The Canidae family of the animal kingdom is made up of dogs, wolves, foxes, jackals, and other dog-like carnivores, all of which are adept hunters. The red fox, in particular, primarily hunts rodents and other small game, such as rabbits, squirrels, birds, and reptiles. A relatively recent discovery, however, proves that the canid’s diet might be even more diverse than scientists thought.
Back in 2016, researchers in Spain were studying the local red fox population when they noticed a male exhibiting unexpected behavior. The researchers watched in amazement as the fox caught and killed 10 European carp in a single afternoon.
Their observations made it into a recent edition of the Journal of Ecology, in which they detailed their findings. “Fish are an unusual prey group in the diet of red foxes that are occasionally reported in dietary studies, but we [did] not know if the red fox obtains fish from scavenging or active hunting,” they wrote. “Here, we report what may be the first known case of several fish hunted by a red fox.”
The Red Fox Proved Himself a Skilled Fisherman
To the researchers’ disbelief, the red fox was not only fishing but doing so with an astounding success rate. According to the scientists, the canid emerged from the water, fish clenched securely between his jaws, in an impressive 83 percent of his attempts.
“Seeing the fox hunting carp one after another was incredible,” ecologist Jorge Tobajas told Science News. “We have been studying this species for years, but we never expected something like this.”
“The most surprising thing was to see how the fox hunted many carp without making any mistakes,” he continued. “This made us realize that it was surely not the first time he had done it.”
Following a productive few hours near the water, the male shared his catches with a female, presumably his mate. A fox sharing his prey with a mate isn’t atypical for the species. Doing so with fish, however, is unheard of. That said, they don’t believe this particular male is the only one to hunt in water.
Since the finding, the red fox has taken its place as the second species of canid known to fish. The only other canid known to use this method of hunting is the Gray wolf native to the Pacific Coast and Minnesota.
For Jorge Tobajas, the unusual sighting was a testament to the lingering mysteries of nature. Scientists dedicate their lives to the study of animals such as the red fox, but there’s still so much we don’t know.
“The red fox is a very common species and is in many cases a bit hated,” he said. But “observations like this show us that it a fascinating and very intelligent animal.”