What does the fox say?

Earlier this month, Norwegian variety show duo Ylvis released a new song titled ‘The Fox,” which has since become one of the biggest viral hits of the year. Its angle? In the song, a man contemplates what sounds various animals make—much like an old See n’ Say toy (“The dog says: WOOF!”)—before posing the question: “What does the fox say?” It then transitions into a pseudo-dubstep hook in which the man, dressed as a fox, tries to create what sounds he thinks a fox would make. Such gems like: “wa-pa-pa-pa-pa-pa-pa-pow!” and “jacha-chacha-chacha-chow!” are yelled: interesting attempts to solve the mystery. ‘The Fox” is a catchy tune, very reminiscent of Flight of the Conchords and Lonely Island, with a good beat and a memorable music video. But the question still remains: What does the fox say?

I’ve seen many foxes while living in Duluth. From a forest trail, or crossing the road, or even here on campus, my glimpse of the red creature is usually brief and from a distance. Many times, we give each other plenty of space, because, I’m sure, they don’t want to hassle me and I’d rather not get a series of rabies shots because I thought it would be cool to pet a fox. Not that I haven’t thought about it; but, I digress. I have also heard their calls, but usually we don’t see each other in these instances because foxes are very shy creatures who usually only vocalize to each other.

Some fox calls can be mistaken for dog barks or howls. These higher-pitched barks are usually to warn each other of potential danger—possibly from humans, but more likely from larger predators like wolves, bears and mountain lions. Sounds unique to foxes, though, are the vixen’s mating scream and gekkering.

The mating scream is associated with the vixen, or female fox, because they initiate the interaction with a distinct scream when they are ready to mate. Males will follow the sound and make it as well when they are close enough. This way, other males know that they are in the area. The scream is very loud and sounds much like a person being murdered.

Gekkering is a more social sound that foxes make under different circumstances. Usually, it is a playful sound that they make when playing or when they are excited. But in mating season, foxes make it to reject the advances of another mate. Gekkering is a very quick repetition of high-pitched squeals and barks, which usually occur in bursts.

Some sounds foxes make can’t even be properly heard by humans. What may sound like a faint coughing to us is actually closer to the whine of a dog. This is used by a fox as a contact sound to other foxes in a group, telling them its general direction and position.

Fox noises are less known because humans have less interaction with them than domesticated animals and are much harder to emulate. The dog goes “woof” and the cat goes “meow,” but I think I’ll leave it to Ylvis to try and figure out how gekkering should sound. Also, putting the vixen’s mating scream into a See n’ Say would probably scare some children out of their little minds.



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