dcsimg

Lifespan, longevity, and ageing

provided by AnAge articles
Maximum longevity: 21.3 years (captivity) Observations: One wild born female was still living in captivity at an estimated 21.3 years of age (Richard Weigl 2005).
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Reproduction

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Red fox mating behavior varies substantially. Often males and females are monogamous, but males with multiple female mates are also know, as are male/female pairs that use non-breeding female helpers in raising their young. Females mated to the same male fox may share a den. Red fox groups always have only one breeding male, but that male may also seek mating outside of the group.

Mating System: monogamous ; polygynous ; cooperative breeder

The annual estrous period of female red foxes last from 1 to 6 days. Ovulation is spontaneous and does not require copulation to occur. The exact time of estrous and breeding varies across the broad geographic range of the species: December-January in the south, January-February in the central regions, and February-April in the north. Males will fight during the breeding season. Males have a cycle of fecundity, with full spermatogenesis only occurring from November to March. Females may mate with a number of males but will establish a partnership with only one male. Copulation usually lasts 15 or 20 minutes and is often accompanied by a vocal clamor. Implantation of the fertilized egg occurs between 10 and 14 days after a successful mating. Just before and for a time after giving birth the female remains in or around the den. The male partner will provision his mate with food but does not go into the maternity den. Gestation is typically between 51 and 53 days but can be as short as 49 days or as long as 56 days. Litters vary in size from 1 to 13 pups with an average of 5. Birth weight is between 50 and 150 g. The pups are born blind but open their eyes 9 to 14 days after birth. Pups leave the den 4 or 5 weeks after birth and are fully weaned by 8 to 10 weeks. Mother and pups remain together until the autumn after the birth. Sexual maturity is reached by 10 months.

Breeding interval: Red foxes breed once yearly.

Breeding season: Breeding season varies from region to region but usually begins in December or January in the south, January to February in the central regions, and February to April in the north.

Range number of offspring: 1 to 9.

Average number of offspring: 4.59.

Range gestation period: 49 to 55 days.

Range weaning age: 56 to 70 days.

Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female): 10.0 months.

Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male): 10.0 months.

Key Reproductive Features: iteroparous ; seasonal breeding ; gonochoric/gonochoristic/dioecious (sexes separate); sexual ; fertilization ; viviparous

Average birth mass: 100 g.

Average number of offspring: 5.

Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male)
Sex: male:
304 days.

Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
Sex: female:
304 days.

Red fox males and females, and sometimes their older offspring, cooperate to care for the pups. Young remain in the den for 4 to 5 weeks, where they are cared for and nursed by their mother. They are nursed for 56 to 70 days and are provided with solid food by their parents and older siblings. The young remain with their parents at least until the fall of the year they were born in and will sometimes remain longer, especially females.

Parental Investment: altricial ; pre-fertilization (Provisioning, Protecting: Female); pre-hatching/birth (Provisioning: Female, Protecting: Female); pre-weaning/fledging (Provisioning: Male, Female, Protecting: Male, Female); pre-independence (Provisioning: Male, Female, Protecting: Male, Female); post-independence association with parents; extended period of juvenile learning

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Fox, D. 2007. "Vulpes vulpes" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed April 27, 2013 at http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/site/accounts/information/Vulpes_vulpes.html
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David L. Fox, University of Michigan-Ann Arbor
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Tanya Dewey, Animal Diversity Web
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Behavior

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Red foxes use a variety of vocalizations to communicate among themselves. They also use facial expressions and scent marking extensively. Scent marking is through urine, feces, anal sac secretions, the supracaudal gland, and glands around the lips, jaw, and the pads of the feet. There have been 28 different kinds of vocalizations described in red foxes and individuals have voices that can be distinguished. Vocalizations are used to communicate with foxes that are both nearby and very fary away. Red foxes have excellent senses of vision, smell, and touch.

Communication Channels: visual ; tactile ; acoustic ; chemical

Other Communication Modes: scent marks

Perception Channels: visual ; tactile ; acoustic ; chemical

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Fox, D. 2007. "Vulpes vulpes" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed April 27, 2013 at http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/site/accounts/information/Vulpes_vulpes.html
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David L. Fox, University of Michigan-Ann Arbor
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Tanya Dewey, Animal Diversity Web
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Conservation Status

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Three subspecies are listed in CITES appendix III. Overall, red fox populations are stable and they have expanded their range in response to human changes in habitats.

US Federal List: no special status

CITES: appendix iii

State of Michigan List: no special status

IUCN Red List of Threatened Species: least concern

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Fox, D. 2007. "Vulpes vulpes" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed April 27, 2013 at http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/site/accounts/information/Vulpes_vulpes.html
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David L. Fox, University of Michigan-Ann Arbor
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Tanya Dewey, Animal Diversity Web
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Benefits

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Red foxes are considered by many to be threats to poultry. In general, foxes hunt their natural prey, but individual foxes may learn to target domestic birds if they are not adequately protected. Foxes are known vectors for rabies and can transmit the disease to humans and other animals.

Negative Impacts: injures humans (carries human disease); causes or carries domestic animal disease

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Fox, D. 2007. "Vulpes vulpes" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed April 27, 2013 at http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/site/accounts/information/Vulpes_vulpes.html
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David L. Fox, University of Michigan-Ann Arbor
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Tanya Dewey, Animal Diversity Web
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Benefits

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Red foxes are important fur bearers and more are raised on farms than any other wild fur bearing mammal. Red foxes also help to control populations of small rodents and rabbits and may disperse seeds.

Positive Impacts: body parts are source of valuable material; controls pest population

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Fox, D. 2007. "Vulpes vulpes" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed April 27, 2013 at http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/site/accounts/information/Vulpes_vulpes.html
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David L. Fox, University of Michigan-Ann Arbor
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Tanya Dewey, Animal Diversity Web
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Associations

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Red foxes help to control populations of their prey animals, such as rodents and rabbits. They also may disperse seeds by eating fruit.

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Fox, D. 2007. "Vulpes vulpes" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed April 27, 2013 at http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/site/accounts/information/Vulpes_vulpes.html
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David L. Fox, University of Michigan-Ann Arbor
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Tanya Dewey, Animal Diversity Web
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Trophic Strategy

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Red foxes are essentially omnivores. They mostly eat rodents, eastern cottontail rabbits, insects, and fruit. They will also eat carrion. Red foxes also store food and are very good at relocating these caches. Red foxes have a characteristic manner of hunting mice. The fox stands motionless, listening and watching intently for a mouse it has detected. It then leaps high and brings the forelimbs straight down forcibly to pin the mouse to the ground. They eat between 0.5 and 1 kg of food each day.

Animal Foods: birds; mammals; reptiles; carrion ; insects; terrestrial non-insect arthropods

Plant Foods: fruit

Foraging Behavior: stores or caches food

Primary Diet: omnivore

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Fox, D. 2007. "Vulpes vulpes" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed April 27, 2013 at http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/site/accounts/information/Vulpes_vulpes.html
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David L. Fox, University of Michigan-Ann Arbor
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Tanya Dewey, Animal Diversity Web
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Distribution

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Red foxes are found throughout much of the northern hemisphere from the Arctic circle to Central America, the steppes of central Asia, and northern Africa. This species has the widest distribution of any canid. Red foxes have also been introduced to Australia and the Falkland Islands.

Biogeographic Regions: nearctic (Native ); palearctic (Native ); neotropical (Introduced , Native ); australian (Introduced )

Other Geographic Terms: holarctic

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Fox, D. 2007. "Vulpes vulpes" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed April 27, 2013 at http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/site/accounts/information/Vulpes_vulpes.html
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David L. Fox, University of Michigan-Ann Arbor
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Tanya Dewey, Animal Diversity Web
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Habitat

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Red foxes utilize a wide range of habitats including forest, tundra, prairie, desert, mountains, farmlands, and urban areas. They prefer mixed vegetation communities, such as edge habitats and mixed scrub and woodland. They are found from sea level to 4500 meters elevation.

Range elevation: 0 to 4500 m.

Habitat Regions: temperate ; terrestrial

Terrestrial Biomes: desert or dune ; savanna or grassland ; chaparral ; forest ; scrub forest ; mountains

Other Habitat Features: urban ; suburban ; agricultural ; riparian

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Fox, D. 2007. "Vulpes vulpes" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed April 27, 2013 at http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/site/accounts/information/Vulpes_vulpes.html
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David L. Fox, University of Michigan-Ann Arbor
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Tanya Dewey, Animal Diversity Web
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Life Expectancy

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Red foxes have been known to live 10 to 12 years in captivity but live on average 3 years in the wild.

Range lifespan
Status: captivity:
12.0 (high) years.

Average lifespan
Status: wild:
3.0 years.

Average lifespan
Status: wild:
7.0 years.

Average lifespan
Status: captivity:
15.0 years.

Average lifespan
Status: wild:
12.0 years.

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Fox, D. 2007. "Vulpes vulpes" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed April 27, 2013 at http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/site/accounts/information/Vulpes_vulpes.html
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David L. Fox, University of Michigan-Ann Arbor
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Tanya Dewey, Animal Diversity Web
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Morphology

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Coloration of red foxes ranges from pale yellowish red to deep reddish brown on the upper parts and white, ashy or slaty on the underside. The lower part of the legs is usually black and the tail usually has a white or black tip. Two color variants commonly occur. Cross foxes have reddish brown fur with a black stripe down the back and another across the shoulders. Silver foxes range from strong silver to nearly black and are the most prized by furriers. These variants are about 25% and 10% of red fox individuals, respectively. Red foxes, like many other canid species, have tail glands. In Vulpes vulpes this gland is located 75 mm above the root of the tail on its upper surface and lies within the dermis and subcutaneous tissue. The eyes of mature animals are yellow. The nose is dark brown or black. The dental formula is 3/3 1/1 4/4 2/3. The tooth row is more than half the length of the skull. The premolars are simple and pointed, with the exception of upper fourth premolars, the carnassials. Molar structure emphasizes crushing. The manus has 5 claws and the pes 4 claws. The first digit, or dew claw, is rudimentary but clawed and does not contact the ground.

Red foxes are the largest of the Vulpes species. Head and body length ranges from 455 to 900 mm, tail length from 300 to 555 mm, and weight from 3 to 14 kg. Males are slightly larger than females. Populations in southern deserts and in North America are smaller than European populations. Body mass and length among populations also varies with latitude (being larger in the north, according to Bergmann's rule).

Range mass: 3 to 14 kg.

Range length: 455 to 900 mm.

Other Physical Features: endothermic ; homoiothermic; bilateral symmetry

Sexual Dimorphism: male larger

Average basal metabolic rate: 13.731 W.

