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(Back to Menu) Taxonomy: Many texts on fox natural history cannot help but draw comparisons between the fox and the cat and, if you spend any time watching them, you’re certainly struck by how similarly they behave: both have the same delicate, tripping gait; both stalk and pounce in much the same way; both sit and sleep with tails curled around their bodies; both twitch tail tips to allow young to practice hunting; both will use a paw to scoop unwary fish out of a garden pond.
Anatomically, however, foxes have the large ears, the long pointed muzzle, the 42 teeth and the non-retractable claws (five on forefeet and four on hind) that we typically associate with dogs, although they do share the vertically-slit pupils commonly associated with cats (larger canids, such as wolves and domestic dogs, have round pupils).
Briefly, the creature that taxonomists currently think gave rise to modern-day dogs was a medium-sized (about the size of a coyote) grassland predator of North America called that appeared during the late Eocene, some 36 mya.
The caniforms subsequently diverged into three lineages (which we call subfamilies): the Hesperocyoninae (‘western dogs’); the Borophaginae (‘bone-crushing dogs’); and the only one still around, the Caninae, which includes the dogs, wolves, foxes, etc.
Iberia, Italy, southern France, etc.) for only a (geologically) brief period, after which they quickly returned to central Europe and Britain; at the time, the UK was connected to the European continent.
The flooding of the Doggerland ‘bridge’ around 6,500 years ago isolated Britain’s foxes from those in Europe, putting an end to any natural mixing of the populations.
Aubry’s data reveal more than just the distribution of foxes in pre-history, it also elucidates the relatedness of the animals currently inhabiting North America (see: Taxonomy).
This radiation was probably in response to a vacant niche opening up as the borophagines started to die-out, and not only marked the birth of all the dog species we know today but also heralded the appearance of three modern-day genera in the south-western USA: (true foxes).
In essence, it was around 10 mya that the fox lineage split from the wolf-dog lineage.
In their 1982 comparison of Red and Arctic ( comes from the Old World and dates to the early Pleistocene (between 1.8 and 1 mya) of Hungary and, in her 2008 study of Red fox dentition, Polish Academy of Sciences mammalogist Elwira Szuma suggested that the current line evolved either in Asia Minor or North Africa around this time.
As fox populations rose in Eurasia, those in North America appear to have dwindled.
A couple of million years later the dogs started arriving in Eurasia, and the Pliocene (4-5 mya) saw the dogs spread into Africa and South America.