Sunday Sketch: Wiley as a Fox

Hunting is hard. Hunting in the snow? Even harder. A study on wild red foxes (Vulpes vulpes) in the Czech Republic indicates that these cunning hunters have an additional weapon in their arsenal—magnetic sensation! The study showed that foxes strongly preferred to pounce on their prey by jumping in the direction facing magnetic north east. This preferred jumping also correlated with higher capture success: 73% and 60% success rate jumping 20 degrees off magnetic north or in the exact opposite direction, respectively. Compare this to 18% success rate if jumping towards prey in any other direction. Although speculative, the data seem to suggest that foxes use a magnetic sense for direction and distance, along with noise cues, to pinpoint the location of their prey in a variety of conditions (e.g. in snowy conditions during the winter and sunny conditions in the spring). More studies are necessary to make sure something simpler isn’t going on, but the lack of alternative hypotheses currently suggests that these foxes are the first mammals discovered to use the earth’s magnetic field for hunting.

Sketch and Fact Contributed by Megan McElligott

Source: Červený, J., Begall, S., Koubek, P., Nováková, P. and Burda, H., 2011. Directional preference may enhance hunting accuracy in foraging foxes. Biology letters7(3), pp.355-357.

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