The fox froze. A few inches from his paws, frantic spawning carp wriggled in the shallow water along the pond’s shore. In a sudden rush, the fox dove with its nose into the water and emerged with a large carp wriggling in its mouth.
In March 2016, two researchers from Spain observed a male red fox (Vulpes vulpes) hooked and caught 10 carp in a couple of hours. The event described in a study published on August 18 in Ecology, appears to be the first recorded case of fox hunting, researchers say. The discovery makes red foxes only the second type of dog — a group that includes wolves and dogs — known to prey on fish.
“It was incredible to see the foxes hunting the carp one by one,” says ecologist Jorge Tobajas of the University of Córdoba. “We’ve been studying this species for years, but we never expected anything like this.”
Tobajos and his colleague Francisco Díaz-Ruiz of the University of Málaga came across the fishing fox while surveying a site for another project. The fox was the first to attract their attention because it didn’t run away immediately when it spotted the researchers. Seizing the opportunity, Tabajas and Diaz-Ruiz decided to hide nearby and see what the fox was up to.
Their curiosity turned to excitement after the fox caught the first fish. “The most amazing thing was to see how the fox hunted a lot of carp without making any mistakes,” says Tobajas. “It made us realize that this is certainly not the first time he’s done this.”
Instead of eating all the fish immediately, the fox hid most of its catch and appears to have shared at least one fish with the female fox, possibly her mate.
Fish remains have been seen in fox grazing before. But scientists weren’t sure if the foxes caught the fish themselves or just scavenged for dead fish. This study confirms that some foxes are fishing for food, says Thomas Gable, a wildlife ecologist at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis, who was not involved in the study.
“I’d be shocked if this was the only fox that learned to fish,” Gable says.
Wolves living on the Pacific coast of North America and in Minnesota are the only other canids that catch fish (ЗН: 11.02.20). The fact that the two species of dogfish live on different continents, both fish, opens up the possibility that this behavior may be more common than previously thought, Gable says.
To Tobajas, the fishing fox is an example of how much scientists still don’t know about the natural world, even for species that live alongside humans. “The red fox is a very common species and in many cases it’s a bit hated,” he says. Foxes sometimes attack pets or livestock and are considered pests in many places. But “such observations show us that this is a fascinating and highly intelligent animal.”