Never Outfoxed Never Outfoxed
i
Photo by Jeremy Hynes/Unsplash
Nature

Never Outfoxed

The Most Feline of Canines
Mikołaj Golachowski
Reading
time 12 minutes

In London they dine out in restaurants, in the polar zone they steal leftovers from bears. Unlike humans, they look both ways before crossing the street. They can climb and travel thousands of miles. Thanks to their craftiness and wisdom, foxes are the most widespread carnivores on Earth.

With foxes, what you see is what you get. And even those who’ve not seen one in the wild are surely familiar with how they look. Foxes feature as symbols of cleverness in many cultures, and unlike many other myths (this might come as a surprise, but hedgehogs don’t eat apples, and earwigs won’t come near your ears), this representation is absolutely correct. First of all, they are predators. Long ago, during his lectures on behavioral ecology, the British biologist Robin Baker claimed that predators will always be more intelligent than herbivores because there’s more evolutionary pressure on them to be cunning. He said something along the lines of: “A predator needs to outsmart another animal, while the only thing a deer must outsmart is a blade of grass.” It’s a nice one-liner, but it does somewhat oversimplify reality. It also sidesteps the fact that it’s fundamentally difficult to make comparisons regarding intelligence, because it’s not even completely certain what intelligence is. Today it is known that one of its strongest determinants is social life. Social species must have sophisticated communication systems and must know about “politics,” as well as remember alliances and animosities, social statuses, and many specific individuals. This doesn’t change the fact that carnivores really are clever—which is why humans so often choose dogs and cats as life companions—but they’re definitely not the only ones. As far as carnivores go, foxes are rather small, so they can’t just make up for cognitive deficits with force.

Information

You’ve reached your free article’s limit this month. You can get unlimited access to all our articles and audio content with our digital subscription. If you have an active subscription, please log in.

Subscribe

Also read:

Non-Human Admiration Non-Human Admiration
i
The Melbourne penguins. Photo by Tobias Baumgaertner, who is supporting the Forever Wild Earth charity with all sales profits (www.foreverwild.earth). Photo by Tobias Baumgaertner; www.tobiasvisuals.com
Nature

Non-Human Admiration

It’s Possible That Animals Also Perceive Beauty
Mikołaj Golachowski

You may have seen a photo on the internet of two friendly little penguins that meet in the evenings to admire the Melbourne city lights reflected in the sea, flipper-in-flipper. It’s easy to be skeptical about the interpretation of the shot. But then perhaps humans aren’t the only creatures capable of delight. 

You don’t have to be a romantic to see that the natural world is full of beauty. From picturesque landscapes to unbelievably colorful birds and fish—all around us there are sights that can provide even the least emotionally-inclined person a moment of aesthetic pleasure. As someone who isn’t (or at least doesn’t consider themselves to be) overly effusive, I still find it hugely gratifying when, for example, our ship weighs anchor in Ilulissat, Greenland, and sails into the fairy-tale world of yellow-crimson sunsets and incredibly blue icebergs reflected in an expanse of liquid gold. At such moments, I can almost hear a gentle clicking in my head: everything falls into place, and the world surrounding me feels exactly as it should be. There’s no place I’d rather be. 

Continue reading