Need ideas for the fox's tails. In case you're wondering, this is for a speculative evolution book I'm doing which is suppose to build a structure for a novel series about these foxes (something like Watership Down or Warrior cats). To start the extra tails are actually massive dreads of matted fur extending from the hindquarter which are religiously groomed and stretched with teeth and tongue to resemble a real tail.

At the base of the tails there are long, thick hairs which are similar to spines of a hedgehog or a porcupine which help erect them as the fox flares the tails up in a shimmering fan position, which helps with both sexual display and aposematic display.

While for some species, they are used for shade for desert species, as a blanket for extra wamrth for both tundra and mountain species, as a form of hierachy for pack-hunting ones, balance and for one cat-sized species that lives in the swamps whose tips of thier tails have been stiffen and tangled with insects to help lure in fish near the water, like a fishing rod.

The problem is that the tails could be a nuisance when stalking, pouncing or chasing after prey as the fox could easily trick over of the tails. Any ideas to overcome this handicap? Other question is how long the tails should be?

Pouncing on prey has already been solved thanks to IndigoFenix's help (thanks for that) and also has running thanks to GrinningX. All is left is stalking

enter image description here Something like this

Copyright belongs to http://arvalis.deviantart.com/art/Ninetales-582816024

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    $\begingroup$ By any chance is this meant to parallel the Kitsune of Japanese mythology in some way? I feel like that might be what you're trying to accomplish, and if you're willing to convert fiction into "fact" (not entirely reality, but more based in it) that'll help everyone here figure out what you want to do here. $\endgroup$ – Pleiades Oct 24 '16 at 12:13
  • $\begingroup$ Make ur fox float like a butterfly by extending all its fluffy tails and dive toward its prey unlike a bee sting... $\endgroup$ – user6760 Oct 24 '16 at 12:33
  • $\begingroup$ Pleiades, I'm going for something like making the foxes more like newly discovered species that were found a Japanese zoologist who happen to be my pseudonym for my book. $\endgroup$ – Alexander R. Hunt Oct 24 '16 at 13:57
  • $\begingroup$ If you read something like the A Natural History of Dragons: A Memoir by Lady Trent, then you get the idea $\endgroup$ – Alexander R. Hunt Oct 24 '16 at 13:58
  • $\begingroup$ @user6760 So, an enhanced version of their normal hunting method? $\endgroup$ – Izkata Oct 24 '16 at 15:45

12 Answers 12


Alternative Diet

A red panda is kind of like a fox, and eats bamboo. If it had massive dred-tails, it could still catch bamboo. And it would probably still be cute, too.

The crab-eating fox is a canid closely related to the traditional foxes (genus Vulpes). As its name implies, it gets most of its diet from crustaceans in the wet season, and insects in the dry season, with lizards, eggs, turtles, and fruit thrown in for good measure. This kind of diet is a lot easier with a big tail than chasing rabbits would be. This diet is also pretty similar to what peacocks eat, and they manage it with their own gigantic tails.

Other options could be a badger-like diet that consists of digging things out of holes, or a strict insectivore. A diet based on plants, fruit, insects, fish, shellfish, or carrion or any combination of the above could all work.

  • $\begingroup$ The ninetails does a flexible diet depending on the environment and the species of ninetails (so far there's several different species in different shape and size), much like the red fox. $\endgroup$ – Alexander R. Hunt Oct 24 '16 at 13:30
  • $\begingroup$ But I might have a few specialists for the subfamily I'm doing $\endgroup$ – Alexander R. Hunt Oct 25 '16 at 10:03

Tails that drag behind you are unlikely to be tripped over while chasing something. If that thing gets behind you, causing you to turn around, it has already demonstrated that it is faster or more agile than you are and is going to get away anyway. Yes, there are probably events where the predator needs that maneuverability, but they should be edge cases. You could offset the lost prey percentage by heightening one of their senses vs. a regular fox.

With that said... I think it is interesting that I cannot think of another mammal with a hairy tail that allows its tail to drag on the ground. Cats (big and small), dogs (big and small), horses (and related animals), etc. all have hairy tails, but those tails are either short enough to avoid the ground or are held aloft as the animal moves. This suggests that having 9 tails as described would create a host of other issues that are not in your animal's best interest.

Dragging your tail on the ground while walking would get it COVERED in crud all the time. Dirt, mud, algae, moss, fecal matter, bugs, parasites, and any amoeba etc. This would make it highly susceptible to infection and substantially increase its mortality rate; so much so that I would be surprised if a number of parasites DIDN'T adapt specifically to inflict themselves onto this particular animal.