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Fox, D. 2007. "Vulpes vulpes" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed April 27, 2013 at http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/site/accounts/information/Vulpes_vulpes.html
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David L. Fox, University of Michigan-Ann Arbor
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Tanya Dewey, Animal Diversity Web
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Associations

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Most red foxes that are taken by natural predators are young pups. Pups are kept in and near a den and protected by their family to avoid this. Adult red foxes may also be attacked by coyotes, wolves, or other predators, but this is rarely in order to eat them. The most significant predators on red foxes are humans, who hunt foxes for their fur and kill them in large numbers as pests.

Known Predators:

  • eagles (Accipitridae)
  • coyotes (Canis latrans)
  • gray wolves (Canis lupus)
  • bears (Ursidae)
  • mountain lions (Puma concolor)
  • humans (Homo sapiens)
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Fox, D. 2007. "Vulpes vulpes" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed April 27, 2013 at http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/site/accounts/information/Vulpes_vulpes.html
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David L. Fox, University of Michigan-Ann Arbor
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Tanya Dewey, Animal Diversity Web
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Biology

provided by Arkive
The red fox is typically active at dusk (crepuscular) or at night (nocturnal), but is often active in the day in more undisturbed areas (3). The diet is extremely broad, and includes small mammals, many invertebrates, and birds, as well as fruit, carrion (3) and items scavenged from dustbins, bird tables and compost heaps (2).
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Conservation

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The red fox is legislatively widely regarded as vermin and is therefore unprotected (3). In Britain, it is protected by closed seasons against hunting (3). No conservation measures are in place (3). Research into fox predation and control is being carried out by the Game Conservancy Trust (6).
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Description

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The size of a small dog, the red fox is the largest member of the genus Vulpes and is well-known for its large bushy tail, which is often tipped with white (3). The fur is variable in colour (3), but is usually reddish-brown to flame-red above and white to black below (5); the lower limbs and the back of the ears are often black (3).
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Habitat

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This highly adaptable species is found in many habitats, from sand dunes to mountain tops (2). It also occurs in urban areas (4), and seems to fare particularly well in affluent suburbs (3).
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Range

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Distributed throughout the northern hemisphere from the Arctic Circle in the north, as far south as north Africa (3), including much of North America, all of Europe and most of Asia, including Japan (1). They are found practically everywhere in mainland Britain, as well as on many islands (4).
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Status

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No legislative protection.
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Threats

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Foxes are perceived as important predators of ground nesting birds, gamebirds, and livestock, and are therefore widely controlled (6). Most deaths are caused by road accidents, shooting and other methods of control, and secondary poisoning may also be a factor resulting in mortality (4). Furthermore, foxes are hunted with hounds in Britain; this is a contentious issue (2).
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Brief Summary

provided by Ecomare
Fox have a bad reputation: they are known as chicken-killers and bird-robbers. That is why they have been hunted and chased away for a long time. They eat whatever they can get hold of, from rabbits to dead animals to rubbish from garbage containers. They will also eat berries and fruit. When there is more food than they can eat, a part of the spoils will be buried or hidden. The only Dutch Wadden Island where fox live is on Vlieland.
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Associated Plant Communities

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More info for the term: tundra

Although red foxes can survive in many habitats ranging from arctic
barren areas to temperate deserts, they prefer areas with a mixture of
plant communities [1,5,30,36]. Red foxes are commonly associated with
grasslands, boreal forests, coniferous forests, deciduous forests, and
tundra [30]. In developed regions, red foxes are generally associated
with agricultural areas where woodlots are interspersed with cropland
and pastureland [36].

Schofield [27] found that red foxes in Michigan preferred lowland brush
and oak (Quercus spp.) woodlands but avoided swamps. In the Sierra
Nevada, California, red foxes are found primarily in upper elevation
forests associated with the Sierra Nevada Crest. During the summer they
prefer meadows interspersed with mature Jeffrey pine (Pinus jeffreyi),
lodgepole pine (P. contorta), or Shasta red fir (Abies magnifica var.
shastensis) forests. In winter red foxes prefer mixed-conifer and
ponderosa pine (P. ponderosa) forests [35]. In British Columbia red
foxes are most common in mixed forests that are interspersed with
meadows. Iowa red foxes are most numerous in hilly, wooded regions, but
they are also common in the flatter prairie corn belt. One of the
densest populations of red foxes in North America is in southwestern
Wisconsin where they inhabit areas which contain a mosaic of woodlots,
croplands, pasturelands, and stream bottoms [1].
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Tesky, Julie L. 1995. Vulpes vulpes. In: Fire Effects Information System, [Online]. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station, Fire Sciences Laboratory (Producer). Available: http://www.fs.fed.us/database/feis/

Common Names

provided by Fire Effects Information System Animals
red fox
fox
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Tesky, Julie L. 1995. Vulpes vulpes. In: Fire Effects Information System, [Online]. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station, Fire Sciences Laboratory (Producer). Available: http://www.fs.fed.us/database/feis/

Conservation Status

provided by Fire Effects Information System Animals
Information on state- and province-level protection status of animals in the
United States and Canada is available at NatureServe, although recent changes
in status may not be included.
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Tesky, Julie L. 1995. Vulpes vulpes. In: Fire Effects Information System, [Online]. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station, Fire Sciences Laboratory (Producer). Available: http://www.fs.fed.us/database/feis/

Cover Requirements

provided by Fire Effects Information System Animals
More info for the term: cover

Dens - Red foxes may dig their own den; more often they use an abandoned
woodchuck (Marmota spp.) or American badger (Taxidea taxus) burrow
[1,5]. Dens are prepared in late winter at which time the female
restricts her activities to the vicinity of the den site. There is a
preference for loose soils on well-drained sites near or within
vegetative cover. Most red fox dens were located on slopes in Iowa, on
southerly facing slopes in woods in Wisconsin [25], in sandy soils near
the edges of woods in New York, and on islands in Maryland marshes [1].
The same den may be used for many generations, with burrows being added
each year. Most dens have at least two openings. Red fox dens with up
to 19 entrances have been found in Alaska [5].

Foraging cover - Red foxes often hunt in open grassy areas, especially
along streams [34].

Hiding and thermal cover - In agricultural areas, shelterbelts and
fencerows are used for hiding and thermal cover as well as travel
corridors [3].
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Tesky, Julie L. 1995. Vulpes vulpes. In: Fire Effects Information System, [Online]. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station, Fire Sciences Laboratory (Producer). Available: http://www.fs.fed.us/database/feis/

Distribution

provided by Fire Effects Information System Animals
More info for the term: hardwood

Red foxes are the most widely distributed carnivore in the world. They
occur throughout most of North America (except in the Great Plains and
the extreme Southeast and Southwest), Europe, and Asia, and are found in
parts of northern Africa. They have spread throughout much of
Australia, where they were introduced in the late 1800's [30,36].

There is some question whether red foxes are native to North America.
Churcher [6] hypothesized that red foxes were native to North America north
of latitude 40 degrees North, but were scarce or absent in most of the
vast hardwood forests where common gray foxes (Urocyon cinereoargenteus)
were abundant. Others believe that the North American red fox originated
from the European red fox, which was introduced into the southeastern
section of the United States around 1750. It may have interbred with
the scarce indigenous population to produce a hybrid population [10].
The distribution of the ten subspecies of red fox is as follows [5]:

V. v. abietorum - Occurs throughout western Canada
V. v. alascensis - Occurs in Alaska, and Yukon Territory, and the
Northwest Territories
V. v. cascadensis - Occurs along the northwest coast of the
United States and British Columbia
V. v. fulva - Occurs in the eastern United States
V. v. harrimani - Occurs on Kodiak Island, Alaska
V. v. kenaiensis - Occurs on the Kenai Peninsula, Alaska
V. v. macroura - Occurs throughout the Rocky Mountains
V. v. necator - Occurs in California and Nevada
V. v. regalis - Ranges from north-central Canada south to
Nebraska and Missouri
V. v. rubricosa - Occurs in southern Quebec and Nova Scotia
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Tesky, Julie L. 1995. Vulpes vulpes. In: Fire Effects Information System, [Online]. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station, Fire Sciences Laboratory (Producer). Available: http://www.fs.fed.us/database/feis/

Food Habits

provided by Fire Effects Information System Animals
More info for the term: fruit

Red foxes are omnivorous. They eat a variety of animals and plant
materials depending mainly on the availability of the food source.
Small mammals, birds, fruits, and insects comprise the bulk of the diet
[5].

Voles (Microtus spp.), mice (Muridae), woodchucks (Marmota monax) and
several lagomorph species (eastern cottontails [Sylvilagus floridanus],
snowshoe hares [Lepus americanus], and black-tailed jackrabbits [L.
californicus]) are often preferred [36]. In New York and New England,
meadow voles (Microtus pennsylvanicus) were the most commonly eaten prey
item. Rabbits (Sylvilagus spp.) were also commonly eaten. Throughout
most of the year in Ontario, meadow voles are the major prey,
constituting as much as 50 percent of the red fox's diet [36].

Red foxes may also eat squirrels (Spermophilus spp.), young Virginia
opossums (Didelphis virginiana), raccoons (Procyon lotor), skunks
(Mustelidae), domestic cats (Felis catus), domestic dogs (Canis
familiaris), weasels (Mustela spp.), mink (Mustela vison), common
muskrats (Ondatra zibethicus), shrews (Soricidae), moles (Talpidae),
common porcupines (Erethizon dorsatum), pocket gophers (Geomyidae),
songbirds, crows (Corvus spp.), ring-necked pheasants (Phasianus
colchicus), northern bobwhite (Colinus virginianus), grouse
(Tetraoninae), waterfowl (Anseriformes), wild turkeys (Meleagris
gallopavo), domestic chickens, American woodcocks (Scolopax minor),
hawks (Accipitridae), owls (Strigiformes), bird eggs, turtles, and
turtle eggs. Plant foods such as grasses, sedges (Carex spp.), nuts,
berries, pears, apples, grapes, and corn, wheat, and many other grains
are eaten by red foxes. Livestock and big game are sometimes eaten as
carrion [1,5,30,36].

