We all know what the Fox says, but what we really want to know is what does the fox think?
There's a saying it's not exactly true, but it has a little bit of salience to it.
Is: foxes are dog hardware, running cat software.
They've evolved a lot of behaviors, pouncing behaviors, this sort of thing, very similar to cats.
So a lot of the games they play are kind of cat games.
Like, you know, you have a string with a feather on it.
And they'll go nuts over it, jumping and doing all this like a cat.
But on the other hand, you have a tug toy they'll tug on it, tug on it, just like a Dog would.
Welcome to animal IQ.
In each episode, we explore the intelligence of an animal using our rubric and the five domains of intelligence.
Each domain is affected by genetics and evolution and environment.
And even though experts, don't actually like to directly compare animals intelligence.
A rubric like this can help us understand just what we know now.
The rubric is based on current scientific research expert interviews, and a bit of our own knowledgeable opinions.
Foxes might look like tiny dogs, but there are a wide variety of species from all over the world.
They are from the same family as dogs, Canidae.
But they're a different genus and species.
You may recall that dogs have an encelphalization quotient of 1.2..
The Red Fox is very similar, although a little higher, at 1.9.
Humans, we sit at about 7.5 with our big old brains.
As a reminder, EQ is the ratio of brain size to body size and like all single numbers in the world of science.
It's an interesting proxy for intelligence, but it's not actually a true comparison.
Even so the Dog/Fox similarities are real.
Like dogs Some foxes can even read human social cues, but this ability seems to depend on those foxes being domesticated.
That's very true.
And domesticated foxes do exist.
In 1959, Russian scientists Dmitry Belyaev and Lyudmila Trut wanted to break down the fox.
And create this new kind of dog.
They took a group of foxes and they began to control their group adaptation through selective breeding, almost like humans and dogs did over a millennia.
So for every generation, the pair would assess foxes for their friendliness and their tameness towards humans.
Then they would take the top 10% of friendly foxes and breed those foxes together.
And after generations of doing this, they began to see behavioral changes in these foxes.
And they also began to see physical changes in the foxes.
How weird is that?
Their ears changed.
Their body shape changed, but a domesticated Fox is not the same as a domesticated dog.
Don't expect a Fox for example, to respond to an enthusiastic "good boy!"
To find out more about the differences we called David and Amy Bassett, co-founders of a non-profit domesticated Fox rescue center.
When we domesticate stuff like we did with a dog, we make them a little less intelligent.
If the dog can't do something, He'll look at us and say, you know, help us out here.
Where foxes are much more independent than dogs.
Much more willing to continue to try to solve something on their own.
We're teaching the, the foxes, to do nose work like you would with a dog.
So we can have drug sniffing foxes right now, what we use as their scent, because we don't want to get arrested for having drugs around house is basil.
And we figured out a good extra bonus in that if we want to find Italian restaurants, we can have them send the foxes out and then they'll find them for us.
They'll work at it and work at it.
And they don't necessarily immediately look at a human to help them, help them out.
You know, when they don't know what exactly they're doing, they'll just keep working the problem, working the problem.
Today, domesticated foxes, they're quite tame.
They approach humans and they allow themselves to be held and even pet.
One of our foxes, she's kind of a bourgie Fox.
And she, her favorite thing is sparkling water with blueberries in it.
One of our foxes just loves having his back scratched.
And when people visit him and especially if they have long fingernails, they're not going to get away from scratching his back.
In addition to their altered behavior, these domesticated foxes also appear to be genetically.
And neurochemically distinct from wild foxes of the same species, which means this may have also affected how we humans perceive fox intelligence for these domesticated foxes.
And since measuring social interaction is just one way to assess intelligence.
I can't believe I'm going to say this because we need to do it, but it's the social domain.
So what does the Fox say Natalia?
What does it say?
Not what does it sound like?
Does it actually socialize?
We know that they can make 20 different types of vocalizations, which I'm not going to try to mimic here, but the vocalizations include things like barks, whines, warbles, screams, even something called a yodel.
They mainly use these vocalizations to raise alarm with other foxes or mark their territory.
But we really don't know a lot about foxes that aren't domesticated.
It's an area that we need to research more.
I'm really glad that you brought up territory Natalia because Red Foxes are so good at understanding territory and maps.
They store food and caches and they go back to get it later, which means they know their territory well, and they can return to specific spots when they need to.
In GPS studies where they would tag the foxes and follow them around, they found that they would use safe paths to traverse the area and return to places with a good view of their territory or places with yummy rodents to eat.
So score them one in the ecological domain.
It sounds like they can store a mental map in their head, like lots of other animals do and might even be better at it than other animals.
That's a pretty awesome ecological measure for them.
The real question is what else is going on in there?
And cause some of this stuff like awareness, there just isn't a lot of research on.
And the wild foxes they're, they're definitely survivors.
They're not apex predators.
So they're not the top of the food chain, but they are predators.
And so they have to hunt and worry about being hunted at the same time.
So their cognitive skills have developed for that.
Also they're very good climbers.
And we had one enclosure that had a little bit less of a cover on it.
So we put a fox in there that really wasn't a climber And so one morning I go in there and of course she's out of her run.
And so she was taking her litter box, dragging it to the front of the cage, flipping it over, jumping on top of it.
And then out she goes, so just one night and obviously it just struck her, after she was working the problem for six months.
And that's a real nother aspect of their intelligence is how quickly they can pick something up.
Because again, when you look at life in the wild, if you don't learn pretty quickly, you don't survive that long.
So most of what we know seems to know comes from domesticated foxes but we're really not sure how comparable that is to their wild counterparts.
Do the wild foxes have the same fear factor that the domesticated ones do?
Will they approach an intelligence tests and take the intelligence test the same way that the domesticated foxes would?
We just don't know to really get inside the brain of a fox.
We need more research on the wild foxes.
Yeah, that's true.
There's just not a lot of research on fox cognition.
Currently the major studies focus on those domesticated friendly foxes.
And how foxes domesticated over generations will gain these social and cognitive abilities.
But when it comes to wild fox intelligence, they're often referred to as sly and cunning and can even be portrayed in media as evil and duplicitous.
But we don't really know that much about them.
New foxes had kind of a bad rap.
So we figured, well, if we can somehow put them in a good light, that would be a good thing for foxes.
Let's fill in our rubric and kind of touch base on what we've learned.
So based on what we've learned about foxes: their awareness score is okay, but they scored pretty high in a social/ecological category, but we have to keep in mind that these are for the domesticated boxes and we don't really know what the wild ones would score.
That's an area that needs more study.
And this is telling because when we compare foxes and dogs, it might seem like they're really similar, but dogs have been so domesticated so fully, they appear to be super intelligent.
They'll take our tests, but foxes, especially wild ones might outperform them in several ways.
This just underscores any of the problems that we're going to have comparing animal intelligence.
There's just no universal test.
This is only episode two, lots more to learn.
They do seem to be wily though.
We just need more information.
Comparing the animals is tricky.
Although I will say foxes are a fascinating study subject and argue maybe a little bit cuter than dogs to study.
So I'm going to give them a really high X-Factor because there's so much, we don't know.
So many questions left to ask.
So that's it for foxes?
What animal do you think we should look into next?
I think we should branch out from mammals.
I don't know.
Have you ever met a fox irl?
I would like to, especially now.
Thanks a lot for watching animal IQ and we'll see you next time.