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Red Foxes Locating Prey

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERADeep snow certainly presents challenges to predators – their prey is well hidden for the most part, and if they are to survive, they must compensate for not being able to see what they are hunting. Foxes are an example of how a predator survives in a winter like the Northeast has had. A red fox hunting for food is constantly listening for the sound of rodent feet under the snow, and when it hears them (they can hear a mouse or vole three feet beneath the surface of the snow) they leap up into the air and pounce on or near their prey with their front feet. Most of the time they are not successful, and come up empty-mouthed, but they usually succeed often enough to survive. Biologists are still working on understanding exactly how they do this.

Researchers in Czechoslovakia, watching foxes hunt in the wild, determined that a fox’s success seems to correlate with the direction in which it jumps. If the observed foxes jumped to the northeast they killed on 73 % of their attacks. If they reversed direction and jumped exactly the opposite way, they killed 60 % of the time. But in all other directions — east, south, west, or variations thereof— they were successful only 18% of the time. Jaroslav Cerveny, the Czech researcher, feels that foxes have a “magnetic sense,” and are capable of lining up the rodent sounds that reach their ears with the slope of the Earth’s magnetic field, and when this occurs, dinner is usually caught. (This theory has yet to be confirmed, but the likelihood that it is correct is great.) (Photo by Susan Holland, in the wilds of northwest Ontario)

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15 responses

  1. robertwyatt

    Phenomenal post! I so enjoy beginning my day with your information in my brain. Thank you! Robert

    March 16, 2015 at 8:37 am

  2. Mary,

    There is a great Youtube video on this fascinating phenomenon that your readers may be interested in:

    I really look forward to your posts – they really keep me in touch with nature in a very informative and interesting way even on days when I cannot venture forth myself. Thank you so much Mary!

    March 16, 2015 at 9:30 am

  3. Diane

    Great article!

    March 16, 2015 at 9:36 am

  4. Bill On The Hill...

    Great post Mary & a beautiful capture by Susan on the Ontario fox!
    Once the snow is gone I have seen coyotes in my fields employ this exact same tactic & usually with success. I have seen them flip the rodent in the air & down the gullet with it.
    I have a mating pair of foxes running my road all winter now, primarily the male I think as I see it lifting it’s leg on the snow banks here & there…
    Beautiful creatures that are part of the canine family? yet have vertical cat eyes…

    March 16, 2015 at 9:46 am

  5. David Thomas-Train

    See this video re red foxes hunting:

    March 16, 2015 at 9:47 am

    • Thank you, David!

      March 16, 2015 at 11:07 am

    • Penny March

      Hey David! Great video! Hear the Ausable is full of ice! Hope you guys are OK! Penny

      March 16, 2015 at 3:47 pm

  6. Lovely post, Mary.

    March 16, 2015 at 9:53 am

  7. It’s not clear how the magnetic direction could affect hearing. Actually, I speculate it might be more strongly related to the effect of sunlight on snow. I know sun melts snow most effectively at certain times of day (based on the combination of solar angle and air temperature), so perhaps the NE/SW orientation reflects this? That is, the sun melts the snow along this azimuth, making it more permeable to sound. If so, the success rates might be reversed in the southern hemisphere?

    March 16, 2015 at 12:51 pm

    • Sounds logical, Geoff. Afraid I am not qualified to say which theory is more likely, but yours is fascinating.

      March 16, 2015 at 5:06 pm


    A friend sent me this, after I shared your post. I thought you’d like it.



    March 16, 2015 at 3:02 pm

    • Afraid whatever you attached didn’t come through, Fran. If there was something you wanted me to see, you can send it to me at if you like!

      March 16, 2015 at 5:05 pm

  9. Fascinating, geomagnetism. So much we have yet to discover!

    March 16, 2015 at 3:46 pm

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