Seasonal variations are prominent in the diet of red foxes. The diet
generally changes from mostly animal matter in the winter to insects and
fruit in the summer and fall [5]. Red foxes show a strong preference
for certain wild berries and fruits. During seasons of abundance,
blueberries (Vaccinium spp.), raspberries (Rubus spp.) and black
cherries (Prunus serotina) may constitute almost 100 percent of the diet
[1].
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Tesky, Julie L. 1995. Vulpes vulpes. In: Fire Effects Information System, [Online]. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station, Fire Sciences Laboratory (Producer). Available: http://www.fs.fed.us/database/feis/

Habitat-related Fire Effects

provided by Fire Effects Information System Animals
More info for the terms: fire suppression, fruit, shrubs

Red foxes commonly inhabit areas with a high proportion of edge. Fire
that creates a mosaic of burned and unburned areas is probably the most
beneficial to red foxes. Periodic fire may help to maintain habitat for
many prey species of red fox. Many small mammal populations increase
rapidly in response to an increase in food availability subsequent to
burning [14,19,22]. In Alaska red foxes should benefit during the
first 10 to 20 years following fire due to the increase in northern
red-backed voles (Clethrionomys rutilus) and meadow voles [38]. Fire
often improves hare and rabbit forage quality and quantity for two or
more growing seasons [19]. Wagle [37] reported that fire suppression in
grasslands is detrimental to populations of small bird and mammal
herbivores due to organic matter accumulation and reduced plant vigor.

Many fruiting shrubs that are important late summer and fall foods of
red foxes such as blackberries (Rubus spp.), blueberries, and
raspberries, do not fruit the year of burning but produce the most fruit
2 to 4 years after fire pruning [14,19].
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Tesky, Julie L. 1995. Vulpes vulpes. In: Fire Effects Information System, [Online]. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station, Fire Sciences Laboratory (Producer). Available: http://www.fs.fed.us/database/feis/

Habitat: Cover Types

provided by Fire Effects Information System Animals
More info on this topic.

This species is known to occur in association with the following cover types (as classified by the Society of American Foresters):

More info for the term: cover

Red foxes probably occur in most SAF cover types.
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Tesky, Julie L. 1995. Vulpes vulpes. In: Fire Effects Information System, [Online]. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station, Fire Sciences Laboratory (Producer). Available: http://www.fs.fed.us/database/feis/

Habitat: Ecosystem

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This species is known to occur in the following ecosystem types (as named by the U.S. Forest Service in their Forest and Range Ecosystem [FRES] Type classification):

More info for the term: shrub

FRES10 White-red-jack pine
FRES11 Spruce-fir
FRES12 Longleaf-slash pine
FRES13 Loblolly-shortleaf pine
FRES14 Oak-pine
FRES15 Oak-hickory
FRES16 Oak-gum-cypress
FRES17 Elm-ash-cottonwood
FRES18 Maple-beech-birch
FRES19 Aspen-birch
FRES20 Douglas-fir
FRES21 Ponderosa pine
FRES22 Western white pine
FRES23 Fir-spruce
FRES24 Hemlock-Sitka spruce
FRES25 Larch
FRES26 Lodgepole pine
FRES27 Redwood
FRES28 Western hardwoods
FRES29 Sagebrush
FRES30 Desert shrub
FRES31 Shinnery
FRES32 Texas savanna
FRES33 Southwestern shrubsteppe
FRES34 Chaparral-mountain shrub
FRES35 Pinyon-juniper
FRES36 Mountain grasslands
FRES37 Mountain meadows
FRES38 Plains grasslands
FRES39 Prairie
FRES40 Desert grasslands
FRES41 Wet grasslands
FRES42 Annual grasslands
FRES44 Alpine
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Tesky, Julie L. 1995. Vulpes vulpes. In: Fire Effects Information System, [Online]. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station, Fire Sciences Laboratory (Producer). Available: http://www.fs.fed.us/database/feis/

Habitat: Plant Associations

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This species is known to occur in association with the following plant community types (as classified by Küchler 1964):

Red foxes probably occur in most Kuchler plant associations.
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Tesky, Julie L. 1995. Vulpes vulpes. In: Fire Effects Information System, [Online]. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station, Fire Sciences Laboratory (Producer). Available: http://www.fs.fed.us/database/feis/

Habitat: Rangeland Cover Types

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This species is known to occur in association with the following Rangeland Cover Types (as classified by the Society for Range Management, SRM):

More info for the term: cover

Red foxes probably occur in most SRM (rangeland) cover types.
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Tesky, Julie L. 1995. Vulpes vulpes. In: Fire Effects Information System, [Online]. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station, Fire Sciences Laboratory (Producer). Available: http://www.fs.fed.us/database/feis/

Management Considerations

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More info for the terms: cover, fruit, shrubs

Habitat management - To enhance or maintain habitat quality for red
foxes, managers should maintain woodlots in agricultural areas with
minimal grazing or disturbance; this ensures diversity of understory
vegetation and foods. Establishment of fruit producing shrubs and trees
should be encouraged. Shelterbelts and fencerows should be maintained
to provide cover and travel corridors [3]. Timber harvest areas should
have irregular shapes to maximize edge effect [5].

Diseases - Red foxes are particularly susceptible to rabies. Rabies may
cause from 60 to 80 percent mortality in a population during an
outbreak. Red foxes are also susceptible to canine distemper,
parvovirus, toxoplasmosis, canine hepatitis, tularemia, leptospirosis,
staphylococcal infections, encephalitis viruses, and mange [2,5,33,36].
Red foxes host a large number of parasites (hookworms and roundworms)
typical of carnivores that feed on small prey [36].

Studies of the effects of red fox predation in the prairie pothole
region of North America have indicated that although the consumption of
mallards (Anas platyrhynchos) may not be high, the effect on the mallard
population may be critical [7,26]. Red fox predation on mice and
woodchucks has been beneficial to most agricultural areas. Red foxes
may play a role in controlling population explosions of rodents and
rabbits [36].
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Tesky, Julie L. 1995. Vulpes vulpes. In: Fire Effects Information System, [Online]. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station, Fire Sciences Laboratory (Producer). Available: http://www.fs.fed.us/database/feis/

Occurrence in North America

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AL
AK
AZ
AR
CA
CO
CT
DE
FL
GA

ID
IL
IN
KS
KY
LA
ME
MD
MA
MI

MN
MS
MT
NE
NV
NH
NJ
NM
NY
NC

ND
OH
OK
OR
PA
RI
SC
SD
TN
TX

UT
VT
VA
WA
WV
WI
WY

AB
BC
MB
NB
NF
NT
NS
ON
PE
PQ

SK
YK

MEXICO

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Tesky, Julie L. 1995. Vulpes vulpes. In: Fire Effects Information System, [Online]. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station, Fire Sciences Laboratory (Producer). Available: http://www.fs.fed.us/database/feis/

Predators

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Gray wolves (Canis lupus) and lynx (Lynx lynx) sometimes kill red foxes
[1,5]. Other large predators such as mountain lions (Felis concolor),
bobcats (Lynx rufus), and coyotes (Canis latrans) probably also
occasionally kill red foxes. Humans hunt and trap red foxes [1,5,36].
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Tesky, Julie L. 1995. Vulpes vulpes. In: Fire Effects Information System, [Online]. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station, Fire Sciences Laboratory (Producer). Available: http://www.fs.fed.us/database/feis/

Preferred Habitat

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More info for the terms: hardwood, parturition

Red foxes can survive in a variety of habitats. They select areas of
greatest diversity and use edges heavily [1,5,36]. Dense forests are
usually avaoided. In rural areas they prefer diverse habitats
consisting of intermixed cropland, rolling farmland, brush, pastureland,
mixed hardwood stands, and edges of open areas that provide suitable
hunting grounds. Red foxes may also inhabit suburban areas,
particularly parks, golf courses, cemeteries, and large gardens [5].

Home range - The size of individual red fox home range varies. Home
ranges are generally not more than 5 miles (8 km) in diameter. During
the period of parturition and for a few weeks afterwards, adult red
foxes usually remain within 0.5 mile (0.8 km) of the den. Ranges are
largest during the winter [1]. Red fox home ranges tend to be
elliptical [5]. Storm [32] found that one adult male had a home range
1.9 miles (3.1 km) long by 1.4 miles (2.2 km) wide. Schofield [27]
followed tracks in the snow and estimated red fox home ranges to be 1 to
1.5 miles (1.6-2.4 km) in radius in Wisconsin. In Ontario red fox home
ranges in farmland averaged 2,224 acres (900 ha) but ranged from 1,235
to 4,940 acres (500-2,000 ha) [36]. In the arctic, home ranges are as
large as 8,400 acres (3,400 ha) [16]. Adult foxes may remain in the
same home range for life [1].
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Tesky, Julie L. 1995. Vulpes vulpes. In: Fire Effects Information System, [Online]. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station, Fire Sciences Laboratory (Producer). Available: http://www.fs.fed.us/database/feis/

Regional Distribution in the Western United States

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This species can be found in the following regions of the western United States (according to the Bureau of Land Management classification of Physiographic Regions of the western United States):

1 Northern Pacific Border
2 Cascade Mountains
3 Southern Pacific Border
4 Sierra Mountains
5 Columbia Plateau
6 Upper Basin and Range
7 Lower Basin and Range
8 Northern Rocky Mountains
9 Middle Rocky Mountains
10 Wyoming Basin
11 Southern Rocky Mountains
12 Colorado Plateau
13 Rocky Mountain Piedmont
15 Black Hills Uplift
16 Upper Missouri Basin and Broken Lands
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Tesky, Julie L. 1995. Vulpes vulpes. In: Fire Effects Information System, [Online]. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station, Fire Sciences Laboratory (Producer). Available: http://www.fs.fed.us/database/feis/

Taxonomy

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The currently accepted scientific name for the red fox is Vulpes vulpes
Linn. Red foxes belongs to the family Canidae. Historically red foxes
were classified as two species, Vulpes vulpes in the Old World and V.
fulva in the New World, but today they are considered to be one species
[5,11,36]. Hall [11] recognizes ten subspecies of red fox:

Vulpes vulpes abietorum Merriam
Vulpes vulpes alascensis Merriam
Vulpes vulpes cascadensis Merriam
Vulpes vulpes fulva (Desmarest)
Vulpes vulpes harrimani Merriam
Vulpes vulpes kenaiensis Merriam
Vulpes vulpes macroura Baird
Vulpes vulpes necator Merriam
Vulpes vulpes regalis Merriam
Vulpes vulpes rubricosa Bangs

Red foxes interbreed with kit foxes (V. velox) [1].
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Tesky, Julie L. 1995. Vulpes vulpes. In: Fire Effects Information System, [Online]. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station, Fire Sciences Laboratory (Producer). Available: http://www.fs.fed.us/database/feis/

Timing of Major Life History Events

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More info for the terms: litter, polygamous

Breeding season - Red foxes are monestrous [1,5]. The red fox breeding
season generally lasts from December to March [1,5,36]. However, the
onset of breeding varies in different parts of red fox range, earlier in
the south and later in the north. Breeding in Ontario occurs from late
January to late March [36]. Breeding peaks occur from late December to
early January in Iowa, late January in Wisconsin, and late January and
early February in New York. The earliest recorded breeding dates for
red foxes in the United States are early December and the latest are in
April [1].

