To human eyes, a red fox’s flame-colored fur stands out starkly against vegetation, but— believe it or not!— red foxes actually evolved their characteristic coats as camouflage.
Animals aren’t capable of producing green pigment. Animals that appear green actually depend on structural coloration, or the use of microscopic physical traits to reflect green light. Scales, feathers, and skin can have green structural coloration, but so far, no animal has developed structurally green fur. They have to go for the surprising next-best thing: orange!
Most of a red fox’s predators and prey are red-green colorblind. A wolf or rabbit sees grassy green and reddish orange as essentially the same color. Colorblind humans usually have the same limitation and can relate! Red foxes can blend into grass or leaves with their rich ruddy fur.
The fox’s white chest and belly aren’t a coincidence, either. This trait is called counter shading, and it helps hide the shadow created by the fox’s body.
Despite their name, red foxes can occur in nearly any imaginable color. While most are red to orange, “silver” or black foxes are common in some areas and have a natural advantage in shadowy forests. Rare genes can also make a fox appear white or cream, or even more exotic colors like lilac or sapphire, but these are very rare in the wild since they put a fox at a disadvantage.
Aren’t these animals amazing?