Can Foxes Climb Trees?

Written by Peralee Knight
Published: January 17, 2022
Image Credit Danita Delimont/Shutterstock.com
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Foxes are members of the Canine family, but sometimes they act more like felines. They hunt similar prey like birds and rodents, a particular favorite of your average house cat. Foxes also stalk and ambush their prey using finely tuned hearing and motion-based eyesight. They even have long whiskers and vertical pupils like cats to see in near darkness! But do foxes have one more thing in common with cats? Can foxes climb trees? 

Can Foxes Climb Trees?

Mysterious Gray Animals - Gray Fox
Grey fox with orange-red fur highlights, prominently displaying its tail. They are one of only two members of the Canidae family that climb trees.

iStock.com/johnpane

The short answer is no, true foxes are not considered to be tree climbers. Only two members of the Canidae family of doglike canines are considered proficient in climbing trees. These are the raccoon dog found in East Asia and the Grey fox.

Grey foxes are not true foxes, they are a separate genus with the species name Urocyon cinereoargenteus. There are sixteen recognized subspecies of Grey fox found in North America and the northern part of South America. While they appear remarkably like true foxes, there are key differences. These include a stockier build and coarse black guard hairs including the tip of the tail. Grey foxes also have a mostly black and grey coat with distinctive patches of rust red. 

The Grey fox is also distinct from the vulpine species because of its flexible rotating wrists and partially retractable claws. These characteristics are why the Grey fox can climb a tree with remarkable efficiency. They can capture and drag prey while climbing and are even known to have burrowed in tree hollows!

However, while true foxes may not be expert tree climbers, some species can hold their own!

Red Foxes Can Climb (Kind Of!)

fox scream at night - red fox in field
Red foxes can’t climb trees the way the Grey fox can, but they can jump very high and leap from branch to branch!

iStock.com/Rejean Bedard

The largest species of true fox is not as skilled at climbing as the Grey fox. But they are incredibly agile and known for being quite clever! Red foxes can jump up to six feet in the air, using their long and bushy tail for balance. They can clear high walls and fences and can leap from branch to branch instead of traditional climbing.

The Red fox is not able to use its claws like the Grey fox to scale vertically. This is because Red foxes have claws more suitable for digging that do not retract. They are also less likely to climb to avoid larger predators. In contrast, Grey foxes will seek higher ground in trees or shrubs. This is why Grey foxes are found in higher numbers where their common predator is the coyote!

Can Any Other Species Climb? 

The 2002 study of San Juan Kit foxes was published in the Southwestern Naturalist. Researchers conducting a behavioral study in Bakersfield, CA observed the species climbing trees on two occasions. Before this study, there was no record of Kit foxes being able to climb!

On both occasions, researchers observed a male and female Kit fox pair. The female stayed primarily on the ground while the male traveled up and down the tree. This was to be more like a mating display, as no foraging behavior was observed. He climbed from the ground vertically for 2.5 meters and then climbed in a vertical path back to the base!

Kit foxes are thought to have evolved in arid grasslands with little to no trees. Therefore, the possibility that they were capable of climbing was not previously considered. It is important to note that researchers have not conclusively determined that the Kit fox species can climb trees. 

Experts that conducted the Bakersfield study hypothesize that the Kit fox developed this adaptation in response to their changing environment. They are considering the similar adaptation that red foxes developed to survive in urban environments. Foxes are known to be accomplished foragers and highly adaptable, after all!

The Red fox and the Kit fox aren’t able to climb a tree like the Grey fox can. But if these two are any indication, the true fox is smart enough to find a way around about anything!

Fox scream at night - grey fox in tree
There’s the proof, the Grey fox can climb trees! However, they aren’t true foxes, but we don’t judge!

Danita Delimont/Shutterstock.com

If A Fox Can Climb By Jumping, Can Other Canidae?

The Grey fox and the raccoon dog are the only members of the Canidae family that are considered true climbers. However, some of these doglike canines can jump quite high, and one may be a third tree climber! 

Wolves are known to snatch prey out of a tree by leaping up to twelve feet in the air! They are also very agile and can scale steep rock faces. While they cannot climb, they can gain a foothold on very narrow terrain. 

Coyotes are only able to leap up to three feet like the Red fox but can use their powerful back legs to get over rock walls and fences. However, they are often no match for the Grey fox, like we stated above!

While dingoes are a subject of much controversy, they are currently classified as Canis lupus dingo and are considered by many to be a subspecies of the grey wolf. They are the only native canine in Australia, and like the Grey Fox, they have rotating wrists. They use this adaptation not only to hold onto prey but to climb trees as well, which is one of the reasons many believe them to be a separate species of Canidae altogether!

In general, most members of the Canidae family can jump at least one to three times their own height. This also includes domestic dogs, though some breeds are more skilled at this than others. 

For more about the Canidae family, check out the wide selection of articles on A-Z Animals using the Search function, or by clicking the links in this article!

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