Norwegian brothers Bård and Vegard Ylvisåker – who form a group known as Ylvis – released a music video on Youtube with the intriguing title “What sound does a fox make?”
The video has gone viral and attracted the attention of over 50,000,000 people so far, but still never fully answers the question.
Ylvis suggested noises such as “wa-pa-pa-pa-pa-pa-pow” and “fraka-kaka-kaka-kaka-kow,” but these aren’t exactly accurate! To find out what sounds foxes really make, Decoded Science enlisted the help of fox experts Dr. Ilya Volodin and Dr. Svetlana Gogoleva, both from the Department of Vertebrate Zoology, Lomonosov Moscow State University in Russia.
Red foxes (Vulpes vulpes) are the most common foxes in the world, and also the most studied. Transforming recorded calls into spectrograms, Dr. Volodin tells us we can identify a wide range of vocalisations, reaching as many as 20 different sounds.
Foxes can use these calls in different circumstances, including to warn intruders that they’re trespassing, as well as find a suitable mate or entertain cubs.
Screaming for a Mate!
The most ear-piercing sound made by foxes is the scream, which is typically used by females during the mating season in late winter and spring. This intense call is designed to travel long distances and attract potential mates.
Fox Sounds: Are you Friend or Foe?
Foxes also commonly bark, which is generally used as a type of contact call to find out whether other foxes are friends or rivals. This type of bark sounds similar to a dog, but it’s slightly higher-pitched. These calls are used for “maintenance of territory and contacts with neighbours,” Dr. Gogoleva explained to Decoded Science. Animals can recognize their neighbors’ calls and if the intruder turns out to be an enemy, barks can soon turn to more aggressive vocalisations like snort, cough and growls.
Play Time for Foxes
There’s also time for “caring and playing with the cubs with cackles, pants, whines and squeals,” says Dr. Gogoleva, which may turn into gentle snorts for ‘naughty cubs.’ “When playing leads to a fight or during competition for something like a toy or food, the cubs may whine and growl,” Dr. Gogoleva adds, but in the face of real danger, the best way to communicate with mummy is with a shriek.
Foxes Communicating With Humans
Generally, foxes are fearful of humans and tend to use more aggressive calls, such as “snort, growl, moo and cough,” says Dr. Gogoleva. However, it’s not uncommon for some animals to adopt a tamer approach and use cackles and pants to show a more submissive behaviour.
Fox Calls Reflect Emotional Condition
Foxes express some of the most varied and complex calls in the canine kingdom. To further complicate the matter, “different animals use different calls in response to the same situation,” says Dr. Volodin, which reflects the animal’s emotional condition and aggressive nature. But despite having a large variety of calls, foxes communicate more with scents – they don’t make noises that often. So, what sounds do foxes make? Not very many.
“The red fox is a territorial animal leading a solitary life,” concludes Dr. Gogoleva, and only “communicates with other foxes during the breeding period and when raising cubs.”
Volodins: Bioacoustic. Animal Sound Gallery. (2010). Accessed September 29, 2013.