In myth, the fox is better known for its cunning rather than its courage. It has become a symbol of trickery, deceit and even had its name attributed to false prophets in the Bible.

Yet the bad press received is counter to the fox's natural strengths and abilities. Living on a diet of scavenged scraps while always remaining one step ahead of its many predators are just two examples of this animal's ability to adapt, and above all, survive.

A member of the canine family, it is understandable to see how the fox has been able to colonize in so many parts of the world. As a relation of dogs, wolves and coyotes, this animal naturally sits on the boundaries of civilization. However, this domestication has meant that while some species have thrived in the urban jungle, others have not.

This species success story is therefore best seen out of the cities and into the remote habitats where the variations in their biology can really be seen and appreciated. Although you may have to look hard, as these "true foxes" of the deserts, mountains, tundras and frozen worlds are kings of being coy.

Of the 37 species referred to as foxes, only 12 actually belong to the Vulpes genus of true foxes; and one that fits into this category but also that of its own genus, is the Arctic fox. Surviving in a subzero temperatures, this compact fox has evolved to have short ears, short legs and incredibly dense fur. This canine’s unique physical development does not stop there. Its footpads also covered with thick hair enables this small creature to hunt all year round by protecting it from the severe cold and even providing traction on ice.

Tibetan fox

Tibetan fox. Photo: BBC Earth

Moving further along the evolutionary scale, the compact body and dense fur can be seen again but in a very different environment. The Tibetan fox is characterized by its soft, thick red fur and long bushy tail with white tip. This tail is essential for battling against the fierce Tibetan winds that come from both the barren grasslands and rocky mountainous areas that sees temperatures drop to -30C! Not an easy life, even out of the Arctic.

Fennec fox

Fennec fox. Photo: BBC Earth

We then arrive at the opposite end of the scale from where we began – from freezing ice worlds to hot deserts – with the most intriguing of them all, the Fennec fox. As the smallest canid in the world, this animal’s entire body has adapted to cope with the extreme nature of its environment. The high temperatures and low levels of available water have meant that not only does the Fennec’s coat help by deflecting heat during the day while at the same time keeping it warm at night, but its ears have grown in size and evolved blood vessels extremely close to the skin in order to dissipate even more heat! And we needn’t mention the greatly increased hearing ability that is provided by such large ears.

As this skulk of fox species shows us, there is a lot more to these carnivores that can be seen on the streets of our cities. Some even prefer fruit and berries to live prey! Yet as ever evolving survivors, they are living proof that even if you’ve seen one, you definitely haven’t seen them all!

This article is reprinted with permission from BBC Earth.

Fantastic foxes
Learn about the diverse species that is the fox in these stunning photos from BBC Earth.