How many licks does it take to get to the heart of a silver-speckled fox?

It seems a deer on the California island of Santa Catalina was bent on finding out when marine biologist Chris Lowe snapped this downright Disney-esque photo earlier this month.

We may never know the answer to that question. But we do know how many licks it takes to get to our heart: just the one.

Because, while this deer may have been licking the fox for entirely non-loving reasons, the romantics among us will always hope otherwise.

That’s probably why Lowe’s tweet, posted on Oct. 10, already has racked up nearly 10,000 likes. (Everyone falls for an inter-species love story.)

"A real-life Bambi moment right there," someone tweeted back.

Another chimed in with, "Love is such a natural feeling and knows no boundaries."

Certainly, these animals play their parts. The fox appears as tame as a puppy beneath that barrage of salty kisses.

"It looked like it was actually enjoying this," Lowe, director of California State University’s Shark Lab, tells The Atlantic.

Then again, the real reason for the doting deer’s tender ministrations are just as likely to be business as pleasure. Do speckled foxes taste like salt? Or are the ticks that live on them like trail mix for deer? (For all we know there may be an actual Tootsie Pop behind the fox that’s the real object of all of those licks.)

Lowe says he doesn't know what brought this unlikely pair together, but there’s hope, at least, for the Disney crowd. For one thing, these tender moments may not be so rare after all.

Michael Cove, a researcher at North Carolina State University, also joined the twitter discussion claiming he’s witnessed many a similar scene in the wild.

"We get this all the time in the [Florida] Keys," he noted, along with a picture of a deer and a cat mid-nuzzle.

For another thing, the island of Santa Catalina may lend itself to that kind of intimacy among its inhabitants. As The Atlantic notes, it’s small and mercifully devoid of predators — which may just offer the ideal circumstances for animal harmony. In the absence of fear, why not embrace peace, love and understanding?

Or, of course, it could be the salt. But, until proven otherwise, we’ll always take the sweet answer.

When deer meets fox, a cuddly mystery unfolds
A tender moment between two very different animals is pulling the internet's heartstrings.