If the tails were cleaned regularly in the typical animal fashion (licking), from a hygiene perspective your fox might as well run with its tongue out licking the ground for all the crud it's going to ingest.

If not cleaned, the tails would quickly take on a LOT more weight and add considerably more drag to your animal - slowing it down and making it less capable as a predator.

  • $\begingroup$ Oh well i had a idea that the fox could share a symbiotic relationship with bioluminescent fungi which would live on the dirt and decomposing matter caked in the fox's dreads and as a bonus, the fox disperse the spores. $\endgroup$ – Alexander R. Hunt Oct 24 '16 at 13:34
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    $\begingroup$ Being held aloft is probably a requirement, but I think if you applied the "science-based" approach to 8 sets of dreadlocks coming off of 1 physical tail you'll hit mechanical issues. I will also add that I'm not sure of how many birds you would attract with it at night (they tend to sleep). Insect attraction may not be useful unless the fox can both see and jump very well (and repeatedly) at night. For example, you don't find a lot of ants or other crawling insects congregated under a suspended bug zapper at night. $\endgroup$ – GrinningX Oct 24 '16 at 13:52
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    $\begingroup$ If I had a powerful hallucinogenic effect that I was myself immune to and could trigger on command, I wouldn't use it to escape predators. I would use it to eat them. Probably mixed with vocalizing and calling others of my species when it was used, if the effect was right I could potentially take down much larger animals who were not able to properly defend themselves. $\endgroup$ – GrinningX Oct 24 '16 at 13:56
  • $\begingroup$ @AlexanderR.Hunt - Sure. But if they can't fight back or can't fight back properly they are still prey to me. Heck, if it really works well I'm going to form fox-packs and my primary prey will be animals like deer. Small bites, but if the areas are unprotected they will add up to a kill. Depending on how/if the animal thrashes around a lot of course, but if it doesn't notice that 3 foxes (all creating more spores) are biting at its neck it's not going to take long to hit an artery. $\endgroup$ – GrinningX Oct 24 '16 at 14:15
  • $\begingroup$ To be honest I think sticking with the spores as defense. $\endgroup$ – Alexander R. Hunt Oct 24 '16 at 14:20

Why not real tails? Yes, you'll need to think some about attachment points. But it would also allow you musculature which will make the tails much more maneuverable.

For the actual question: the same way that peacocks avoid their predators, they just have to deal with the problems caused by their tails. May result in behavioral changes; ie: make them more likely to lay in wait / ambush, than to actively pursue their prey.

Have you considered making this a sex-linked trait; as it is for peacocks? Another example; moose/deer have massive antlers (which get caught in trees and other obstacles and end up killing more than a few of them), etc. Typically you give these traits to males, as they're the more disposable of the sexes. Even if you kill off 10% (or much larger %) of the males, you don't decrease the number of animals in the next generation.

  • $\begingroup$ To be honest, I think I'm going to stick with the tails as dreads of fur really $\endgroup$ – Alexander R. Hunt Oct 24 '16 at 10:09
  • $\begingroup$ I just to know how the fox could catch its prey $\endgroup$ – Alexander R. Hunt Oct 24 '16 at 10:12
  • $\begingroup$ Is there a way the dreads of fur be maneuverable? $\endgroup$ – Alexander R. Hunt Oct 24 '16 at 10:13
  • $\begingroup$ Do like the idea of a sex-linked trait, I'll keep that in mind :) $\endgroup$ – Alexander R. Hunt Oct 24 '16 at 10:30
  • $\begingroup$ Dreads on only a bare, but muscled/boned tail could be maneuverable. Just saying, that if they're merely straight (dreads on a spine), they're only directable at the base of the spine; versus say how a cat's tail can twitch at the tip/swish around, or how a real fox can curl up in its tail. re: caloric-intake: Then the kitsune only work / are viable in a prey-rich environment. shrug $\endgroup$ – anonymouse Oct 24 '16 at 12:35

Maybe I'm not understanding the question.

Tails are critical in hunting as counter-torsion devices allowing a hunter to adjust its ground contact for rapid acceleration changes. That is, tails let you turn and stop fast. You can read anything by Patel for more deep details.

If the nine tails work synchronously, you have a regular tail. If they fan out, you have a strong windbreak or flying wing. If you had an ambush predator against flying prey, this would give amazing acrobatics. Also, if you are against small prey, tails could stun prey on a near miss, much as bats bounce insects off the stomach.

