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Red Foxes (Vulpes vulpes)

The Red Fox (Vulpes vulpes) usually features red-orange fur, a white tummy with white markings on its muzzle and on the tip of its tail, and black stockings on its legs. The pointed ears may be all black, or may be black-tipped; black markings on the muzzle are not uncommon. The Red Fox may sport a tawny yellow coat, or in some areas a silver or black coat. During the onset of Summer, the fox sheds his fur from underneath the newer coat, giving him a distinctively shaggy appearance which is often mistaken for mange. They shed this extra fur over a period of a couple of weeks and resume their svelte 'normal' appearance. With the coming of Winter, the fox's coat will grow thick and plush to help stave off the cold.

Red foxes have the largest distribution of any canid species. They live around the world in many diverse habitats including forests, grasslands, mountains, and deserts. The red fox's resourcefulness has earned it a legendary reputation for intelligence and cunning. Red foxes are territorial, and mark their home range using feces and urine. Foxes also signal each other by making scent posts - which also consists of urinating on trees or rocks to announce their presence.

Red foxes have adapted well to human expansion and environments such as farms, suburban areas, and even large communities. They thrive in urban areas, and have benefited from the human conversion of forest into agricultural lands. Red foxes are often seen as a threat to poultry and young livestock, even though they usually prey only on weak and sick animals. Though many farmers consider them pests, red foxes play a major role in controlling populations of crop-threatening animals like rabbits and rodents.

Foxes are family-oriented critters, often forming lifetime attachments when it comes time to raise young ones. A dominance hierarchy determines who breeds. When Autumn rolls around and the vixen starts feeling amorous, she lets the male know by her scent marking, which changes to advertise her feelings on the matter.and in winter, the foxes then meet to mate. At this point the male will reappear and court the female, and will hang around through the Winter until the kids (kits) are born and the vixen can hunt for herself again. He will hang around into the early Spring to make sure they are well provided for, then take off for a Summer of fun and frolic.

The dominant female typically gives birth each year to a litter of 3 to 12 pups. Mothers keep their offspring in dens, and non-breeding adults help care for the young. At birth, red foxes are actually brown or gray. A new red coat usually grows in by the end of the first month, but some red foxes are golden, reddish-brown, silver, or even black. The kits have a relatively easy life up to a point. The vixen feeds them and grooms them until they are reasonably mobile, then hunts small game and brings it back to the den so the young ones can learn and practice their hunting skills. Once they are grown and able to fend for themselves, however, Momma Vixen suddenly turns snarly and mean, and will chase them away to find their own territories - thus ensuring that a local disaster does not wipe out the entire next generation.

Foxes eat a wide variety of foods such as fruits, vegetables, insects, earthworms, small mammals and wounded birds, and are not above scrounging a meal from garbage can scraps left by humans if the pickings seem safe. Although they also hunt during the day, red foxes have very acute senses to help them succeed as nocturnal predators. Their eyes are designed to work well in low light conditions, and they maneuver their erect triangular ears to locate the faint rustling noises of rodents. When a mouse is detected, red foxes stand alert and motionless, using their ears and eyes to pinpoint the location of the rodent. Then they launch themselves into the air at a 45-degree angle, and land on the mouse, pinning it to the ground. Red foxes are solitary hunters who feed on rodents, rabbits, birds, and other small game - but their diet can be as flexible as their home habitat.

The Red Fox is typically the largest of all foxes, and is the type most people think of when they think "fox." Other widely known foxes include the Grey Fox or Tree Fox (Urocyon cinereoarargenteus; the Arctic Fox (Alopex lagopus); and the ever-popular Fennec (Vulpes zerda), the smallest of the foxes in spite of its huge ears. Foxes can be found in most parts of the world, like the African Bat-Eared Fox (Otocyon megalotis) and Cape Fox (Vulpes charma).

Red Fox Fun Facts

  • Although it is a member of the dog family, some of fox habits are very cat like as well.
  • The red fox can reach a speed of up to 45 mph.
  • Foxes live 2 to 3 years, and up to 10 years or even longer in captivity.
  • Like cats, foxes often play with their catch before they kill it.
  • Foxes have abundant ectoparasites (mites, fleas, ticks and lice).
  • Foxes can hold up to one kilogram of flesh in their stomachs.
  • Foxes can hear a watch ticking 40 yards away.
  • The pupils of a fox's eyes are almond-shaped rather than round.
  • Have scent glands at the base of their tails. Their smell is like that of a skunk.
  • Have very keen vision, hearing and sense of smell.
  • May make a loud bark when alarmed.

Did You Know?

  • Red foxes are important fur bearers and more are raised on farms than any other wild fur bearing mammal.
  • Foxes are known vectors for rabies and can transmit the disease to humans and other animals.
  • Red fox predators are eagles, coyotes, gray wolves, bears, mountain lions, and humans, who have been hunting red foxes since the 4th century BC.

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