Are Wolves and Foxes Enemies?

Foxes are known for their cunning; wolves have an unfair reputation of being vicious. These canids often inhabit the same territory and may compete for the same food but do this make wolves and foxes enemies or are they indifferent to one another? Read on to find out.

Are Wolves and Foxes Enemies?

The short answer is no. They are sometimes competitors for the same food sources when their preferred prey is scarce. While wolves are shy and wary of humans, they are generally aggressive toward other canids like coyotes, foxes, and dogs. Scarcity of food options could drive a wolf to kill and eat a fox, though this is not common.

Red Fox looking curiously at the camera

Wolf and Fox Behavior

Foxes and Wolves diverged genetically around 12 million years ago. Wolves are wary of humans and avoid them and are often hostile toward other canids. Wolves organize themselves in packs with an alpha male and female as the breeding pair.

Foxes can be friendly and do not pose much threat to humans or pets. They are usually solitary but there are urban foxes that have learned to live alongside humans (like coyotes). Wolves are not normally found in urban environments.

Foxes lean more toward the nocturnal side than wolves and their eyes allow them to see well in the dark. They sleep mostly during the day and are more active around twilight.

Since they mate during the winter and have kits (baby foxes) in the spring, it is more common to see them during the day at this time of year as they are out teaching their young how to survive.

Gray Wolf looking left over its shoulder

Do Wolves Eat foxes?

Foxes are predators but they are small canids and not on top of the food chain. They themselves have predators that would eat them. For example, eagles will carry them off if given a chance. Wolves will also kill and eat them – though this is not the preferred prey of a wolf.

A wolf would much rather hunt larger and more sustaining animals like deer. A wolf might kill a fox it caught feeding on its kill but usually, wolves will ignore foxes since foxes eat smaller prey and the two are not usually in direct competition for food. 

On a side note, a wolf will also kill and eat a coyote. Coyotes have been known to seek out and kill wolf pups as well as steal meat from the carcass of a wolf kill. For this reason, a there is benefit in killing them. This tendency is also beneficial to foxes as coyote numbers are kept in check when wolves are around. Coyotes are more numerous and more of a threat to foxes than wolves are.

Can a Fox Outrun a Wolf?

Wolves can run 31 to 37 miles per hour or 50 to 60 kilometers per hour. A Red fox can run 31 mph whereas a Gray fox can run 42 mph (or 68 Kph). So a Gray Fox would have a better chance evading a wolf than a Red Fox, barring other factors.

An experienced fox is difficult to catch. Foxes are known for their cunning and have been known to confuse hounds that are hunting them. They can pass through a fence or a waterway then return on their own backtrail continue the path in the opposite direction, bolt far off to the side, and then continue on in the original direction.

Red Fox

How are Wolves and Foxes Different?

Even though they don’t share the same number of chromosomes, they do share physical similarities such as pointy ears, bushy tails, pointy noses, etc. Gray wolves are much larger than foxes and can weigh up to 180lbs for an adult male (females can weigh up to 100 lbs). A wolf’s body can be 3-5 feet long with a tail that’s another 1-2 feet long. Wolves look vaguely like a large German Shepard dog. There are many types of foxes so I’ll just be talking about the red fox. They have long snouts and red fur across the face, backsides, and tail with a grayish-white belly. A red fox can be up to three feet long with a 2 feet tail and weighs 4.9 to 31 lbs.

The fox’s diet consists of rodents and rabbits but they will also eat birds, amphibians, and fruit. They will also steal food from garbage cans or farms. Wolves are carnivores and prefer to eat large hoofed animals, like deer, bison, and moose. They will also eat rodents, beavers, and rabbits. One exception is the coastal wolves of British Columbia which gets up to 90% of their diet from marine life. A wolf can eat 20 lbs of meat in a single meal. So in general, when their preferred food is abundant there is little crossover in diets and therefore less competition and not much reason for a wolf to be concerned about a nearby fox.

Wolves form packs that can range anywhere from 2 animals to 30 but 4-9 is the most common. When packs get too large, young wolves around the age of 3 might split off to form their own packs in a new territory. Wolves will typically mate for life and only the alpha male and female of the pack will mate.

