Red fox, nocturnal hunter

Alaska. Kodiak. Camp Island. Fox eyes glow at night.

Fox eyes glow at night. | Kodiak Camp Island, Alaska.

The red fox is a creature that adapts to diverse habitats including deserts, grasslands, mountains, and forests. They are resourceful and cautious when they walk among human environments such as suburban areas and farm lands. Aside from being intelligent, they are cunning nocturnal hunters with eyes specially adapted for night vision. The science behind this night-time adaption lies behind the light sensitive cell layer of tepetum lucidum, layers of tissue in the eyes of many vertebrates that reflects light back through the eye.

In NPR’s audio podcast called Why Do Animals’ Eyes Glow In The Dark?, we meet Dr. Cynthia Powell, a veterinary ophthalmologist at Colorado State University. Powell explains that when light enters the eyes it is supposed to hit photoreceptors that will then transmit the information to the brain. Many times the light doesn’t hit the photoreceptor, the retina. The retina is the back part of the eye that contains the cells that respond to light. This is where the tapetum lucidum acts as a mirror to bounce the light back for a second chance, giving nocturnal animals an advantage to see more of an image in the dark.

A large number of animals have the tapetum lucidum, including deer, dogs, cats, cattle, horses and ferrets. Humans don't, and neither do some other primates. |

A large number of animals have the tapetum lucidum, including deer, dogs, cats, cattle, horses and ferrets. |

The red fox uses more than its owl-like eyesight to survive in the wild. This fox has the ability to hear low-frequency sounds from long distances. It can hear rodents, rabbits, birds, and other small game digging under layers of snow and dirt. With intense concentration focused on movement and sound, the fox uses a high pounce technique, leaping into the air and diving headfirst into the snow.

Discovery “Fox Dives Headfirst Into Snow | North America” YouTube, July 5, 2013. Web. August 18, 2015.


In the NPR’s audio podcast Why Do Animals’ Eyes Glow In The Dark?, we discover that “glow in the dark” really means the reflection of any ambient light back toward the source, a mirror effect. Explain how the tapetum lucidum helps nocturnal animals see in darkness.

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5 replies

  1. Old student here, We were the first class that had this website. I am now in 7’th grade. Just wanted to say I love the red foxes!😊 They look like amazing creatures that have the unique ability to sense their prey.

  2. I imagine they use hearing and smell to determine where the prey is, and maybe sense movement under the snow.

  3. I really like how the Red fox hunts for food. These foxes have a really good sense of smell and they hunt like there a boss.

  4. Hello, this is a very cool and interesting subject.