It is not known whether red foxes in the wild are normally polygamous.
However, it is common to see several males near a female during estrus
[36]. Estrus last 1 to 6 days. Females may breed at 10 months of age.
However, not all females breed their first year. Most males are capable
of breeding their first year [5].

Gestation and litter size - Gestation usually lasts 51 to 53 days.
Litters of four to seventeen have been reported, with a mean of five
[5,13,36]. Generally only one litter is produced per year.

Development of young - Newborn pups remain at the den for the first
month of life. They first open their eyes at 9 days of age. Red fox
parents may move the pups from one den to another as many as three times
before they are 6 weeks old. Litters are sometimes split with half the
litter residing in one den and half in another. Pups are weaned at 8 to
10 weeks. When pups are 10 weeks old they may travel short distances
from the den without being accompanied by a parent. At about 12 weeks
of age pups begin to explore their parents' home range independently or
with a parent [5].

Dispersal - By mid-September or early October pups begin to disperse.
Male red foxes usually disperse before females and move greater
distances [5]. Most red foxes disperse from their parents' home range
before their first birthday [36]. The mean distance dispersed by males
in Iowa and Illinois was 18 miles (29 km) [23]. In Ontario,
straight-line dispersal distances as great as 76 miles (122 km) were
recorded, but most males dispersed a straight-line distance of about 19
miles (30 km) during the first 15 days after leaving the den. Females
dispersed an average of 5 miles (8 km) in Ontario and 10 miles (16 km)
in Iowa and Illinois [23,36].

Social organization - The red fox social unit is comprised of pups and
either one male and one female or a group of one male and several
females [21]. When a group contains several females they are generally
kin. In much of North America, social groups are just pairs. Where
groups include additional adult females, the largest groups occur in
rural-suburban habitat and average more than three females. Only a
minority of females in large groups rear pups. Nonbreeding females
tend to be socially subordinate to breeding ones, and some act as
helpers. Where more than one female breeds within a social group,
communal denning and nursing are common [36].

Life span - Most red foxes in the wild live 3 or 4 years [1].
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Tesky, Julie L. 1995. Vulpes vulpes. In: Fire Effects Information System, [Online]. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station, Fire Sciences Laboratory (Producer). Available: http://www.fs.fed.us/database/feis/

U.S. Federal Legal Status

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Vulpes vulpes necator is a Candidate for listing [39].
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Tesky, Julie L. 1995. Vulpes vulpes. In: Fire Effects Information System, [Online]. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station, Fire Sciences Laboratory (Producer). Available: http://www.fs.fed.us/database/feis/

Use of Fire in Population Management

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More info for the terms: fire regime, fruit, prescribed fire

Prescribed fire that favors small mammals by enhancing forage and fruit
production would probably maximize the abundance of food for red foxes.
Red foxes would probably benefit from prescribed fire that increases the
proportion of edge and the complexity of the vegetation mosaic.

FIRE REGIMES :
Find fire regime information for the plant communities in which this
species may occur by entering the species name in the FEIS home page under
"Find FIRE REGIMES".
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Tesky, Julie L. 1995. Vulpes vulpes. In: Fire Effects Information System, [Online]. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station, Fire Sciences Laboratory (Producer). Available: http://www.fs.fed.us/database/feis/

Red fox

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The red fox (Vulpes vulpes) is the largest of the true foxes and one of the most widely distributed members of the order Carnivora, being present across the entire Northern Hemisphere from the Arctic Circle to North Africa, North America and Eurasia. It is listed as least concern by the IUCN.[1] Its range has increased alongside human expansion, having been introduced to Australia, where it is considered harmful to native mammals and bird populations. Due to its presence in Australia, it is included on the list of the "world's 100 worst invasive species".[3]

The red fox originated from smaller-sized ancestors from Eurasia during the Middle Villafranchian period,[4] and colonised North America shortly after the Wisconsin glaciation.[5] Among the true foxes, the red fox represents a more progressive form in the direction of carnivory.[6] Apart from its large size, the red fox is distinguished from other fox species by its ability to adapt quickly to new environments. Despite its name, the species often produces individuals with other colourings, including leucistic and melanistic individuals.[6] Forty-five subspecies are currently recognised,[7] which are divided into two categories: the large northern foxes, and the small, basal southern foxes of Asia and North Africa.[6]

Red foxes are usually together in pairs or small groups consisting of families, such as a mated pair and their young, or a male with several females having kinship ties. The young of the mated pair remain with their parents to assist in caring for new kits.[8] The species primarily feeds on small rodents, though it may also target rabbits, game birds, reptiles, invertebrates[6] and young ungulates.[6] Fruit and vegetable matter is also eaten sometimes.[9] Although the red fox tends to kill smaller predators, including other fox species, it is vulnerable to attack from larger predators, such as wolves, coyotes, golden jackals and medium- and large-sized felines.[10]

The species has a long history of association with humans, having been extensively hunted as a pest and furbearer for many centuries, as well as being represented in human folklore and mythology. Because of its widespread distribution and large population, the red fox is one of the most important furbearing animals harvested for the fur trade.[11]:229–230 Too small to pose a threat to humans, it has extensively benefited from the presence of human habitation, and has successfully colonised many suburban and urban areas. Domestication of the red fox is also underway in Russia, and has resulted in the domesticated red fox.

Contents

Terminology

"
Juvenile red foxes are known as kits

Females are called vixens, and young cubs are known as kits.[12] Although the Arctic fox has a small native population in northern Scandinavia, while the corsac fox's range extends into European Russia, the red fox is the only fox native to Western Europe, and so is simply called "the fox" in colloquial British English.

The word "fox" comes from Old English, which derived from Proto-Germanic *fuhsaz. Compare with West Frisian foks, Dutch vos, and German Fuchs. This, in turn, derives from Proto-Indo-European *puḱ- 'thick-haired; tail'. Compare to the Hindi pū̃ch 'tail', Tocharian B päkā 'tail; chowrie', and Lithuanian paustìs 'fur'. The bushy tail also forms the basis for the fox's Welsh name, llwynog, literally 'bushy', from llwyn 'bush'. Likewise, Portuguese: raposa from rabo 'tail', Lithuanian uodẽgis from uodegà 'tail', and Ojibwa waagosh from waa, which refers to the up and down "bounce" or flickering of an animal or its tail.

The scientific term vulpes derives from the Latin word for fox, and gives the adjectives vulpine and vulpecular.[13]

Evolution

"
Comparative illustration of skulls of red fox (left) and Rüppell's fox (right): Note the more developed facial area of the former.

The red fox is considered a more specialised form of Vulpes than the Afghan, corsac and Bengal foxes in the direction of size and adaptation to carnivory; the skull displays far fewer neotenous traits than in other species, and its facial area is more developed.[6] It is, however, not as adapted for a purely carnivorous diet as the Tibetan fox.[6]

             

Arctic fox "Dogs,

   

Kit fox "Dogs,

       

Corsac fox "Dogs,

     

Rüppell's fox "Dogs,

   

Red fox "Dogs,[14](Fig. 10)

         

Cape fox "Dogs,

       

Blanford's fox "Dogs,

   

Fennec fox "Dogs,

       

Raccoon dog "Nyctereutes

       

Bat-eared fox "Dogs,

     

Origins

The species is Eurasian in origin, and may have evolved from either Vulpes alopecoides or the related Chinese V. chikushanensis, both of which lived during the Middle Villafranchian.[4] The earliest fossil specimens of V. vulpes were uncovered in Baranya, Hungary dating from 3.4-1.8 million years ago.[15] The ancestral species was likely smaller than the current one, as the earliest red fox fossils are smaller than modern populations.[4]:115–116 The earliest fossil remains of the modern species date back to the mid-Pleistocene in association with the refuse of early human settlements. This has led to the theory that the red fox was hunted by primitive humans as both a source of food and pelts.[16]

Colonisation of North America

Red foxes colonised the North American continent in two waves: during or before the Illinoian glaciation, and during the Wisconsinan glaciation.[17] Gene mapping demonstrates that red foxes in North America have been isolated from their Old World counterparts for over 400,000 years, thus raising the possibility that speciation has occurred, and that the previous binomial name of Vulpes fulva may be valid.[18] In the far north, red fox fossils have been found in Sangamonian Stage deposits in the Fairbanks District and Medicine Hat. Fossils dating from the Wisconsinan are present in 25 sites in Arkansas, California, Colorado, Idaho, Missouri, New Mexico, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, and Wyoming. Although they ranged far south during the Wisconsinan, the onset of warm conditions shrank their range toward the north, and have only recently reclaimed their former American ranges because of human-induced environmental changes.[5] Genetic testing indicates two distinct red fox refugia exist in North America, which have been separated since the Wisconsinan. The northern (or boreal) refugium occurs in Alaska and western Canada, and consists of the large subspecies V. v. alascensis, V. v. abietorum, V. v. regalis, and V. v. rubricosa. The southern (or montane) refugium occurs in the subalpine parklands and alpine meadows of the Rocky Mountains, the Cascade Range, and Sierra Nevada. It encompasses the subspecies V. v. macroura, V. v. cascadensis, and V. v. necator. The latter clade has been separated from all other red fox populations since the last glacial maximum, and may possess unique ecological or physiological adaptations.[17]

Although European foxes were introduced to portions of the United States in the 1900s recent genetic investigation indicates an absence of European fox haplotypes in any North American populations.[19] Also, introduced eastern red foxes have colonized southern California, the San Joaquin Valley, and San Francisco Bay Area, but appear to have mixed with the Sacramento Valley red fox (V. fulva patwin) only in a narrow hybrid zone.[20] In addition, no evidence is seen of interbreeding of eastern red foxes in California with the montane Sierra Nevada red fox V. v. necator or other populations in the Intermountain West (between the Rocky Mountains to the east and the Cascade and Sierra Nevada ranges to the west.[21]

Subspecies

The 3rd edition of Mammal Species of the World[7] listed 45 subspecies as valid. In 2010, another distinct subspecies, which inhabits the grasslands of the Sacramento Valley, V. v. patwin, was identified through mitochondrial haplotype studies.[22] Castello (2018) recognized 30 subspecies of the Old World red fox and 9 subspecies of the North American red fox as valid.[23]

Substantial gene pool mixing between different subspecies is known; British red foxes have crossbred extensively with foxes imported from Germany, France, Belgium, Sardinia, and possibly Siberia and Scandinavia.[24]:140 However, genetic studies suggest very little differences between red foxes sampled across Europe.[25][26] Lack of genetic diversity is consistent with the red fox being a highly vagile species, with one red fox covering 320 km (200 mi) in under a year's time.[27]

