Fox family life is never tranquil, and there is perpetual competition between cubs.
Dominance is established by fighting, and the winners get the most food and, as a result, grow faster.
Tension also increases as summer progresses because October marks the onset of dispersal, when fox families start to break up.
Stand up for yourself
Foxes often fight by standing on their hind legs, forefeet on each other’s shoulders or chests, with heads back and mouths open.
This can be ritualised, with the ears erect, or serious, with the ears held against the side of the head.
Bites on the face or neck are rarely severe, but one to a front foot can be serious, because it may cause a cub to limp, reducing its ability to compete with its littermates for food.
Even worse, a bite on the foot may become infected, which can prove fatal.
The fox cub on the left is being ‘body slammed’ off a kill by its more dominant sibling. © Federico Gemma
Foxes also ‘body slam’ opponents off food: a dominant cub will rush towards a subordinate that is eating, slam its rump into its rival and knock it out of the way.
It is less dramatic than fighting, but equally successful in the battle for supremacy.
Winners and losers
Foxes reach their adult size by autumn, and their size at this time determines their fate as an adult.
Bigger vixens usually stay at home, while bigger dog foxes generally disperse and find new territories.
Larger dog foxes have larger ranges and sire more cubs. So it is hardly surprising that fox cubs spend so much of the summer squabbling over food.
Illustrations by Federico Gemma.