And tails can be prehensile...


Patel, Amir, and M. Braae. "Rapid turning at high-speed: Inspirations from the cheetah's tail." 2013 IEEE/RSJ International Conference on Intelligent Robots and Systems. IEEE, 2013.

Patel, Amir, and Edward Boje. "On the conical motion and aerodynamics of the cheetah tail." Robotics: Science and Systems Workshop on “Robotic Uses for Tails. 2015.

  • $\begingroup$ When you said the tails could stun prey, you mean use them like a whip or something? $\endgroup$ – Alexander R. Hunt Nov 1 '16 at 16:39
  • $\begingroup$ Not a whip; there is too much mass in a hairy tail. Think more of a fly-swatter. This fox is jumping into a cloud of sparrows in some crazy 'jump from the top of tree' attack. It adjusts trajectory to hit the main mass of the cloud, then extends the tails at the last moment to maximize its cross section and hit as many birds as possible. $\endgroup$ – Charles Merriam Nov 1 '16 at 17:09

perhaps add the stalking issue to the design of the character. if the animal is already matted and grungy i would imagine it being emaciated two, only able to capture specific/easy prey. i can imagine that not only would the tails make the fox more clumsy but also take away from the predators stealth as they would drag the ground. the constant rustling would be an issue to the animal.

but most fox species are opportunistic predators, they take what the can. they scavenge and steal, it a major fox trait. so as oppose to stalking adult rabbit the fox may be more interested in digging defenceless babies out of the nest. or stealing chickens eggs, and meal scraps from other predators.

(great concept you have here. i myself am an artist and am generally wanting to draw a concept of this animal)


Ninetails holds onto the other tails with its real tail when it hunts, allowing it to maneuver however it wants to without a big problem. The tails also show superiority to its prey when it gets near, releasing the tails and intimidating them. Just an idea.

  • $\begingroup$ Intimidation is generally something you want to drive off predators and competition, not prey. There's not much advantage in scaring a creature you're trying to catch and eat. $\endgroup$ – IndigoFenix Nov 1 '16 at 9:51

The reason why foxes have large, bushy tails is to act as a counterweight while in motion, allowing them to make sharp, agile turns. Foxes also hunt by pouncing on prey, often through high, vertical leaps. Birds often have wide, fan-shaped tails which they use for steering in flight. Perhaps this fox has a fan-shaped tail to help it steer better in mid-air while pouncing. It may also have some gliding capabilities - a proper "flying fox" family that has started to evolve in the direction of birds. The pygmy gliding possum is an example of a mammal that has a wide, flat tail for this same purpose, though not quite to the same extent as birds do.

While a large fan the size of nine regular fox tails (as the kitsune is typically depicted) would be impractical due to its weight, maybe a subspecies of this "fox-bird" family experienced a case of runaway sexual selection, like a peacock. In that case, the large, showy tails would probably be exclusive to males, while females would have smaller, more practical fans.

  • $\begingroup$ Like to the idea to use the tails to steer when pouncing, have ideas for when stalking or running? $\endgroup$ – Alexander R. Hunt Oct 31 '16 at 11:55
  • $\begingroup$ @AlexanderR.Hunt Well the thing is that a fox's tail is already great for steering in all directions; that's why it's big and puffy all around. Fan-shaped tails are mostly suitable for controlling vertical movement. It would probably just hold the tail out of the way when stalking...although perhaps some creative coloration and positioning could help it to break up its body outline at night and make it harder for prey to spot. The "dreads" could be functionally similar to feathers: lightweight, long, and thin, with the tail itself being fairly small in comparison. $\endgroup$ – IndigoFenix Nov 1 '16 at 6:10
  • $\begingroup$ It also might have dirt and rotten debris stuck in the dreads which it feeds to a certain bioluminescent fungus species also tangled in there, which the fox shares a symbiotic relationship with it. $\endgroup$ – Alexander R. Hunt Nov 1 '16 at 8:50
  • $\begingroup$ Would it be dead weight? $\endgroup$ – Alexander R. Hunt Nov 1 '16 at 8:55
  • $\begingroup$ I think if the tail was used for maneuvering, it would definitely not have dirt or fungus in it, bioluminescent or otherwise. Such structures need to be kept a very precise shape to work well and therefore need to be clean - note how often birds clean their tail feathers. It will also be best if they are not too heavy; the tail should certainly not be more heavy than the rest of the animal. $\endgroup$ – IndigoFenix Nov 1 '16 at 9:49

This is the part that caught my attention:

At the base of the tails there are long, thick hairs which are similar to spines of a hedgehog or a porcupine which help erect them as the fox flares the tails up in a shimmering fan position, which helps with both sexual display and aposematic display.

