I'm in the process of writing a speculative evolution book which is based on the natural history of the nine tailed foxes that suppose form a structure for a novel series I'm also doing (rather as a real animal undiscovered by science, than a mythological creature so no supernatural stuff and magic please).
I'm nearly down with the basics of the fox (the reason behind the extra tails and the creation of fox-fire which is like a will o wisp) and what is left is how the fox can shape-shift in a rather more illusionary way (not literally illusionary and more like a natural hologram ) as an alternative to change and hide its true appearance, rather than literally changing its anatomy and physiology to mimic the desired animal, since the fox would probably have to shed its fur and regrow it which would be a waste for the extra tails as they actually dreads, rearrange its cellular structure to match the desired species, require a large amount of calories to build up body mass or need more calcium to strengthen its new bones (if changing into a larger animal) and might be easy for the disguise.
I kinda imagine shape-shifting could serve as a defence mechanism to scare predators away in a "different form" as a last resort if aposematic display fails and to blend in with pursuing wolves and other pack animals (and maybe humans if the foxes ever venture in urban areas) if there's a limit.
It could also be useful for the sick, the injured and the elderly to avoid detection of their prey, like a hare for example, as they mimic their victims themselves, it’s also been shown to be useful when chasing competitors away from their kills.
Like a parrot, the fox could mimic a variety of animals which could be useful while in disguise to make it more realistic and believable to predators and prey.
Question- The question is really is there a way the fox could inherit this ability as a learned behavior? Can it mimic other animals? And most importantly, what does the fox require for this structure to work?
It's fine if there's some difficulties during transforming, such as the ears or tails could pop out unexceptionally as the fox could have difficulty hiding them or needs to master the technique through age (this actually could explain the tales of the kitsune).
Maybe there could be a common mark possessed by all forms (including human form), for example, they could have the same colours as the fox possesses (let's say a white fox could shape-shifts into a beautiful girl with white hair.
As a extra, when disguising itself from predators or prey with a good sense of smell, the scent glands could give off a smell similar to theirs.
And last and also important, how can the fox hide its tails?
Don't mind if it's something to do with light, iridescent (the extras being dreads by the way) or something.
For those who saw the previous one, I'm in sort of a rush to finish this book.