"
Skull of a northern fox
"
Skull of a southern grey desert fox

Red fox subspecies in Eurasia and North Africa are divided into two categories:[6]

  • Northern foxes are large and brightly coloured.
  • Southern grey desert foxes include the Asian subspecies V. v. griffithi, V. v. pusilla, and V. v. flavescens. These foxes display transitional features between northern red foxes and smaller fox species; their skulls possess more primitive, neotenous traits than the northern forms,[6] and they are much smaller; the maximum sizes attained by southern foxes are invariably less than the average sizes of northern foxes. Their limbs are also longer, and their ears larger.[6]

Red foxes living in Middle Asia show physical traits intermediate to the northern and southern forms.[6]

Description

Build

"
Red fox (left) and corsac fox (right) yawning

The red fox has an elongated body and relatively short limbs. The tail, which is longer than half the body length[6] (70 per cent of head and body length),[36] is fluffy and reaches the ground when in a standing position. Their pupils are oval and vertically oriented.[6] Nictitating membranes are present, but move only when the eyes are closed. The forepaws have five digits, while the hind feet have only four and lack dewclaws.[8] They are very agile, being capable of jumping over 2-metre-high (6 ft 7 in) fences, and swim well.[37] Vixens normally have four pairs of teats,[6] though vixens with seven, nine, or ten teats are not uncommon.[8] The testes of males are smaller than those of Arctic foxes.[6]

Their skulls are fairly narrow and elongated, with small braincases. Their canine teeth are relatively long. Sexual dimorphism of the skull is more pronounced than in corsac foxes, with female red foxes tending to have smaller skulls than males, with wider nasal regions and hard palates, as well as having larger canines.[6] Their skulls are distinguished from those of dogs by their narrower muzzles, less crowded premolars, more slender canine teeth, and concave rather than convex profiles.[8]

Dimensions

Red foxes are the largest species of the genus Vulpes.[38] However, relative to dimensions, red foxes are much lighter than similarly sized dogs of the genus Canis. Their limb bones, for example, weigh 30 percent less per unit area of bone than expected for similarly sized dogs.[39] They display significant individual, sexual, age and geographical variation in size. On average, adults measure 35–50 cm (14–20 in) high at the shoulder and 45–90 cm (18–35 in) in body length with tails measuring 30–55.5 cm (11.8–21.9 in). The ears measure 7.7–12.5 cm (3–5 in) and the hind feet 12–18.5 cm (5–7 in). Weights range from 2.2–14 kg (5–31 lb), with vixens typically weighing 15–20% less than males.[40][41] Adult red foxes have skulls measuring 129–167 mm (5.1–6.6 in), while those of vixens measure 128–159 mm (5.0–6.3 in).[6] The forefoot print measures 60 mm (2.4 in) in length and 45 mm (1.8 in) in width, while the hind foot print measures 55 mm (2.2 in) long and 38 mm (1.5 in) wide. They trot at a speed of 6–13 km/h (4–8 mph), and have a maximum running speed of 50 km/h (30 mph). They have a stride of 25–35 cm (9.8–13.8 in) when walking at a normal pace.[39]:36 North American red foxes are generally lightly built, with comparatively long bodies for their mass and have a high degree of sexual dimorphism. British red foxes are heavily built, but short, while continental European red foxes are closer to the general average among red fox populations.[42] The largest red fox on record in Great Britain was a 17.2 kg (38 lb), 1.4-metre (4 ft 7 in) long male, killed in Aberdeenshire, Scotland, in early 2012.[43]

Fur

The winter fur is dense, soft, silky and relatively long. For the northern foxes, the fur is very long, dense and fluffy, but is shorter, sparser and coarser in southern forms.[6] Among northern foxes, the North American varieties generally have the silkiest guard hairs,[11]:231 while most Eurasian red foxes have coarser fur.[11]:235 The fur in "thermal windows" areas such as the head and the lower legs is kept dense and short all year round, while fur in other areas changes with the seasons. The foxes actively control the peripheral vasodilation and peripheral vasoconstriction in these areas to regulate heat loss.[44] There are three main colour morphs; red, silver/black and cross (see Mutations).[36] In the typical red morph, their coats are generally bright reddish-rusty with yellowish tints. A stripe of weak, diffuse patterns of many brown-reddish-chestnut hairs occurs along the spine. Two additional stripes pass down the shoulder blades, which, together with the spinal stripe, form a cross. The lower back is often a mottled silvery colour. The flanks are lighter coloured than the back, while the chin, lower lips, throat and front of the chest are white. The remaining lower surface of the body is dark, brown or reddish.[6] During lactation, the belly fur of vixens may turn brick red.[8] The upper parts of the limbs are rusty reddish, while the paws are black. The frontal part of the face and upper neck is bright brownish-rusty red, while the upper lips are white. The backs of the ears are black or brownish-reddish, while the inner surface is whitish. The top of the tail is brownish-reddish, but lighter in colour than the back and flanks. The underside of the tail is pale grey with a straw-coloured tint. A black spot, the location of the supracaudal gland, is usually present at the base of the tail. The tip of the tail is white.[6]

Mutations

"
Various red fox colour mutations

Atypical colourations in red foxes usually represent stages toward full melanism,[6] and mostly occur in cold regions.[9]

Senses

Red foxes have binocular vision,[8] but their sight reacts mainly to movement. Their auditory perception is acute, being able to hear black grouse changing roosts at 600 paces, the flight of crows at 0.25–0.5 kilometres (0.16–0.31 mi) and the squeaking of mice at about 100 metres (330 ft).[6] They are capable of locating sounds to within one degree at 700–3,000 Hz, though less accurately at higher frequencies.[37] Their sense of smell is good, but weaker than that of specialised dogs.[6]

Scent glands

Red foxes have a pair of anal sacs lined by sebaceous glands, both of which open through a single duct.[45] The anal sacs act as fermentation chambers in which aerobic and anaerobic bacteria convert sebum into odorous compounds, including aliphatic acids. The oval-shaped caudal gland is 25 mm (1.0 in) long and 13 mm (0.51 in) wide, and reportedly smells of violets.[6] The presence of foot glands is equivocal. The interdigital cavities are deep, with a reddish tinge and smell strongly. Sebaceous glands are present on the angle of the jaw and mandible.[8]

Distribution and habitat

"
Multicolored North American red fox

The red fox is a wide-ranging species. Its range covers nearly 70 million km2 (27 million sq mi). It occurs all across Europe, north of the Sahara Desert, throughout Asia apart from extreme Southeast Asia, across North America apart from most of southwestern United States and Mexico. It is absent in Iceland, Greenland, Arctic islands, some parts of Siberia, and in extreme deserts.[1] It is not present in New Zealand and is classed as a "prohibited new organism" under the Hazardous Substances and New Organisms Act 1996, which does not allow import.[46]

Australia

In Australia, 2012 estimates indicate that there are more than 7.2 million[47] red foxes with a range extending throughout most of the continental mainland.[39]:14 It became established in Australia through successive introductions by settlers in 1830s in the British colonies of Van Diemen's Land (as early as 1833) and the Port Phillip District of New South Wales (as early as 1845) for the purpose of the traditional English sport of fox hunting. A permanent fox population was not established on the island of Tasmania and it is widely held that they were outcompeted by the Tasmanian devil.[48] On the mainland, however, the species was successful as an apex predator. It is generally less common in areas where the dingo is more prevalent, however it has, primarily through its burrowing behaviour, achieved niche differentiation with both the feral dog and the feral cat. As such it has become one of the continent's most invasive species. The red fox has been implicated in the extinction and decline of several native Australian species, particularly those of the family Potoroidae including the desert rat-kangaroo.[49] The spread of red foxes across the southern part of the continent has coincided with the spread of rabbits in Australia and corresponds with declines in the distribution of several medium-sized ground-dwelling mammals, including brush-tailed bettongs, burrowing bettongs, rufous bettongs, bilbys, numbats, bridled nailtail wallabys and quokkas.[50] Most of these species are now limited to areas (such as islands) where red foxes are absent or rare. Local eradication programs exist, although eradication has proven difficult due to the denning behaviour and nocturnal hunting, so the focus is on management with the introduction of state bounties.[51] According to the Tasmanian government, red foxes were introduced to the previously fox-free island of Tasmania in 1999 or 2000, posing a significant threat to native wildlife including the eastern bettong, and an eradication program conducted by the Tasmanian Department of Primary Industries and Water has been established.[52]

Sardinia, Italy

The origin of the ichnusae subspecies in Sardinia, Italy, is uncertain, as it is absent from Pleistocene deposits in their current homeland. It is possible it originated during the Neolithic following its introduction to the island by humans. It is likely then that Sardinian fox populations stem from repeated introductions of animals from different localities in the Mediterranean. This latter theory may explain the subspecies' phenotypic diversity.[16]

Behaviour

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A pair of European red foxes at the British Wildlife Centre, Surrey, England
"
A pregnant fox in the Abruzzo National Park, Italy.

Social and territorial behaviour

Red foxes either establish stable home ranges within particular areas or are itinerant with no fixed abode.[39]:117 They use their urine to mark their territories.[53][54] A male fox raises one hind leg and his urine is sprayed forward in front of him, whereas a female fox squats down so that the urine is sprayed in the ground between the hind legs.[55] Urine is also used to mark empty cache sites, used to store found food, as reminders not to waste time investigating them.[39]:125[56][57] The use of up to 12 different urination postures allows them to precisely control the position of the scent mark.[58] Red foxes live in family groups sharing a joint territory. In favourable habitats and/or areas with low hunting pressure, subordinate foxes may be present in a range. Subordinate foxes may number one or two, sometimes up to eight in one territory. These subordinates could be formerly dominant animals, but are mostly young from the previous year, who act as helpers in rearing the breeding vixen's kits. Alternatively, their presence has been explained as being in response to temporary surpluses of food unrelated to assisting reproductive success. Non-breeding vixens will guard, play, groom, provision and retrieve kits,[8] an example of kin selection. Red foxes may leave their families once they reach adulthood if the chances of winning a territory of their own are high. If not, they will stay with their parents, at the cost of postponing their own reproduction.[39]:140–141

Reproduction and development

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A pair of Cascade red foxes (V. v. cascadensis) mating
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European red fox kit in Oxfordshire

