What Exactly Is a Silver Fox?

A silver fox stands near the road in a park. Tom Reichner/Shutterstock

The silver fox stands out with a rich black coat, often with silver-tipped hairs scattered throughout for a frosted, silvery appearance. The fur trade has always prized the coat of silver foxes, but it wasn't a distinct species that early trappers were going after; they were targeting about 10 percent of the red fox species.

About one-tenth of wild red foxes are melanistic, the genetic condition in which dark-colored pigment melanin develops in the skin. It's essentially the opposite of albinism. So rather than the ginger coat so familiar in red foxes, silver foxes have coats that range from completely black, to dark with abundant silver-tipped hairs scattered throughout.

Wild silver foxes are just part of the mix of red foxes, and can be found intermingling as family members with red-coated red foxes. However, the fur trade has continued to focus on silver foxes, and many breeding farms have popped up around the world over the last 150 years or so.

Though the history of silver foxes in many cultures revolves around the value of the animals' fur, silver foxes play an important role in the cultural history of some Native American tribes of Northern California, where the silver fox is one of the creator gods.