Pups are born in a den and weaned to 6 weeks. Adult males then bring food and regurgitate it to feed the pups. The mother moves the pups to a new den every couple of months and the same dens are often used for many generations. Wolves can live 8-13 years in the wild though many die earlier than that. In captivity with veterinary care, they can live 15 years or more.

Red foxes mate in the winter. The female builds a den and has anywhere from 1-12 offspring. Both parents take care of the offspring until the next fall when the young foxes leave and go it alone. Red foxes can live 2-6 years in the wild (the average is 3 years) but can live as long as 10-14 years in captivity.

close up of a Red Fox

Can a Wolf be Bred with a Fox?

Although a wolf can be bred with a dog (i.e. Wolf-Dog hybrids), a fox cannot be bred with a wolf. Wolves, coyotes, dogs, dingos, jackals all have 78 chromosomes in 39 pairs. They all share the same genus. This is why they can interbreed. A fox has 38 chromosomes (the fennec fox has 64). Therefore the genetic material is incompatible in terms of the genus, DNA, and genetics.

Final Thoughts

In North America, foxes don’t pose much threat to farm animals or animals like deer. Therefore foxes are not persecuted like wolves are. In the UK however, foxes are persecuted even though there is a hunting ban. Hunters there use loopholes and one of the more commonly invoked exemptions maintains that it is legal to hunt foxes if they pose a danger to livestock, game, crops, or fisheries. It’s actually a bunch of BS and in many ways, the fox hunt in the UK and the misinformation around foxes is similar to that of wolves in North America.

How you Can Help Wolves and Wildlife

If you are disturbed by the plight of wolves in MontanaIdahoWisconsin and elsewhere in America and Canada:


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12 thoughts on “Are Wolves and Foxes Enemies?”

  1. I haven’t read a similar article in a long time.
    It is very rich in details that we did not know (wolves can form a pack of up to 30 specimens, but usually there are 4-9 in a pack; female alpha, etc.). I saw a fox when I was in the host, they killed her with a fork in the hen’s hut and it smelled really bad. I’m afraid of wolves, when I was a child I saw a wolf on the hill and my hair fell out in fear.
    My mother told me a lot about wolves and foxes. The wolves reached the village at night and killed the dogs.
    I didn’t know the wolf ate foxes.

    Respectfully
    Vasile,

    Reply
  2. Your article was very engaging since I think very favorable of foxes and wolves. Your explanation of their similarities and differences helped me understand them better. 

    Our residential estate was built on land where the coyotes roamed wild. Hence, for years we would have coyote visitors to our back yard where we would feed them dog food. Sometimes during the night, we would hear their hunting screeches. 

    As a child in England, many of the stories we learned involved The Hunt. I could never understand why grown adults would hut a little fox using so much force. You are correct, there is no good reason to hunt these beautiful creatures. 

    Thanks for this excellent education on wolves and foxes. 

    Edwin

    Reply
  3. Hello Stone. I enjoyed reading your article because I am a big animal lover. So far I haven’t had a chance to find out so much about wolves and foxes. I confess that I like red foxes more. In my country it was customary to kill foxes and make clothes out of fox fur or collars. Thank God I’m out of fashion, because I didn’t like this habit. Animals must be allowed to live in their habitat and allowed to act on natural selection. Every animal in the world has a purpose. Carmen.

    Reply
  4. I always thought that wolves and foxes were the same thing. Well you learn something new everyday. It’s good to see that someone is taking interest in these type of animals. You always see people talking about the common animals like lions and cheetahs. So it is good to see someone talking about a different breed. 

    Reply
  5. What a fascinating subject. I guess foxes in the UK are now the top wild predator whereas wolves and bears are still top of the chain on the North American continent. I knew that wolves and dogs can interbreed but I wasn’t aware the same applies to jackals, dingos, and coyotes. I guess that shows how well adapted this genus is to such a wide variety of natural environments and how successful they have been at migrating and thriving around the world. Where I grew up in the UK we had woods at the end of the lane at the bottom of our street. It was called Wolfridge Wood. Local legend was that it was the last woodland in Britain where wolves lived. It has now been turned into a housing estate. The only thing that remains is the name in some of the street names.

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