Red foxes reproduce once a year in spring. Two months prior to oestrus (typically December), the reproductive organs of vixens change shape and size. By the time they enter their oestrus period, their uterine horns double in size, and their ovaries grow 1.5–2 times larger. Sperm formation in males begins in August–September, with the testicles attaining their greatest weight in December–February.[6] The vixen's oestrus period lasts three weeks,[8] during which the dog-foxes mate with the vixens for several days, often in burrows. The male's bulbus glandis enlarges during copulation,[9] forming a copulatory tie which may last for more than an hour.[8] The gestation period lasts 49–58 days.[6] Though foxes are largely monogamous,[59] DNA evidence from one population indicated large levels of polygyny, incest and mixed paternity litters.[8] Subordinate vixens may become pregnant, but usually fail to whelp, or have their kits killed postpartum by either the dominant female or other subordinates.[8]

"
Red fox cub
Kits coming out of their den

The average litter size consists of four to six kits, though litters of up to 13 kits have occurred.[6] Large litters are typical in areas where fox mortality is high.[39]:93 Kits are born blind, deaf and toothless, with dark brown fluffy fur. At birth, they weigh 56–110 g (2.0–3.9 oz) and measure 14.5 cm (5.7 in) in body length and 7.5 cm (3.0 in) in tail length. At birth, they are short-legged, large-headed and have broad chests.[6] Mothers remain with the kits for 2–3 weeks, as they are unable to thermoregulate. During this period, the fathers or barren vixens feed the mothers.[8] Vixens are very protective of their kits, and have been known to even fight off terriers in their defence.[24]:21–22 If the mother dies before the kits are independent, the father takes over as their provider.[24]:13 The kits' eyes open after 13–15 days, during which time their ear canals open and their upper teeth erupt, with the lower teeth emerging 3–4 days later.[6] Their eyes are initially blue, but change to amber at 4–5 weeks. Coat colour begins to change at three weeks of age, when the black eye streak appears. By one month, red and white patches are apparent on their faces. During this time, their ears erect and their muzzles elongate.[8] Kits begin to leave their dens and experiment with solid food brought by their parents at the age of 3–4 weeks. The lactation period lasts 6–7 weeks.[6] Their woolly coats begin to be coated by shiny guard hairs after 8 weeks.[8] By the age of 3–4 months, the kits are long-legged, narrow-chested and sinewy. They reach adult proportions at the age of 6–7 months.[6] Some vixens may reach sexual maturity at the age of 9–10 months, thus bearing their first litters at one year of age.[6] In captivity, their longevity can be as long as 15 years, though in the wild they typically do not survive past 5 years of age.[60]

Denning behaviour

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Side and above view of a red fox den

Outside the breeding season, most red foxes favour living in the open, in densely vegetated areas, though they may enter burrows to escape bad weather.[8] Their burrows are often dug on hill or mountain slopes, ravines, bluffs, steep banks of water bodies, ditches, depressions, gutters, in rock clefts and neglected human environments. Red foxes prefer to dig their burrows on well drained soils. Dens built among tree roots can last for decades, while those dug on the steppes last only several years.[6] They may permanently abandon their dens during mange outbreaks, possibly as a defence mechanism against the spread of disease.[8] In the Eurasian desert regions, foxes may use the burrows of wolves, porcupines and other large mammals, as well as those dug by gerbil colonies. Compared to burrows constructed by Arctic foxes, badgers, marmots and corsac foxes, red fox dens are not overly complex. Red fox burrows are divided into a den and temporary burrows, which consist only of a small passage or cave for concealment. The main entrance of the burrow leads downwards (40–45°) and broadens into a den, from which numerous side tunnels branch. Burrow depth ranges from 0.5–2.5 metres (1 ft 8 in–8 ft 2 in), rarely extending to ground water. The main passage can reach 17 m (56 ft) in length, standing an average of 5–7 m (16–23 ft). In spring, red foxes clear their dens of excess soil through rapid movements, first with the forepaws then with kicking motions with their hind legs, throwing the discarded soil over 2 m (6 ft 7 in) from the burrow. When kits are born, the discarded debris is trampled, thus forming a spot where the kits can play and receive food.[6] They may share their dens with woodchucks[9] or badgers.[6] Unlike badgers, which fastidiously clean their earths and defecate in latrines, red foxes habitually leave pieces of prey around their dens.[24]:15–17> The average sleep time of a captive red fox is 9.8 hours per day.[61]

Communication

Body language

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A European red fox (V. vulpes crucigera) in an inquisitive posture
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A European red fox (V. vulpes crucigera) in an alert posture

Red fox body language consists of movements of the ears, tail and postures, with their body markings emphasising certain gestures. Postures can be divided into aggressive/dominant and fearful/submissive categories. Some postures may blend the two together.[39]:42–43

"
A pair of Wasatch mountain foxes (V. v. macroura) squabbling

Inquisitive foxes will rotate and flick their ears whilst sniffing. Playful individuals will perk their ears and rise on their hind legs. Male foxes courting females, or after successfully evicting intruders, will turn their ears outwardly, and raise their tails in a horizontal position, with the tips raised upward. When afraid, red foxes grin in submission, arching their backs, curving their bodies, crouching their legs and lashing their tails back and forth with their ears pointing backwards and pressed against their skulls. When merely expressing submission to a dominant animal, the posture is similar, but without arching the back or curving the body. Submissive foxes will approach dominant animals in a low posture, so that their muzzles reach up in greeting. When two evenly matched foxes confront each other over food, they approach each other sideways and push against each other's flanks, betraying a mixture of fear and aggression through lashing tails and arched backs without crouching and pulling their ears back without flattening them against their skulls. When launching an assertive attack, red foxes approach directly rather than sideways, with their tails aloft and their ears rotated sideways.[39] During such fights, red foxes will stand on each other's upper bodies with their forelegs, using open mouthed threats. Such fights typically only occur among juveniles or adults of the same sex.[8]

Vocalisations

Red foxes have a wide vocal range, and produce different sounds spanning five octaves, which grade into each other.[39]:28 Recent analyses identify 12 different sounds produced by adults and 8 by kits.[8] The majority of sounds can be divided into "contact" and "interaction" calls. The former vary according to the distance between individuals, while the latter vary according to the level of aggression.[39]:28

  • Contact calls: The most commonly heard contact call is a three to five syllable barking "wow wow wow" sound, which is often made by two foxes approaching one another. This call is most frequently heard from December to February (when they can be confused with the territorial calls of tawny owls). The "wow wow wow" call varies according to individual; captive foxes have been recorded to answer pre-recorded calls of their pen-mates, but not those of strangers. Kits begin emitting the "wow wow wow" call at the age of 19 days, when craving attention. When red foxes draw close together, they emit trisyllabic greeting warbles similar to the clucking of chickens. Adults greet their kits with gruff huffing noises.[39]:28
  • Interaction calls: When greeting one another, red foxes emit high pitched whines, particularly submissive animals. A submissive fox approached by a dominant animal will emit a ululating siren-like shriek. During aggressive encounters with conspecifics, they emit a throaty rattling sound, similar to a ratchet, called "gekkering". Gekkering occurs mostly during the courting season from rival males or vixens rejecting advances.[39]:28
Fox barks, UK, January 1977

Another call that does not fit into the two categories is a long, drawn out, monosyllabic "waaaaah" sound. As it is commonly heard during the breeding season, it is thought to be emitted by vixens summoning males. When danger is detected, foxes emit a monosyllabic bark. At close quarters, it is a muffled cough, while at long distances it is sharper. Kits make warbling whimpers when nursing, these calls being especially loud when they are dissatisfied.[39]:28

Ecology

Diet, hunting and feeding behaviour

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Red fox with coypu

Red foxes are omnivores with a highly varied diet. Research conducted in the former Soviet Union showed red foxes consuming over 300 animal species and a few dozen species of plants.[6] They primarily feed on small rodents like voles, mice, ground squirrels, hamsters, gerbils,[6] woodchucks, pocket gophers and deer mice.[9] Secondary prey species include birds (with passeriformes, galliformes and waterfowl predominating), leporids, porcupines, raccoons, opossums, reptiles, insects, other invertebrates and flotsam (marine mammals, fish and echinoderms).[6][9] On very rare occasions, foxes may attack young or small ungulates.[6] They typically target mammals up to about 3.5 kg (7.7 lb) in weight, and they require 500 grams (18 oz) of food daily.[37] Red foxes readily eat plant material, and in some areas fruit can amount to 100% of their diet in autumn. Commonly consumed fruits include blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, cherries, persimmons, mulberries, apples, plums, grapes, and acorns. Other plant material includes grasses, sedges and tubers.[9]

Red foxes are implicated in the predation of game and song birds, hares, rabbits, muskrats, and young ungulates, particularly in preserves, reserves, and hunting farms where ground nesting birds are protected and raised, as well as in poultry farms.[6]

While the popular consensus is that olfaction is very important for hunting,[62] two studies that experimentally investigated the role of olfactory, auditory, and visual cues found that visual cues are the most important ones for hunting in red foxes[63] and coyotes.[64][65]

Red foxes prefer to hunt in the early morning hours before sunrise and late evening.[6] Although they typically forage alone, they may aggregate in resource-rich environments.[60] When hunting mouse-like prey, they first pinpoint their prey's location by sound, then leap, sailing high above their quarry, steering in mid-air with their tails, before landing on target up to 5 metres (16 ft) away.[1] They typically only feed on carrion in the late evening hours and at night.[6] They are extremely possessive of their food and will defend their catches from even dominant animals.[39]:58 Red foxes may occasionally commit acts of surplus killing; during one breeding season, four foxes were recorded to have killed around 200 black-headed gulls each, with peaks during dark, windy hours when flying conditions were unfavorable. Losses to poultry and penned game birds can be substantial because of this.[8][39]:164 Red foxes seem to dislike the taste of moles but will nonetheless catch them alive and present them to their kits as playthings.[39]:41

A 2008–2010 study of 84 red foxes in the Czech Republic and Germany found that successful hunting in long vegetation or under snow appeared to involve an alignment of the fox with the Earth's magnetic field.[66][67]

Enemies and competitors

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Red fox confronting a grey fox
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Golden eagle feeding on red fox
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Fox challenging two badgers

