Love them or hate them, it looks like urban foxes are here to stay.
Following the countrywide lockdown measures due to the covid-19 pandemic red foxes seem to be thriving in our towns and cities. And, according to a new analysis, those that have been established in urban settings for a number of years, are changing. Urban foxes are becoming more like domestic dogs compared to their rural cousins.
The research team, led by Dr Kevin Parsons of the University of Glasgow’s Institute of Biodiversity, found that urban foxes have smaller brains and were developing a shorter snout with a stronger bite.
“We assessed skulls from hundreds of foxes found within London and the surrounding countryside” says Dr Parsons. “We saw that urban foxes had a smaller brain size capacity but also a different snout shape that would help them forage within urban habitats.”
There was also little difference found between male and female urban red foxes compared with the size difference found between male and female red foxes from rural areas.
Dr Parsons suggests that urban foxes do not need the mental agility to catch the variety of live prey they feed on in the country but a shorter snout and stronger bite would help them feed on the rubbish they find in our towns and cities.
Alongside these physical changes urban foxes are showing less fear of humans. The study findings go some way to explaining how dogs could have evolved into domestic pets.
Study co-author Dr Andrew Kitchener from National Museums Scotland said “Some of the basic environmental aspects that may have occurred during the initial phases of domestication for our current pets, like dogs and cats, were probably similar to the conditions in which our urban foxes and other urban animals are living today.
“So, adapting to life around humans actually primes some animals for domestication.”
The team stress, however, that urban red foxes remain far from domesticated. But the study does show how exposure to human activity can set an animal down this path.
Are foxes a nuisance where you live or do you enjoy seeing them?