Foxes are crafty, specialised predators – in some areas of the world they are even the apex predator. These opportunistic omnivores are always on the lookout for an easy meal, both catching and killing their own prey and scavenging for carcasses and human garbage.
These small but cunning canids are true survivors, equipped with brains, speed and agility. So it’s pretty hard to imagine anything that might hunt and eat a fox. However, there are several animals which will happily catch and consume foxes including large birds of prey like eagles and owls, and larger carnivores which may eat the foxes they kill through efforts to remove competition within their territory. Some of these include bears, wolves, mountain lions, and lynx. Otherwise smaller animals like wolverines, and even humans are some other top fox predators. Of course, there are many other scavenging species which will indiscriminately feed on the carcass of a fox they happen across.
Whether or not an animal will eat a fox depends very much on the circumstances. Here, we’ll take a closer look at some of the animals which eat foxes, the situation within which they would eat a fox, and some interesting anecdotal evidence. Join us to discover more!
Quick List Of Animals Which Eat Foxes
Let’s take a quick look at some of the animals we will be focussing on today. Here are some of the main species which would eat a fox:
- Birds of prey including eagles, hawks, and owls
- Larger carnivores like bears, wolves, coyotes, mountain lions, wild dogs, jackals, leopards, and lynx
- Smaller carnivores like wolverines, long-tailed weasels, skunks, ermine, and mink
- Scavenger species (e.g. corvid birds)
- Other foxes
Fox Predators vs Animals That Kill Foxes
First of all, it is important to make a distinction between animals that would kill a fox in order to eat it, and those that would kill a fox to remove it as a threat. Predators are, by definition, animals which catch, kill and eat their prey. When a fox is killed by most other large predators including bears, wolves, coyotes, lynx, wild dogs, jackals, leopards, and wolverines, it is usually because foxes are in direct competition with these species. Where a predator kills another predator, this is technically called superpredation. When the diets of carnivores overlap within a region, this can challenge the survival of the competing species and cause territorial fighting. Killing a competitor to remove it from the territory is called competitive exclusion.
All the large carnivores we have mentioned on the list above would win against a fox if the species were to fight, purely due to their size and weight compared to a fox. In most cases, when a fox is faced with one of these species it would run away rather than enter into an energy-consuming (and potentially deadly) conflict. This could instead lead to a fox being displaced and forced to abandon the territory.
Foxes and coyotes are clashing more and more regularly, particularly in urban areas in North America. Where humans have displaced wildlife by, for example, destroying natural habitats and intensifying agricultural land, adaptable species like foxes and coyotes have moved into urban areas. Both species are incredibly opportunistic and therefore their diets overlap significantly. Where they occupy the same territory, conflicts often end in a bloody battle with foxes usually coming off worse.
Domestic dogs have also been known to kill foxes. It has been suggested that, in countries where the number of stray or feral dogs around cities is higher, there are far fewer foxes. However, they would not kill a fox to eat it, it would be more or a territorial scrap.
If any of these large carnivores happened across a fox and killed it in a fight, they may take the opportunity to feast on the carcass but usually only when they are struggling for food. Lean periods can push all animal species into desperate measures, forcing them to consume foods they would not normally include in their diet.
One interesting point about the interaction between foxes and bears is that bears will often steal the quarries of other carnivores, and foxes are no exception. Bears really are masters of energy conservation and as such, a quick and easy meal killed for them by a fox is a much more attractive offer than hunting and catching a fox to eat themselves.
In view of this, it could be said that foxes have very few natural predators (those that intentionally kill a fox to eat it). This begs the question: which animals are natural predators of foxes?
Natural Predators Of Foxes
Of the animals on our quick list today, it is perhaps only birds of prey like eagles, hawks, and owls that would kill a fox to eat it. In most of Europe, the main natural predator of foxes are eagles, such as the Golden eagle. Most eagles are probably unable to lift an adult fox from the ground. This means they will either target fox cubs when the opportunity presents itself, or kill a fox on the ground and consume it then and there rather than carrying it away. (See this amazing picture below of an eagle attempting to steal a rabbit which a fox had just caught. The fox is hanging on for dear life!)
The deadly, razor-sharp talons and strong bill of an eagle or a hawk enable them to effectively catch and hold onto larger animals that they are unable to pick up. In Scotland, UK, Golden eagles have been observed hovering over foxes and swooping quickly in as soon as their quarry looks away. The eagle will then dig its calws firmly into the fox’s neck, and hang on until the fox collapses in exhaustion. A brutal but effective technique when your prey is larger than you and possesses its own sharp teeth and strong jaws.
Eagles are diurnal (most active during the daytime) hunters and will not often get the opportunity to target a fox as foxes are nocturnal (most active during the night). This gives owls an advantage…
Owls are also mostly nocturnal creatures, although some species are diurnal or even crepuscular (most active at dawn and dusk). Similarly to eagles and hawks, owls have strong, piercing claws. They will swoop in hard and fast, taking an unsuspecting fox by surprise. This impact, or the following impaling talons, is likely to kill a fox.
Other Occasional Predators Of Foxes
Smaller carnivores like wolverines, long-tailed weasels, skunks, ermine, and mink have been known to take young fox cubs as prey. This has also been observed with snakes – larger snakes may select unwitting fox cubs for their meal. There was one report in Australia of a python and a fox fighting, the fox bit the python on the head but in the end the python won by constricting its struggling prey.
Although wolverines are mostly scavenger species, they are extremely fierce and may go for a fox if the opportunity presented itself (although this would be a rare occasion). Wolverines have been observed to attack and wound a larger prey species multiple times, letting it bleed out and tire so it is easier to go in for the kill without endangering the wolverine.
Foxes Eating Foxes
The natural world can be a brutal place, and lean times may force animals to exhibit cannibalistic behaviour. When they are extremely hungry, or infected by brain-altering diseases like mange, foxes have been known to turn on one another for a desperate meal. In some cases they have been seen taking a cub from another fox parent.
Humans Eating Foxes
Unfortunately, in many areas of the world humans are the biggest threat to the life of a fox. Humans kill foxes as a sport in some countries, either hunting them directly or using hounds to run them down. In Mongolia, eagles are used by people to hunt foxes during the daytime. The purposes of fox-hunting range from obtaining their furry pelts to pest control (where foxes threaten livestock) or simply as a leisure activity.
It is rare that people hunt foxes primarily to eat them nowadays, but it does happen. The Mongolian people who use eagles to hunt the foxes will eat the carcasses afterwards. In some countries, where foxes have been caught in snares or shot on private/public land where hunting is allowed, foxes will also be eaten by people.
Scavengers Which Eat Dead Foxes
There are very many species that would eat a dead fox if they came across one. Birds like corvids and vultures are particularly adept at spotting and quickly taking advantage of fresh carcasses. There are very many decomposer species such as Carrion beetles which lay their eggs in the carcasses of mammals. The larvae will hatch out and feed on the dead body as a nutritious first meal. These kinds of species do a critical job in clearing up the natural world, and recycling the nutrients back into the soil, feeding the wider ecosystem as a whole. Pretty much any animal that specialises in eating carrion will gladly exploit a fox carcass.
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