Red foxes typically dominate other fox species. Arctic foxes generally escape competition from red foxes by living farther north, where food is too scarce to support the larger-bodied red species. Although the red species' northern limit is linked to the availability of food, the Arctic species' southern range is limited by the presence of the former. Red and Arctic foxes were both introduced to almost every island from the Aleutian Islands to the Alexander Archipelago during the 1830s–1930s by fur companies. The red foxes invariably displaced the Arctic foxes, with one male red fox having been reported to have killed off all resident Arctic foxes on a small island in 1866.[39] Where they are sympatric, Arctic foxes may also escape competition by feeding on lemmings and flotsam, rather than voles, as favoured by red foxes. Both species will kill each other's kits, given the opportunity.[6] Red foxes are serious competitors of corsac foxes, as they hunt the same prey all year. The red species is also stronger, is better adapted to hunting in snow deeper than 10 cm (4 in) and is more effective in hunting and catching medium to large-sized rodents. Corsac foxes seem to only outcompete red foxes in semi-desert and steppe areas.[6][68] In Israel, Blanford's foxes escape competition with red foxes by restricting themselves to rocky cliffs and actively avoiding the open plains inhabited by red foxes.[39]:84–85 Red foxes dominate kit and swift foxes. Kit foxes usually avoid competition with their larger cousins by living in more arid environments, though red foxes have been increasing in ranges formerly occupied by kit foxes due to human-induced environmental changes. Red foxes will kill both species, and compete for food and den sites.[9] Grey foxes are exceptional, as they dominate red foxes wherever their ranges meet. Historically, interactions between the two species were rare, as grey foxes favoured heavily wooded or semiarid habitats as opposed to the open and mesic ones preferred by red foxes. However, interactions have become more frequent due to deforestation allowing red foxes to colonise grey fox-inhabited areas.[9]

Wolves may kill and eat red foxes in disputes over carcasses.[6][69] In areas in North America where red fox and coyote populations are sympatric, fox ranges tend to be located outside coyote territories. The principal cause of this separation is believed to be active avoidance of coyotes by the foxes. Interactions between the two species vary in nature, ranging from active antagonism to indifference. The majority of aggressive encounters are initiated by coyotes, and there are few reports of red foxes acting aggressively toward coyotes except when attacked or when their kits were approached. Foxes and coyotes have sometimes been seen feeding together.[70] In Israel, red foxes share their habitat with golden jackals. Where their ranges meet, the two canids compete due to near identical diets. Foxes ignore jackal scents or tracks in their territories, and avoid close physical proximity with jackals themselves. In areas where jackals become very abundant, the population of foxes decreases significantly, apparently because of competitive exclusion.[71]

Red foxes dominate raccoon dogs, sometimes killing their kits or biting adults to death. Cases are known of foxes killing raccoon dogs entering their dens. Both species compete for mouse-like prey. This competition reaches a peak during early spring, when food is scarce. In Tartaria, red fox predation accounted for 11.1% of deaths among 54 raccoon dogs, and amounted to 14.3% of 186 raccoon dog deaths in north-western Russia.[6]

Red foxes may kill small mustelids like weasels,[9] stone martens,[72] pine martens, stoats, kolonoks, polecats and young sables. Eurasian badgers may live alongside red foxes in isolated sections of large burrows.[6] It is possible that the two species tolerate each other out of mutualism; foxes provide badgers with food scraps, while badgers maintain the shared burrow's cleanliness.[24]:15 However, cases are known of badgers driving vixens from their dens and destroying their litters without eating them. Wolverines may kill red foxes, often while the latter are sleeping or near carrion. Foxes in turn may kill unattended young wolverines.[6]

Red foxes may compete with striped hyenas on large carcasses. Red foxes may give way to hyenas on unopened carcasses, as the latter's stronger jaws can easily tear open flesh that is too tough for foxes. Foxes may harass hyenas, using their smaller size and greater speed to avoid the hyena's attacks. Sometimes, foxes seem to deliberately torment hyenas even when there is no food at stake. Some foxes may mistime their attacks, and are killed.[39]:77–79 Fox remains are often found in hyena dens, and hyenas may steal foxes from traps.[6]

In Eurasia, red foxes may be preyed upon by leopards, caracals and Eurasian lynxes. The lynxes chase red foxes into deep snow, where their longer legs and larger paws give them an advantage over foxes, especially when the depth of the snow exceeds one metre.[6] In the Velikoluki district in Russia, red foxes are absent or are seen only occasionally where lynxes establish permanent territories.[6] Researchers consider lynxes to represent considerably less danger to red foxes than wolves do.[6] North American felid predators of red foxes include cougars, Canadian lynxes and bobcats.[36] Occasionally, large raptors such as Eurasian eagle owls will prey on young foxes,[73] while golden eagles have been known to kill adults.[74]

Diseases and parasites

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European red fox with mange

Red foxes are the most important rabies vector in Europe. In London, arthritis is common in foxes, being particularly frequent in the spine.[8] Foxes may be infected with leptospirosis and tularemia, though they are not overly susceptible to the latter. They may also fall ill from listeriosis and spirochetosis, as well as acting as vectors in spreading erysipelas, brucellosis and tick-borne encephalitis. A mysterious fatal disease near Lake Sartlan in the Novosibirsk Oblast was noted among local red foxes, but the cause was undetermined. The possibility was considered that it was caused by an acute form of encephalomyelitis, which was first observed in captive bred silver foxes. Individual cases of foxes infected with Yersinia pestis are known.[6]

Red foxes are not readily prone to infestation with fleas. Species like Spilopsyllus cuniculi are probably only caught from the fox's prey species, while others like Archaeopsylla erinacei are caught whilst travelling. Fleas that feed on red foxes include Pulex irritans, Ctenocephalides canis and Paraceras melis. Ticks such as Ixodes ricinus and I. hexagonus are not uncommon in foxes, and are typically found on nursing vixens and kits still in their earths. The louse Trichodectes vulpis specifically targets foxes, but is found infrequently. The mite Sarcoptes scabiei is the most important cause of mange in red foxes. It causes extensive hair loss, starting from the base of the tail and hindfeet, then the rump before moving on to the rest of the body. In the final stages of the condition, foxes can lose most of their fur, 50% of their body weight and may gnaw at infected extremities. In the epizootic phase of the disease, it usually takes foxes four months to die after infection. Other endoparasites include Demodex folliculorum, Notoderes, Otodectes cynotis (which is frequently found in the ear canal), Linguatula serrata (which infects the nasal passages) and ringworms.[6]

Up to 60 helminth species are known to infect foxes in fur farms, while 20 are known in the wild. Several coccidian species of the genera Isospora and Eimeria are also known to infect them.[6] The most common nematode species found in fox guts are Toxocara canis and Uncinaria stenocephala, Capillaria aerophila[75] and Crenosoma vulpis, the latter two infect their lungs. Capillaria plica infect the fox's bladder. Trichinella spiralis rarely affects them. The most common tapeworm species in foxes are Taenia spiralis and T. pisiformis. Others include Echinococcus granulosus and E. multilocularis. Eleven trematode species infect red foxes,[8] including Metorchis conjunctus.[76]

Relationships with humans

In folklore, religion and mythology

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Reynard the Fox in an 1869 children's book
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Nine-tailed fox, from the Qing edition of the Shan Hai Jing

Red foxes feature prominently in the folklore and mythology of human cultures with which they are sympatric. In Greek mythology, the Teumessian fox[77] or Cadmean vixen, was a gigantic fox that was destined never to be caught. The fox was one of the children of Echidna.[78]

In Celtic mythology, the red fox is a symbolic animal. In the Cotswolds, witches were thought to take the shape of foxes to steal butter from their neighbours.[79] In later European folklore, the figure of Reynard the Fox symbolises trickery and deceit. He originally appeared (then under the name of "Reinardus") as a secondary character in the 1150 poem "Ysengrimus". He reappeared in 1175 in Pierre Saint Cloud's Le Roman de Renart, and made his debut in England in Geoffrey Chaucer's The Nun's Priest's Tale. Many of Reynard's adventures may stem from actual observations on fox behaviour; he is an enemy of the wolf and has a fondness for blackberries and grapes.[39]:32–33

Chinese folk tales tell of fox-spirits called huli jing that may have up to nine tails, or kumiho as they are known in Korea.[80] In Japanese mythology, the kitsune are fox-like spirits possessing magical abilities that increase with their age and wisdom. Foremost among these is the ability to assume human form. While some folktales speak of kitsune employing this ability to trick others, other stories portray them as faithful guardians, friends, lovers, and wives.[81] In Arab folklore, the fox is considered a cowardly, weak, deceitful, and cunning animal, said to feign death by filling its abdomen with air to appear bloated, then lies on its side, awaiting the approach of unwitting prey.[33] The animal's cunning was noted by the authors of the Bible who applied the word "fox" to false prophets (Ezekiel 13:4) and the hypocrisy of Herod Antipas (Luke 13:32).[82]

The cunning Fox is commonly found in Native American mythology, where it is portrayed as an almost constant companion to Coyote. Fox, however, is a deceitful companion that often steals Coyote's food. In the Achomawi creation myth, Fox and Coyote are the co-creators of the world, that leave just before the arrival of humans. The Yurok tribe believed that Fox, in anger, captured the sun, and tied him to a hill, causing him to burn a great hole in the ground. An Inuit story tells of how Fox, portrayed as a beautiful woman, tricks a hunter into marrying her, only to resume her true form and leave after he offends her. A Menominee story tells of how Fox is an untrustworthy friend to the Wolf.[83]

Hunting

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Beagle and Fox (1885) by Bruno Liljefors

The earliest historical records of fox hunting come from the fourth century BC; Alexander the Great is known to have hunted foxes and a seal dated from 350 BC depicts a Persian horseman in the process of spearing a fox. Xenophon, who viewed hunting as part of a cultured man's education, advocated the killing of foxes as pests, as they distracted hounds from hares. The Romans were hunting foxes by 80 AD. During the Dark Ages in Europe, foxes were considered secondary quarries, but gradually grew in importance. Cnut the Great reclassed foxes as Beasts of the Chase, a lower category of quarry than Beasts of Venery. Foxes were gradually hunted less as vermin and more as Beasts of the Chase, to the point that by the late 1200s, Edward I had a royal pack of foxhounds and a specialised fox huntsman. In this period, foxes were increasingly hunted above ground with hounds, rather than underground with terriers. Edward, Second Duke of York assisted the climb of foxes as more prestigious quarries in his The Master of Game. By the Renaissance, fox hunting became a traditional sport of the nobility. After the English Civil War caused a drop in deer populations, fox hunting grew in popularity. By the mid-1600s, Britain was divided into fox hunting territories, with the first fox hunting clubs being formed (the first was the Charlton Hunt Club in 1737). The popularity of fox hunting in Britain reached a peak during the 1700s.[39]:21 Although already native to North America, red foxes from England were imported for sporting purposes to Virginia and Maryland in 1730 by prosperous tobacco planters.[84] These American fox hunters considered the red species more sporting than grey species.[84]

The grays furnished more fun, the reds more excitement. The grays did not run so far, but usually kept near home, going in a circuit of six or eight miles. 'An old red, generally so called irrespective of age, as a tribute to his prowess, might lead the dogs all day, and end by losing them as evening fell, after taking them a dead stretch for thirty miles. The capture of a gray was what men boasted of; a chase after 'an old red' was what they 'yarned' about.[84]

