In the music video “What Does the Fox Say” by Norwegian comedy duo Ylvis, the animal’s vocalization is: “Ring-ding-ding-ding-dingeringeding.” This week, however, the fox will likely be saying, “Trick or treat!”
At costume giant BuyCostumes, fox costume and accessory sales are reportedly up 350 percent from just a couple hundred sold last year to a few thousand. Other retailers like Costume SuperCenter and Amazon have seen similar fox interest. Experts give credit to Ylvis’s viral hit. The video, posted in early September, has garnered more than 170 million views on YouTube.
The song first details known sounds of other animals, “but there’s one sound that no one knows,” the lyrics say. In addition to “ring-ding-ding-ding-dingeringeding,” the duo speculates that the fox might also say, “jacha-chacha-chacha-chow,” “a-hee-ahee ha-hee,” and “fraka-kaka-kaka-kaka-kow.”
With this spike in fox costume orders comes the question for Halloween revelers who aspire to authenticity: What does the fox actually say?
Researcher Svetlana Gogoleva at Moscow State University found that farm-bred foxes can make at least eight different calls. Five are voiced: whine, moo, cackle, growl, and bark. The other three are pant, snort and cough.
“I dare say that some of [Ylvis’] interpretations of fox sounds were pretty good!” says Gogoleva.
Unlike other canids (wolves and coyotes, for example), foxes do not engage in group singing or howling. But they do have vocal prowess: The scream of the fox was once called the “wail of the Banshee” in Ireland.
“It can sound like someone being strangled or an asylum escapee going berserk,” says Michael W. Fox (no relation to a fox), author of The Wild Canids: Their Systematics, Behavioral Ecology and Evolution.
According to Fox, when confronted with a threatening situation or prior to mating, the fox will go, “Kaaaa Ka-kaaa.” Foxes who face off for a brawl will utter a staccato “Ka-ka-ka.”
If those sounds aren’t in a trick-or-treater’s vocabulary, there are other options.
“The greeting by foxes whom I had raised as cubs is very touching, a cooing, sometimes excited, cackling ‘Coo-coo-hoo-hoo-ka-coo-coo,’” Fox says.
And what about the “ring ding ding ding dingeringeding?” Turns out, Ylvis wasn’t too far off. Anna Kukekova, who studied the link between genes and fox behavior, including vocalizations, at the Russian Institute of Cytology and Genetics alongside Gogoleva, says that the foxes they worked with wore bells!
“The domesticated foxes at the Russian Institute of Cytology and Genetics in Novosibirsk are indeed making very loud rhythmic noises like ‘ring ding ding’ when they want to attract attention or beg for food,” Kukekova says. “To do so, they spin and ding their metal balls!” -Chelsea Huang
To learn more about foxes, read the March 2011 National Geographic cover story on animal domestication.