Mirjam Guesgen

Freelance Science Writer

I am a freelance science writer currently based in Toronto, Canada, with a particular interest in animal welfare.

I love communicating complex, scientific ideas in an engaging, balanced, thought-out and informative way.

What does the fox say?

Ever since Norwegian duo Ylvis’ song went viral, the question on everyone’s mind has been: what does the fox say? A few of the options put forth by the artists include:

- Ring-ding-ding-ding-dingeringeding
- Gering-ding-ding-ding-dingeringeding
- Wa-pa-pa-pa-pa-pa-pow
- Hatee-hatee-hatee-ho
- Joff-tchoff-tchoffo-tchoffo-tchoff

Fox calls have been researched and recorded and actually sound more like screams or barks.

But, maybe Ylvis are asking the wrong question? Instead of what maybe it should be when or why does the fox say (speak)?

Vocalizations, or what animals say, can be described not only in terms of the sound made, but also their use in specific environments or different social situations. 

One of the functions of vocalizations is being able to tell each other apart, in other words, identification. Of course, when you’re close to another individual, you can use sight to tell who they are. But when you’re further apart (or it’s night-time and you can’t see them as well) vocalizing becomes more important. 

Once you have an idea of who is who, you might want to bring them closer to you for various reasons. Young fox pups use specific calls to get their mother’s attention and maintain contact with her. Adults will use a different type of call to attract a mate. Alarm calls let those around you know there’s danger. From an evolutionary perspective, the ability to produce and understand different calls allows foxes to increase their fitness by living long enough to spread their genes (through mating).

Calls also allow foxes to live more efficiently by maintaining a social structure. Adult pairs and their offspring live in close family units within a specified area of land (a territory). To maintain their hold on their territory, foxes let each other know who’s boss by producing dominant or submissive calls. If push comes to shove, they’ll fight for it which is then accompanied by ”gekkering”. The benefit of going through all that effort is that territories allow foxes to “divvy up” resources between them, with the fitter individuals getting the best resources, having more mating opportunity and, ultimately, making for a stronger fox population.

On that note, I propose a song rewrite:

Why does the fox speak?
To tell each other apart (identity)
Use those calls when you can’t see-e-e
Let Mum know just where you a-a-are
Find a ma-ate from af-a-a-ar
Why does the fox speak?
Alarm calls let you know there’s da-a-anger
Defend your territory from a stra-a-anger
Get the resources, get the ladies
Strong fox population, that’s why the-ey speak!