Red foxes are still widely persecuted as pests, with human-caused deaths among the highest causes of mortality in the species. Annual fox kills are: UK 21,500–25,000 (2000); Germany 600,000 (2000–2001); Austria 58,000 (2000–2001); Sweden 58,000 (1999–2000); Finland 56,000 (2000–2001); Denmark 50,000 (1976–1977); Switzerland 34,832 (2001); Norway 17,000 (2000–2001); Saskatchewan (Canada) 2,000 (2000–2001); Nova Scotia (Canada) 491 (2000–2001); Minnesota (US) 4,000–8,000 (average annual trapping harvest 2002–2009);[85] New Mexico (US) 69 (1999–2000).[72]

Fur use

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Red fox pelts

Red foxes are among the most important furbearing animals harvested by the fur trade. Their pelts are used for trimmings, scarfs, muffs, jackets and coats. They are principally used as trimming for both cloth coats and fur garments, including evening wraps.[11]:229–230 The pelts of silver-morph foxes are popular as capes,[11]:246 while cross foxes are mostly used for scarves and rarely for trimming.[11]:252 The number of sold fox scarves exceeds the total number of scarves made from other furbearers. However, this amount is overshadowed by the total number of fox pelts used for trimming purposes.[11]:229–230 The silver morphs are the most valued by furriers, followed by the cross and red morphs respectively.[24]:207> In the early 1900s, over 1,000 American fox skins were imported to Britain annually, while 500,000 were exported annually from Germany and Russia.[24]:6 The total worldwide trade of wild red foxes in 1985–86 was 1,543,995 pelts. Foxes amounted to 45% of US wild-caught pelts worth $50 million.[72] Pelt prices are increasing, with 2012 North American wholesale auction prices averaging $39, and 2013 prices averaging $65.78.[86]

North American red foxes, particularly those of northern Alaska, are the most valued for their fur, as they have guard hairs of a silky texture, which, after dressing, allow the wearer unrestricted mobility. Red foxes living in southern Alaska's coastal areas and the Aleutian Islands are an exception, as they have extremely coarse pelts that rarely exceed one-third of the price of their northern Alaskan cousins.[11]:231 Most European peltries have coarse-textured fur compared to North American varieties. The only exceptions are the Nordic and Far Eastern Russian peltries, but they are still inferior to North American peltries in terms of silkiness.[11]:235

Livestock and pet predation

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Carcass of a lamb near a fox den
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Fox in a Birmingham garden investigates a rabbit hutch

Red foxes may on occasion prey on lambs. Usually, lambs targeted by foxes tend to be physically weakened specimens, but not invariably. Lambs belonging to small breeds, such as Blackface, are more vulnerable than larger breeds such as Merino. Twins may be more vulnerable to foxes than singlets, as ewes cannot effectively defend both simultaneously. Crossbreeding small, upland ewes with larger, lowland rams can cause difficult and prolonged labour for ewes due to the heaviness of the resulting offspring, thus making the lambs more at risk to fox predation. Lambs born from gimmers (ewes breeding for the first time) are more often killed by foxes than those of experienced mothers, who stick closer to their young.[39]:166–167

Red foxes may prey on domestic rabbits and guinea pigs if they are kept in open runs or are allowed to range freely in gardens. This problem is usually averted by housing them in robust hutches and runs. Urban foxes frequently encounter cats and may feed alongside them. In physical confrontations, the cats usually have the upper hand. Authenticated cases of foxes killing cats usually involve kittens. Although most foxes do not prey on cats, some may do so, and may treat them more as competitors rather than food.[39]:180–181

Taming and domestication

"
Mr and Mrs Jones' son, Heddwyn, sitting on the kitchen table holding the cub

In their unmodified wild state, red foxes are generally unsuitable as pets.[87] Many supposedly abandoned kits are adopted by well-meaning people during the spring period, though it is unlikely that vixens would abandon their young. Actual orphans are rare, and the ones that are adopted are likely kits that simply strayed from their den site.[88] Kits require almost constant supervision; when still suckling, they require milk at four-hour intervals day and night. Once weaned, they may become destructive to leather objects, furniture and electric cables.[39]:56 Though generally friendly toward people when young, captive red foxes become fearful of humans, save for their handlers, once they reach 10 weeks of age.[39]:61 They maintain their wild counterpart's strong instinct of concealment, and may pose a threat to domestic birds, even when well fed.[24]:122 Although suspicious of strangers, they can form bonds with cats and dogs, even ones bred for fox hunting. Tame foxes were once used to draw ducks close to hunting blinds.[24]:132–133

A strain of truly domesticated red foxes was introduced by Russian geneticist Dmitry Belyayev who, over a 40-year period, bred several generations of silver morph foxes on fur farms, selecting only those individuals that showed the least fear of humans. Eventually, Belyayev's team selected only those that showed the most positive response to humans, thus resulting in a population of foxes whose behaviour and appearance was significantly changed. After about ten generations of controlled breeding, these foxes no longer showed any fear of humans, and often wagged their tails and licked their human caretakers to show affection. These behavioural changes were accompanied by physical alterations, which included piebald coats, floppy ears in pups, and curled tails, similar to traits that distinguish domestic dogs from wolves.[89]

Urban foxes

Distribution

Red foxes have been exceedingly successful in colonising built-up environments, especially lower-density suburbs,[37] although many have also been sighted in dense urban areas far from the countryside. Throughout the twentieth century, they established themselves in many Australian, European, Japanese, and North American cities. The species first colonised British cities during the 1930s, entering Bristol and London during the 1940s, and later established themselves in Cambridge and Norwich. In Ireland they are now common in suburban Dublin. In Australia, red foxes were recorded in Melbourne as early as the 1930s, while in Zurich, Switzerland, they only started appearing in the 1980s.[90] Urban red foxes are most common in residential suburbs consisting of privately owned, low-density housing. They are rare in areas where industry, commerce or council-rented houses predominate.[37] In these latter areas, the distribution is of a lower average density because they rely less on human resources; the home range of these foxes average from 80–90 hectares (200–220 acres), whereas those in more residential areas average from 25–40 hectares (60–100 acres).[91]

In 2006 it was estimated that there were 10,000 foxes in London.[92] City-dwelling foxes may have the potential to consistently grow larger than their rural counterparts, as a result of abundant scraps and a relative dearth of predators. In cities foxes may scavenge food from litter bins and bin bags, although much of their diet will be similar to rural foxes.

Behaviour

Urban red foxes are most active at dusk and dawn, doing most of their hunting and scavenging at these times. It is uncommon to spot them during the day, but they can be caught sunbathing on roofs of houses or sheds. Foxes will often make their homes in hidden and undisturbed spots in urban areas as well as on the edges of a city, visiting at night for sustenance. While foxes will scavenge successfully in the city (and the foxes tend to eat anything that the humans eat) some urban residents will deliberately leave food out for the animals, finding them endearing. Doing this regularly can attract foxes to one's home; they can become accustomed to human presence, warming up to their providers by allowing themselves to be approached and in some cases even played with, particularly young cubs.[91]

Urban fox control

Urban foxes can cause problems for local residents. Foxes have been known to steal chickens, disrupt rubbish bins and damage gardens. Most complaints about urban foxes made to local authorities occur during the breeding season in late January/early February or from late April to August, when the new cubs are developing.[91] In the UK, hunting foxes in urban areas is banned, and shooting them in an urban environment is not suitable. One alternative to hunting urban foxes has been to trap them, which appears to be a more viable method.[93] However, killing foxes has little effect on the population in an urban area; those that are killed are very soon replaced, either by new cubs during the breeding season or by other foxes moving into the territory of those that were killed. A more effective method of fox control is to deter them from the specific areas they inhabit. Deterrents such as creosote, diesel oil, or ammonia can be used. Cleaning up and blocking access to den locations can also discourage a fox's return.[91]

Relationship between urban and rural foxes

In January 2014 it was reported that "Fleet", a relatively tame urban fox tracked as part of a wider study by the University of Brighton in partnership with the BBC's Winterwatch, had unexpectedly travelled 195 miles in 21 days from his neighbourhood in Hove, at the western edge of East Sussex, across rural countryside as far as Rye, at the eastern edge of the county. He was still continuing his journey when the GPS collar stopped transmitting, due to suspected water damage. Along with setting a record for the longest journey undertaken by a tracked fox in the United Kingdom, his travels have highlighted the fluidity of movement between rural and urban fox populations.[94][95]

  • "

    Red fox crossing a street in Portugal

  • "

    Red fox in central London

  • "

    Eating from a bag of biscuits in Dorset, England

  • "

    "Fleet" the urban fox from the BBC's Winterwatch

  • Fox with discarded KFC bag

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Red fox: Brief Summary

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The red fox (Vulpes vulpes) is the largest of the true foxes and one of the most widely distributed members of the order Carnivora, being present across the entire Northern Hemisphere from the Arctic Circle to North Africa, North America and Eurasia. It is listed as least concern by the IUCN. Its range has increased alongside human expansion, having been introduced to Australia, where it is considered harmful to native mammals and bird populations. Due to its presence in Australia, it is included on the list of the "world's 100 worst invasive species".

The red fox originated from smaller-sized ancestors from Eurasia during the Middle Villafranchian period, and colonised North America shortly after the Wisconsin glaciation. Among the true foxes, the red fox represents a more progressive form in the direction of carnivory. Apart from its large size, the red fox is distinguished from other fox species by its ability to adapt quickly to new environments. Despite its name, the species often produces individuals with other colourings, including leucistic and melanistic individuals. Forty-five subspecies are currently recognised, which are divided into two categories: the large northern foxes, and the small, basal southern foxes of Asia and North Africa.

Red foxes are usually together in pairs or small groups consisting of families, such as a mated pair and their young, or a male with several females having kinship ties. The young of the mated pair remain with their parents to assist in caring for new kits. The species primarily feeds on small rodents, though it may also target rabbits, game birds, reptiles, invertebrates and young ungulates. Fruit and vegetable matter is also eaten sometimes. Although the red fox tends to kill smaller predators, including other fox species, it is vulnerable to attack from larger predators, such as wolves, coyotes, golden jackals and medium- and large-sized felines.

The species has a long history of association with humans, having been extensively hunted as a pest and furbearer for many centuries, as well as being represented in human folklore and mythology. Because of its widespread distribution and large population, the red fox is one of the most important furbearing animals harvested for the fur trade.:229–230 Too small to pose a threat to humans, it has extensively benefited from the presence of human habitation, and has successfully colonised many suburban and urban areas. Domestication of the red fox is also underway in Russia, and has resulted in the domesticated red fox.

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