Country mouse – Mark Hedges

Why is the tip of a fox’s tail white? There are many theories, some folk stories and even the odd scientific paper on it, but nobody seems certain. What is sure is that evolution didn’t put it there for fun. The white tip is there for a purpose, one that made it evolutionarily superior to foxes that didn’t have the white tip.

I think I may have the answer, but I had to go to Africa to find out. Among Africa’s wild game, almost all types of animal have distinctive tails or bottoms from the rest of their body: strange lavatory seat markings on a waterbuck’s backside, black tips to lions’ tails and the erect tails of warthogs when they run.

Our African guide was adamant that it was a ‘follow me’ device so that youngsters could track their parents through the bush. It makes sense; certainly, fox cubs follow their mothers. Stoats move around in family groups, too. But then, of course, they have a black tip to their tail, even when their coat is white in winter. Red deer and roe deer wear white tips, and fallow have a white bottom. What do you think? Is it all simply a ‘follow me’ device?