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Color Morphs in the Wild Red Foxes of Europe



I've seen plenty of color charts for farm-bred morphs but never wild morphs. I've been researching and collecting images and information on naturally occurring colors in European foxes and so I decided to make my own chart! Wild foxes often get overlooked for the more fancy farm-bred morphs, but as you can see wild foxes can be just as varied and interesting in color! 
Of course this is just a general overview of the main color types. Within these colors there will be a huge amount of variation, as should be evident in the links I've included to examples of each color. I've also included any other information I've gathered on each color, including local distribution. Hopefully it'll provide a useful resource for anyone wanting to know more about wild color morphs. 

White Morphs

Albino: Very rare in most areas but locally common to the Jutland region of Denmark. Coat pure white with no visible markings. 
While it may be an attractive color, albinoism is a genetic fault and comes with many health problems, including deafness, poor eyesight, scoliosis, deformed skeletons, skin sensitivity and a high risk of skin cancer. Albinoism also takes away the fox's natural camouflage and can make it harder for them to hunt and become easier targets for predators. As such albinos rarely survive very long. 
Albino V. v. crucigera in Australia
Albino cub in Germany 
Albino killed in Spain 

Leucistic (White): Similar to albino but can show black pigment and sometimes small areas of creamy or grey fur. Rare in most areas but locally common to the Jutland region in Denmark and southeast England. White foxes are protected in some parts of Jutland which allows them to exist at much higher numbers than normal. Like albinos, leucistics can also suffer health problems. 
Leucistic white in Kent, England
Leucistic white fox killed in Denmark 
Another leucistic white fox killed in Denmark
Leucistic white taxidermy mount from France. Incorrect eyes but shows black pigment.

Leucistic: Another form of leucism, this time with more visible markings. While it may resemble some captive-bred morphs this is a naturally occurring morph in V. v. crucigera (I have yet to find an example of this color in other subspecies.) These foxes have been known for hundreds of years in parts of Europe and descriptions of these off-white or pale foxes can be found in hunting literature that long pre-date the invention of fur farming and color breeding. Here's one such passage from A History of the York and Ainsty Hunt (1899) describing foxes known to have existed between 1840 and 1860; 

"There was a white fox, or nearly a white one, some years ago in the Cleveland country, which showed a lot of sport, and which was finally killed at Carlton Grove, after a very good run from Eston Lighthouse. Mr. Priestman, too, the master of the Braes of Derwent, had a very curious coloured fox a year or two ago. It was most like a sandy tortoise-shell cat in its markings. The rest of the litter were all of the normal colour. This was a vixen, and Mr. Priestman was in hopes of getting a litter from her, but unfortunately she died."

By sandy tortoiseshell I assume the author is referring to a dilute, which perfectly describes the pale grey and sandy markings on these foxes. 
In modern times these foxes seem to be confined to areas of France and southeast England. In the 19th Century large numbers of foxes were imported into England from France which may be how the color arrived on these shores. Looking at their anatomy it is clear they are the native V. v. crucigera and not of the farm-bred type. I also cannot find any examples of this color in other subspecies, suggesting the are endemic to European foxes only. It is also worth noting that no farming of foxes takes place in any of the regions where these foxes are currently found, again showing that this morph is of natural origin. 
Leucistic killed in Kent, England
Leucistic taidermy mount from the UK
Leucistic killed in France
Another leucistic killed in France

Extreme Piebald: a normal colored fox with heavy amounts of broken white on the body. Only found one example of this coloration. Looks as if it could possibly be a form of vitiligo? 
Extreme piebald killed in France

Piebald: the typical piebalding seen in red foxes consists of white markings on the feet and legs. Small white markings on the toes are pretty common (although more common in North American than European foxes), but larger areas of white are much rarer. 
Piebald from London, England
Piebald taxidermy mount from England
Very unusual piebald with a white tail in France

White Spotting: a very unusual morph that consists of white spots in the underfur (never on the guard hairs.) Especially prevalent in the UK and Germany. Some sources suggest this is caused by flea or mite infestation but I highly suspect it is genetic. So far I've only been able to find examples in V. v. crucigera, where it is fairly prevalent. If it was the result of parasites than it should occur just as frequently in other subspecies, but as of yet I've found no other examples. This spotting has also been observed in very young cubs still in their first puppy coat and much too young to have suffered the effect of hairloss/regrowth caused by parasites. This spotting also appears to last the fox's entire life and remains even after molting. 
Interestingly an identical type of spotting is found in dogs where it is known to be genetic and something the animal is born with .Here is an article on white spotting in labrador retrievers and here is a photo of a greyhound with white spots. The close resemblance to the spotting seen in foxes suggests it is of the same nature and likely genetic. 
White spotted V. v. crucigera showing heavy spotting
White spotted fox in England showing a small amount of spotting
White spotted fox killed in England
White spotted fox killed in Germany


Red Morphs

 another form of leucism, a very pale colored fox with sandy fur and grey rather than black leg markings. Unlike other forms of leucism, sandy foxes do not have excess white, their colors are simply very washed out. Some examples can be so pale they appear white from a distance. Very unusual and only turns up infrequently. 
Sandy cub from England
Sandy fox photographed in France 
Sandy fox photographed in Spain 
Video of a sandy V. v. crucigera cub 

 a very light, creamy yellow coat, often with darker points on the legs and face. Blondes can be found everywhere but are most common in V. v. vulpes in Scandinavia and Russia. 
Blonde from Norway
Another blonde from Norway 
Third blonde from Norway
Blonde from Russia

