The video clip that you will see below is from Discovery Channel's original series entitled 'North America' and shows the hunting techniques of red foxes in snowy terrain. The fox shown in the video below was filmed somewhere in the Black Hills in South Dakota, but foxes can be found in countless habitats around the world. According to National Geographic, foxes inhabit forests, grasslands, mountains, and deserts, and even readily adapt to all sorts of human environments.
When red foxes live in snowy terrain, they face an added level of difficulty in hunting as their prey is hidden well below the surface of the snow. Their exceptional sense of hearing allows them to find mice that are hidden out of sight, but how do they know precisely where to pounce? According to a blog post from Discover Magazine entitled Foxes use the Earth's magnetic field as a targeting system, foxes may actually be using the earth's magnetic field to determine where to nosedive into the snow. Jaroslav Červený spent two years researching red foxes in the Czech Republic alongside a team of 23 wildlife biologists and seasoned hunters. In those two years, this team managed to record and observe almost 600 mousing jumps from 84 different foxes.
Červený and his team noticed that foxes predominantly pounced "in a north-easterly direction, around 20 degrees off from magnetic north." The foxes succeeded in killing prey 70% of the time when jumping along this preferred axis, while the opposite direction yielded a 60% success rate, and all other directions ended in a successful catch only 18% of the time. After gathering this data, Červený hypothesized that the foxes were using the earth's magnetic field to estimate the distance to their prey. In the northern hemisphere, the earth's magnetic field tilts downward at an angle of 60-70 degrees below horizontal. Červený thinks that foxes listen to mice below the snow until the sound hitting their ears matches up with the earth's magnetic field. At the moment that these two factors align, a fox knows that its prey is a specific distance away and can therefore determine where to pounce.
We at SF Globe loved watching this adorable fox dive headfirst into the snow and had no idea that their hunting techniques were so complex! Have you ever heard of Červený's theory about the earth's magnetic field? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below!