Fox vs Wolf: The Top 4 Differences of the Gray and Red Canids of the Northern Hemisphere

Fox vs Wolf

Written by Krishna Maxwell

Updated: September 6, 2023

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Foxes and wolves – especially red foxes (Vulpes vulpes) and gray wolves (Canis lupus) – have captured imaginations for millennia. Think back to some of your favorite children’s stories, such as the Big, Bad Wolf in The Three Little Pigs or Little Red Riding Hood, or the crafty fox in The Gingerbread Man.

If you spotted them in the wild, could you tell the difference between a fox and a wolf? With the help of this guide, you can! Fox are substantially smaller, more agile, and are solitary. While they are part of the canine family, foxes are more cat-like in their behavior.

What, though, would happen if a fox and a wolf crossed paths? Would they fight? Who would win? Keep reading as we examine those questions.

Fox vs Wolf

Wolves and foxes share the same habitat but are relatively easy to tell apart because of the great difference in size. They also differ in coloration, behavior, and vocalization.

Where do foxes and wolves live? Gray wolves and red foxes can be found throughout the continents of the Northern Hemisphere – North America, Europe, and Asia. The red fox has also be introduced to Australia, though it is not native to that land.

While they share the same habitat, foxes and wolves generally avoid one another. Wolves may chase a fox and kill it if they catch it, but they mostly don’t bother. Foxes and wolves may both be in the same broad canine family, but they cannot interbreed and have very little in common.

Comparing Wolves vs Foxes

When you see a dog-like mammal in the wild, consider these identifying factors. Let’s consider each of these traits in more detail.

Gray WolfRed Fox
Size:Height 2.8 ft at shoulder, weight up to 180 lbsHeight 1.3 ft at shoulder, weight up to 31 lbs
Coloration:Typically gray with white, black, brown, or reddish markingscan be solid white or black – Red with white markings
Behavior:Social pack huntersolitary
Vocalization:Howls, barks, and yipsScreams and barks

The 4 Key Differences Between Red Foxes and Gray Wolves

Can you tell the difference between a red fox and a gray wolf? Let’s examine their differences in size, coloration, behavior, and vocalization in more detail.

1. Size: Height and Weight

The most apparent difference between foxes vs wolves is their size. Adult male gray wolves are bigger than most large domestic dog breeds. They stand up to 2.8 ft at the shoulder and weigh up to 180 lbs. Females are typically smaller.

The red fox, on the other hand, is the size of a large cat or medium-sized dog. It stands about 1.3 ft at the shoulder and weighs only 31 lbs. That means the gray wolf is six times the fox’s size! These differences in size are readily apparent even from a distance or in low light conditions.

2. Coloration

The gray wolf and red fox were both named for their fur coloration. That makes it easy to remember that the gray wolf is primarily grey in color, and the red fox is an orangish-red.

Each species does exhibit color variations, however. Gray wolves may have brown, white, black, or reddish markings. Some are solid white or solid black. One North American subspecies is known as the red wolf. As its name suggests, its fur is reddish in color.

There are also several related species of fox that share the range of the red fox. The silver fox and gray fox each exhibit a gray coloration, with black, brown, or red markings. And a Russian selective breeding experiment undertaken in the twentieth century revealed that even more color combinations (such as white with brown spots) are possible for foxes. These do not occur in the wild, however.

3. Behavior

Foxes and wolves belong to the same taxonomic family – Canidae, the dogs – and as such have many behaviors in common. They make dens in the ground to raise young. They are carnivores who hunt mammals. Yet, their behavior is also very different in two important aspects – their social order and what they hunt.

Wolves are pack hunters with highly sociable personalities. They live in groups and work as a team to bring down large prey, including deer, sheep, caribou, and bison.

Foxes, on the other hand, have a solitary personality and are generally only seen in groups when raising young. Adult foxes spend little time together. They do not hunt in packs, so their prey is much smaller – small mammals such as mice and rabbits, birds, and even eggs and fruit.

4. Vocalizations

Wolves are well-known for their loud and haunting howls, which they use to communicate over long distances. Foxes, meanwhile, are better known for the viral song “What Does the Fox Say?”

So, what does a fox say? Foxes make barking noises that sound like ow-wow-wow. They are also known to scream – a high-pitched sound that sounds like a woman screaming. These noises are often heard during the mating season. The male uses such vocalizations to keep competitors at bay, while the female shrieks to attract the males.

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About the Author

Krishna is a lifelong animal owner and advocate. She owns and operates a small farm in upstate New York which she shares with three dogs, four donkeys, one mule, and a cat. She holds a Bachelors in Agricultural Technology and has extensive experience in animal health and welfare. When not working with her own animals and tending her farm, Krishna is helping other animal owners with behavior or management issues and teaching neighboring farmers about Regenerative Agriculture practices.

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