Wolves and foxes cannot and do not mate, because they have a different genetical structure and they can’t have offspring because of their genes.
Even though both animals belong to the wider group of canids, wolves and foxes separated as two different species around 7-12 million years ago. Since then, foxes and wolves have a different number of chromosomes, preventing them from mating with each other.
This is what science has to say about why they can’t interbreed.
Why Do Wolves and Foxes Not Mate?
The main reason why wolves and foxes don’t mate is their genes: wolves have 78 chromosomes while a fox only has 38 chromosomes, meaning that creating a wolf-fox hybrid would be virtually impossible.
Another reason as to why they won’t mate is because of their size. Wolves are much larger than foxes and will often attack foxes if they are in the same territory. They just don’t establish a relationship that’s close enough for them to breed, even if they’re not true enemies in the wild.
As these two species developed, they inhabited different habitats, making it near impossible for them to breed anyway.
If you compare a wolf and a dog, they have a much closer genetical structure than wolves and foxes.
Foxes, on the other hand, split off from the common species much earlier, allowing them to have their own evolutionary development. Wolves and dogs only diverged from the same species around 40.000 years ago, meaning that their genetic material is completely different than that of foxes.
When Did Foxes Become a Species?
Some researchers say that foxes evolved from the wolf species around 9 million years ago, while others date this all the way back to 12 million years ago. Again, others will say it was much later, at around the 7 million years ago mark.
Whatever the timeline is, it’s clear that foxes first spread through Africa and then to other continents because the continent structure was very much different at that point in Earth’s history.
Foxes arrived in North America around 9 million years ago in the Miocene, and then slowly developed into the red fox species that we know today (which happened 2.6 million years ago).
Wolves and dogs, on the other hand, only developed as a species around 30-40.000 years ago. This means that they retained a lot of the genetic material from the original species, and they also have similar genes which allows wolves and dogs to interbreed.
This timeline of the development of both wolves and foxes has a lot to do with why they can’t mate today. Because they have taken different routes in their evolutions, it has become virtually impossible for them to breed as they have developed different genetics.
Are Wolf and Fox Hybrids True, Then?
There have been several reports historically about fox-wolf hybrids, especially from the 18th and the 19th centuries; however, these hybrids never existed and still don’t exist, because wolves and foxes cannot interbreed.
In the 19th century, it was believed that wolf-fox hybrids were possible, but science did not yet debunk that theory back then – that happened only in the 20th century.
In 1881, a brief Austrian report tells the story of a fox-wolf hybrid that looked like a strong fox which was able to kill a large animal. In this report, this hybrid is described as a stronger and larger fox with the body “that resembled a fox and a coat that resembled a wolf”.
But this hybridization theory was present much earlier than that. Back in the 16th century, Sir Walter Raleigh argued that the hyena was the product of fox and wolf hybridization. However, this report is nowadays seen merely as a piece of trivia rather than taken seriously by scientists.
There were also some reports and arguments that fox-wolf hybridization was possible from the early 20the century.
However, all of these reports, including the one from 1881, were debunked by the 20th century development of science. Scientists were able to closely examine the genetic structures of both wolves and foxes and came to the conclusion that fox-wolf hybrids cannot exist because of their differences in genetic structures.
What is the Science Behind It?
If you take a closer look at all the scientific evidence, you’ll see why hybridization between these two species is not possible.
- Wolves belong to the group of canids, and together with coyotes, dingoes, dogs, and jackals, have 78 chromosomes in 39 pairs.
- Foxes belong to the Vulpes genus, which is known for having only 38 chromosomes, except for the fennec fox, which has 64 chromosomes. Still, even the fennec fox would be unable to breed, even though it has more chromosomes than the red fox.
The most simple answer to the question of why they can’t breed is simple: foxes and wolves are different species and they are not compatible with each other when it comes to breeding.
Breeding the two animals would be like trying to breed cats and dogs, and we know that won’t happen because the animals have a different structure in terms of genetics, and trying to breed them would be impossible.
In addition, there aren’t enough compatible pairs of chromosomes that would be needed for breeding between wolves and foxes.
All of the above-mentioned proves why breeding between wolves and foxes is impossible, and why fox-wolf hybrids don’t exist and never have existed, despite some interesting reports from the annals of history.
Conclusion: No, Wolves and Foxes Can’t Mate
To conclude, wolves and foxes do not and cannot mate because of their differences in genetic structures. Wolves have 78 chromosomes while foxes only have 38, making it biologically and scientifically impossible for the two species to mate and breed.
In addition, the two species took a different path in their development and inhabited different habitats, which prevented them from meeting each other and breeding. Combine both of these reasons, and you can get the full picture.