(Porcupine quills, as per Wikipedia: Porcupines do not throw their quills, but when threatened, they contract the muscles near the skin which causes the quills to stand up and out from their bodies.)

Why not just further tweak these quill-like hairs, but with a tad finer control similar to flight feathers when a bird flares and points its tail, or even curls/uncurls them or makes them fluff out for displays) it would increase aerodynamics for speed and skulking, and improve balance (Allowing them to flare the tail for walking on narrow surfaces) and keeping it out of the muck if needed, or avoid the telltale sound of something being drug on the ground.

  • $\begingroup$ Any ideas on what the finer control could be? $\endgroup$ – Alexander R. Hunt Nov 1 '16 at 20:00

Braid/bunch the tails for hunting that way when shit gets real the tails can come apart and get all dramatic while inflicting superficial wounds on everyone involved.

These foxes are clearly already smarter than they should be. Braiding or tying off their dread locks wouldn't be that much of a stretch if I believed that they knew how to make them in the first place.

  • $\begingroup$ So how can the fox tie the tails, does it groomed them into a bunch since extras are dreads of fur? $\endgroup$ – Alexander R. Hunt Oct 25 '16 at 9:59
  • $\begingroup$ It could be useful helping make the fox faster $\endgroup$ – Alexander R. Hunt Oct 25 '16 at 17:50

To put things into a realistic context, I though I'd add some real-life situations of dogs (+1 cat) with matted-locks who seem to have no problem doing everything short-haired dogs do, which seems to agree with those who say the fox will have no problems, of which I am one.
What sets these animals apart from this fictional fox is that the fox is aware of the locks, and so is able to clean them. Also, the dreadlocks are (I assume) thicker and grow only at the very rear of the fox, by the tail.

$\hspace{250px}$ (click to view full image)
dreadlock dog 1 dreadlock dog 2 dreadlock dog 3 dreadlock dog 4 dreadlock dog 5 dreadlock dog 6 dreadlock dog 7 dreadlock dog 8 dreadlock dog 9 dreadlock dog 10 dreadlock dog 11 dreadlock dog 12


Strangely, the one thing nobody has mentioned yet:

A tail is an extension of the spine. That means the tail bones do have part of the spinal column passing through them.
If the fox's tails are actual tails, then the spine nona-furcates(?) at the base of the tails, leading to effectively nine independent limbs with associated motor and sensory functions. It also means a significantly larger processing facility and muscular structure needed to control them, which ties in with the Kitsune legend of needing a hundred years to grow each tail. A newborn with nine tails would be at a severe disadvantage due to the resources needed to develop eight additional limbs plus learning to coordinate 13 limbs at a time.

If they aren't tails, they're hairy outgrowths, like, as people above have pointed out, peacock feathers, of limited movement and only really secondary sexual characteristics. A muscle at the base pulls them up and out of the way when needed but that's it. That means that while not very mobile, they're not very heavy either, and since they grow in at about 2 cm/month, the fox will have plenty of time to adjust, much like horses do.

So, what does that mean for our fox? Firstly, in both cases the tails would develop after adulthood. In the first case, the fox would have to develop the brain power to manage nine tails, at which point it would be smart enough to not need to hunt, i.e., probably smarter than most humans. Alternately, it won't and much like other mutants will die painfully.
In the second case, the fox has one true tail and eight, for want of a better word, quills. These will have to be far shorter than the true tail and will only really be used in mating displays or as intimidation. At other times, they will be tucked safely out of the way.


As far as stalking goes, The 9 tails won't be too much of a problem. Foxes are really more of an ambush predator (how foxes hunt). Most of their prey, even if they hear the fox coming, will probably think they are safe until it is too late. If you want more of a stalker than an ambusher though, The fox just needs to keep its tails above the ground (which it should evolve to do so that its tails don't keep getting dirty or caught on things). And if the fox is moving fast, the air going by will help hold the tails level a bit. Another option is to do something to disguise the sound of the of the dragging tails as something inconspicuous (or lull it's prey into a false sense of security with a charming melody of some kind, which might fit with the real world lore a bit more).


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