Light Red: generally a little darker than a blonde with more even colors. Very common across Europe, particularly so in parts of Russia and eastern Europe, but can be found more or less anywhere.
Light red from Slovakia
Light red from Russia 
Light red from Italy 
Light red from the UK

Standard Red: the most common form, the standard red can come in any shade between the light and dark variation. Found everywhere in Europe.
Standard red from England
Standard red from southern England

Dark Red:
 a fox with darker colors and less variation in the shades of red and yellow expressed in the coat. Heavy black markings and may or may not have frosting over the back.  
Dark red from Russia
Dark red from southern England

Smoky Red: any shade of red, usually one of the darker shades, with a black or dark grey throat and belly. I believe smoky reds have close genetic links to the silver coloration, although this is much rarer in Europe. 
Smoky red from southern England
Smoky red killed in Finland


Grey Morphs

Light Grey: 
a fox with a very pale red or yellow coat with heavy silvering all over the body and face to the point the fox can appear almost white. Much more unusual than other forms of the grey coloration and contains very little visible red except on the face and legs. Locally common to Mount Etna in Italy and some parts of the Netherlands but occurs infrequently elsewhere. 
Light grey V. v. crucigera
Light grey from Mount Etna, Italy
Light grey in the Netherlands
Light grey killed in Germany

Yellow Grey: one of the most typical forms of the grey coloration found all over Europe, although like all grey forms they appear to be less common in Scandinavia. These foxes have a distinctive yellow base to the coat with red on the face and legs, overlaid with large amounts of grey and white hairs. Colors tend to be a lot more vibrant than in other grey forms. Locally very common in the Netherlands. 
Yellow-grey from the Netherlands
Another yellow-grey from the Netherlands
Yellow-grey from southern England
Yellow-grey pelt from Germany

Standard Grey: another typical grey form found all over Europe. Red in the coat tends to be more muted and rusty-colored with a heavy grey and silver overlay. This color is known as bastard in North America where it is much rarer. The white areas on all grey forms tends to be greyed out as well, usually with a black band over the chest. 
Standard grey from Scotland
Standard grey from the UK
Standard grey from southern England
Standard grey pelt from Germany

Dark Grey: a darker form of the standard grey, usually with more silvering and black in the coat. In the UK these foxes are most common in mountainous regions, such as the Highlands of Scotland, where their color blends in well with the landscape. I have also noticed that greys of all types are very common in urban areas of the UK and there are many of them around where I live. 
Dark grey from the UK
Dark grey from France
Dark grey from Germany 
Dark grey V. v. crucigera

Smoky Grey: a grey phase with sold black throat and belly. Lots of black also on the legs, tail and face. Usually occurs in the darker grey phases. Can sometimes have a small white chest patch. My personal favorite non-red morph!
Video of a smoky grey from Russia
Smoky grey from London, England
Smoky grey taxidermy mount from the UK
Smoky grey taxidermy mount from Germany
Smoky grey killed in Denmark


Black morphs

Standard Cross: the most common form of the cross fox found in Europe, these foxes have less vibrant colors and plenty of grey and black in the coat. As far as I'm aware cross foxes do not occur in V. v. crucigera in Europe, so their range is limited to V. v. vulpes in Scandinavia and possibly parts of Russia (although I have yet to find any Russian examples.) 
Standard cross from Norway
Another standard cross from Norway
Two standard crosses killed in Norway
Yet another standard cross killed in Norway

Gold Cross: primarily black in color with rich, golden markings and silvering over the hindquarters. Less common that the standard cross, and like the standard spears to be confined to Scandinavia and V. v. vulpes subspecies.
Gold cross killed in Norway
Gold cross killed in Finland
Another gold cross killed in Finland

Silver Cross: the rarest of the cross varieties in Europe, these foxes are solid black with gold markings confined to the area around the ears and sometimes the shoulders with minimal silvering. I've only ever found a handful examples for this color in Europe. 
Silver cross from Norway
Pale silver cross also killed in Norway
Another silver cross killed in Norway

Standard Silver: the typical silver variation, black with plenty of silvering over the hindquarters. Mainly confined to V. v. vulpes in Scandinavia but very occasionally turns up in V. v. crucigera other countries, notably in the UK. Silver and black foxes used to be fairly prevalent in the UK but were hunted for the fur to the point they almost became extinct. They now occur very infrequently, even less so than white and leucistic foxes. A few years ago a very tame silver fox was spotted in the UK and within days had been hit by a car. DNA tests later proved it was a farm-bred fox. 
I have yet to find a single example of a wild silver from the rest of continental Europe so presumably they are extremely rare or non-existent there. 
Video of a wild-born standard silver in the UK
Standard silver killed in Norway
Another standard silver killed in Norway

Dark Silver: a little less common than the standard silver with less silver hairs. As with other silver forms it is rarely found outside of Scandinavia. 
Dark silver killed in Norway

Black: a solid black fox with very minimal or now frosting. Some examples even lack a white tipped tail making them solid black all over. Solid black foxes seem to occur more frequently in Europe than in other regions but are still in no way common and very rarely turn up. Black foxes are know to be locally common to a few areas of Scandinavia and Ireland, however.
Black fox killed in Norway
Black fox killed in Ireland

If you know of any genuine examples of wild cross, silver or black foxes in V. v. crucigera outside of the UK then I'd love to know! 
Also interested in any info or examples of other unusual variations in European foxes. 

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danwind's avatar

Awesome Job on the Colors of Foxes Furs, Foxes are coolest mammals ever.