Red Fox

Vulpes vulpes fulva (Desmarest)

 

 

Photo courtesy of Robin West,
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Images Library

Description:   Red foxes are small, dog-like members of the family Canidae. They can be distinguished from other members of the family by: 1) long pointed ears and muzzle, 2) relatively long legs, 3) dense, smooth fur which gives it a sleek appearance, 4) white to dull gray underparts, 5) fur on the sides shading from yellowish-red to dark red along the midline of the back, 6) pale red cheeks and chin, 7) back of ears, lower legs, and feet black, and 8) bushy, deep red tail with a white tip.

Size:   Adults may attain the following dimensions: total length 939-1042 mm; tail 310-378 mm; hind foot 145-162 mm; ear 80-89 mm; weight 3.5-4.6 kilograms.

Range and Habitat:   Red foxes were originally restricted to the eastern third of Kansas and probably extended its range to the middle of the state along stream and river courses. In recent years its distribution has expanded farther westward, probably due to shifts in human agricultural practices, but it is still most common in the eastern third of the state. This species prefers areas of mixed forest and grasslands such as forest edges, river bottomlands, and rocky hillsides.

Reproduction:   Red foxes breed from late December through early March. After breeding the female prepares one or more dens within a home range before the young are born. Following a gestation period of about 53 days, one to seventeen (average five) pups are born with their eyes closed, each weighing about 100 grams. Their eyes open by the seventh to ninth day when they weigh about 680 grams. While the pups are young, the male provides food for both them and the female. The young first leave the den at four to five weeks of age, and are weaned at eight to ten weeks. Usually before weaning the young are moved one or more times to new dens sites. After ten weeks pups begin to accompany the parents on hunting trips. At four months the pups' permanent dentition is present, and they begin to forage for themselves within the parental home range. Young disperse in the autumn when they are nearly adult size. Following birth of the young a typical social unit of red foxes consists of the male, female and young. After dispersal in the autumn, red foxes are primarily solitary until they pair again in the breeding season.

Habits:   Red foxes are primarily nocturnal in their habits, but there is much daily and seasonal variation. their activity may begin as early as two hours before dark, and continue until four hours after dawn. During midday red foxes return to their denning area. Red foxes increase their daylight activity during autumn and winter. Dens are constructed during late winter in loose, well-drained soils. They are usually located on hillsides in or near heavy brush or woodlands. Dens may be built by the foxes themselves, or may be enlarged versions of dens previously constructed by other small mammals. Dens usually have one or more openings (up to 20 have been recorded), and the tunnels are an average of one to one and a half meters below ground.

  An adult red fox occupies a home range for life, and its size varies with the habitat, food abundance, and time of year. In general most foxes confine their activities in an area of eight to 10 square kilometers. Following breeding, females restrict their activities to areas adjacent to the dens, and for several weeks following birth the parents remain within a kilometer of the den. During late winter home ranges are larger, presumably due to a decrease in available food. Population densities of the red fox average two or three foxes per square kilometer, but in suitable habitat may range up to 32 foxes per square kilometer, although this latter number represents an unusual local concentration of dens.

Food:   Red foxes feeds primarily on small and medium sized mammals, fruits, berries, and insects. Ground nesting birds may occasionally be eaten. Carrion is also consumed.

Remarks:   Red foxes are highly susceptible to rabies, distemper, hepatitis, and mange, which act to keep population densities from increasing to high levels. This species may live eight years in captivity, but seldom survives beyond the age of three to four years in the wild. Red foxes have been accused of destroying game birds, but elimination of these mammals rarely increases game bird populations, indicating that they have little permanent impact on the abundance of these birds.


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