May 31, 2017 at 3:05 pm | Permalink

    Just reading Jim Al-Khalili’s Life on the Edge ( quantum biology) which, among many other thinga, discusses how robins use the earth’s very weak magnetic fields to migrate towards the equator from both north and south. I wonder how in the world the foxes’s prey are always hiding a certain direction away? Guess the 🦊 must just have stronger signals in those directions.

    • Adam M.
      Posted May 31, 2017 at 4:37 pm | Permalink

      Yes, it’s bizarre. I’d guess that either the prey tend to run in a certain direction or that the fox is somehow able to better estimate their location and velocity from a certain directions, but why would the directions be relative to the earth’s magnetic field? Very curious.

      • merilee
        Posted May 31, 2017 at 6:25 pm | Permalink

        Apparently the robins have some kind of enzymes that are very very (not Trump) sensitive to the magnetic fields and those fields are strongest in certain directions. Apparently said robins’ enzymes can’t tell north from south, but they know that these fields are strongest towards the equator from both directions (and towards the equator is where they want to go in the winter…I wonder how they figure out how to do the reverse in the spring??) BTW, that Al- Khalili book is excellent (if dense). I’m only about 1/2 way through. The robins are described in the prologue/preface.

        • BJ
          Posted May 31, 2017 at 7:06 pm | Permalink

          This makes me feel like X-Men could be real if we could just get some of these powers into humans 🙂

    • Posted May 31, 2017 at 6:43 pm | Permalink

      According to Life on the Edge robins use an inclination compass which points to the nearest pole, very tricky and a very interesting chemical process, blew my socks off! Magnetoreception seems to be ubiquitous amongst animals from fruit flies, butterflies, birds, foxes.. natural selection has got it covered
      It occured to me the alignment the fox takes might have more to do with the prey as it would need to orientate itself under the snow perhaps so it knows which way is up. I have no idea how it would work, mountaineers caught in avalanches have this problem when buried, which way is up?
      With life (or death) emineatly under threat it would be handy to know…

    • Diane G.
      Posted June 2, 2017 at 2:50 am | Permalink

      “Just reading Jim Al-Khalili’s Life on the Edge ( quantum biology)…”

      I am impressed! First I’ve heard of it…

      • Merilee
        Posted June 2, 2017 at 8:39 am | Permalink

        I highly recommend it, Diane. It’s not exactly an easy read, but very engaging.

        • Diane G.
          Posted June 3, 2017 at 2:06 am | Permalink

          Had a look on Amazon…hmmmm. Thanks for the rec.

          • Merilee
            Posted June 3, 2017 at 9:17 am | Permalink

            You’re welcome.

  3. BJ
    Posted May 31, 2017 at 3:13 pm | Permalink

    I saw this in a recent documentary a few weeks ago. I don’t know if it mentions it in the video (like I said, I had already seen it, so I didn’t feel like watching), but the doc mentioned that they have a 75% chance of catching their prey when they do the maneuver while pointing north, but only something like 25% in any other direction.

    Jerry, why do you think this might be?

    • BJ
      Posted May 31, 2017 at 5:03 pm | Permalink

      Sorry, since I had already seen the doc, I didn’t read the post. Apologies for the redundant question.

  4. Peter
    Posted May 31, 2017 at 3:24 pm | Permalink

    So foxes are honorary cats ? (“posted on May 31, 2017 at 2:30 pm and filed under animal behavior, Honorary cats”)
    What other animals are in this category ?

    • Posted May 31, 2017 at 4:19 pm | Permalink

      I think red pandas might be.

    • darrelle
      Posted June 1, 2017 at 7:42 am | Permalink

      I think squirrels are also.

  5. ThyroidPlanet
    Posted May 31, 2017 at 3:26 pm | Permalink

    They ruled out that the foxes use shadows?

  6. John Conoboy
    Posted May 31, 2017 at 4:00 pm | Permalink

    Polar bears use a similar technique to hunt seals.

  7. stuartcoyle
    Posted May 31, 2017 at 4:07 pm | Permalink

    I don’t know what technique it used but a fox took our lovely Muscovy duck Cleo last week, but it had nothing to do with snow.

    I still can’t bring myself to consider these pests to be honorary cats. I do understand that they actually belong in other environs, but here in Australia they just cut a swathe through our native fauna and livestock.

  8. Adam M.
    Posted May 31, 2017 at 4:25 pm | Permalink

    The two links, “recent evidence” and “here” go to the same place.

    • Torbjörn Larsson
      Posted June 1, 2017 at 6:39 am | Permalink

      And it is the same research group [?] that has claimed the following animals have “compass behavior” [only first year noted if several publications):
      – Water fowls [2013]
      – Dog [2013]
      – Carp (evidence from “fish markets”!) [2012]
      – Fox [2011]
      – Cow [2009]
      – Roe [2008]


      Got to love the fish market data. In sum, naively it looks like any animal – but not plants or fungi – prof. Ing. Jaroslav Cerveny, PhD. points to has “compass behavior” since 10 years back.

      Or is it just him, I see no independent replication!?

  9. Posted May 31, 2017 at 4:56 pm | Permalink

    Are there any foxes native to Southern Hemisphere areas? The only foxes in Australia are feral Europeans, and the distinct lack of snow in these parts would probably impede success in using this behaviour.

  10. Kevin
    Posted May 31, 2017 at 5:12 pm | Permalink

    These impressive animals may want to avoid Theresa May.

  11. LynnFDR
    Posted May 31, 2017 at 7:34 pm | Permalink

    I’m going to throw a geological bent into the idea and propose that local magnetic lineaments might be at play and not the overall north-south (magnetic) polar alignments. Thus several miles in any direction other foxes might have great success along an orthogonal or other lineament. That is, if indeed, the earth’s magnetic field has anything at all to do with it.

  12. dabertini
    Posted May 31, 2017 at 8:33 pm | Permalink

    Too funny. How do they avoid concussions and broken necks?

  13. Michael Fisher
    Posted May 31, 2017 at 8:46 pm | Permalink

    For those Czech foxes I postulated there’s a characteristic wind direction e.g. for Prague the wind blows most of the time from the W & the WSW. However according to Ed Yong the computer say no

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