Range and Habitat
The red fox has been a symbol of European literature for centuries. He has appeared in countless Aesop's fables as the crafty and sly fox who always outwits everyone. To an extent this is true. The fox is very crafty; it has been hunted down in English fox hunts, and shot mercilessly for its fur, and yet its numbers are not affected. It has managed to survive quite well in its town and country homes in northern Europe and North America. The red fox can adapt easily and so can avoid all the problems of a social animal that requires a home range, like the wolf. In fact, it has taken over as top predator in areas where the wolf has been eradicated. It is not affected by habitat destruction because it is equally at home in the city.
The red fox ranges throughout North America in Canada and the United States; Europe; northern Africa and the Middle East; Asia; Australia; and some Pacific Islands. They are not native throughout most of their range, having been introduced by British settlers who hunt them for sport. Red foxes were introduced to North America in the seventeenth century for fox hunting. They were first introduced to the east coast, and from there spread westward and southward. They interbred with native red foxes, which occurred only in the northeastern part of the country, essentially breeding out the subspecies. They were also introduced to Australia in the nineteenth century to control exploding rabbit populations. They tend to occur in a variety of habitats, but usually avoid dense forests and deserts. Despite this fact, there is a population in the arid northwest region of India.
The red fox is the largest member of the fox family. They are incredibly varied in size throughout their range. Males tend to be about 20% larger than the females. Foxes generally have a slender body set on long, thin legs. The tail is thick and bushy, and is a significant portion of their total length. Their muzzle is long, pointed and narrow. The large ears are triangular in shape and high on the top of the head. One notable aspect of Vulpes foxes is their eyes are vertical slits, just like those of the domestic cat and other felinae cats, as opposed to the rounded pupils of other canids. Red fox eyes are yellow. They have 42 teeth in the dental formula (i 3/3, c 1/1, pm 4/4 m2/3) x2. Five toes are present on each front paw, and four in each back paw. Their front paw is approximately 5 cm in length by 3 to 4 cm in width; the back paw is slightly smaller and narrower. Like most other canids, they have blunt, unretractable claws.
Though named the red fox, their wild and domestic coloration varies. Their wild color ranges from a deep ruddy red to pale orange, and can be any shade and intensity in between. Their cheeks, lower jaw, throat and chest, underside, and tip of the tail is pale cream to white. The tail has a patch of dark, thick, oily fur, called the supracaudal gland, a couple of inches from the base on the top. The legs are darker than the body, and are often black. The sides of the muzzle from the inner corner of each eye to the nose is a darker color, ranging from pale brown to almost black. The backs of the ears are black. Some individuals are almost solid red or orange, while others have darker brown or greyish hairs interpsersed throughout to various degrees, giving them a grizzled appearance. The red fox moults twice yearly, once in the spring, and once in late fall.
In addition to the red version, there is a "silver" phase, where the fox is basically solid black with some white grizzling on the back and sides. There is also a cross fox, which is a black fox with red-tipped hairs. Solid black foxes also naturally exist. These three color variations mainly exist in North America, and are rare elsewhere. Farm raised red foxes have even more coat variations. Some can be pure white with some grey markings, and some are golden with black ticking all over. The all-white variety has a normal eye color. These are not natural variations, and can only be seen in a fox farm. Albino individuals (which have red or pink eyes) are very rare.
Red foxes will eat anything, as they are very versatile when it comes to diet. It is this reason that they are such successful predators. They are true omnivores, and will eat rodents, fruit, vegetation, insects, human garbage, young deer, and wild boar. Rodents and rabbits form the bulk of their diet. In the more urban areas of their habitat, they will scavenge on human refuse, and even eat out of pet food bowls left outside. They typically eat 1-2 lb (0.5 - 1 kg) of food a day. They will cache any surplus food near their denning area, to be eaten later. In the autumn, they tend to eat more fruits and berries, as well as getting into human crops such as cabbage and turnips.
Foxes hunt game by stalking and pouncing, just like a cat. They usually hunt in meadows, where their main prey, mice and voles, live. With their incredible sense of hearing, they can locate voles and mice through the thick grass and even in their underground burrows. They wait until the mouse or vole comes above ground, then the fox jumps high in the air and pounces on its prey. To kill its prey, the fox severs the spinal cord with its teeth.
Reproduction and Life Cycle
Mating season is between December and April, sooner in lower latitudes, later in higher latitudes. Female foxes only give birth to one litter a year. The estrus cycle lasts about 3 weeks, with the female being receptive for only about 3 days. In some areas of the world, usually the northern parts of their range, the percentage of female foxes (vixens) giving birth in a given year depend directly on the number of voles in their home range. They have more kits on years where the vole population is higher. Unusually, in areas where hunting is intense, the population does not suffer, since most of the population is made up of males and non-breeding females. In a way, it just reduces competition.
The females give birth to the kits in a den, either dug by themselves or using an abandoned burrow. Sometimes, a den is used for several generations. Usually, 3-4 kits, weighing 50-150 g at birth, comprise a litter. Red fox kits are dark brown to black at birth. Their eyes are closed at birth, and open when they are 9-14 days old. Their folded ears become erect at 4 weeks old. At about one month of age, they begin to emerge from the den, and start to eat solid food. By 6 weeks old, they have developed their adult coloration, and by 8 weeks their guard hairs develop. At 6 weeks, the young kits begin to catch some food on their own, such as earthworms. Their first full set of teeth are in by 7-8 weeks old. Usually, by 8 weeks of age, the kits are fully weaned.
If more than one vixen gives birth in a den, they will help to raise each others young. The male helps by providing food. The family breaks up in autumn. Usually, males leave first, at about 6 months old. They may travel a great distance, up to 18 mi (30 km) to establish a territory of their own. Females tend to stay in their natal territories, and establish territories of their own within their mother's. Foxes are fully mature at 10 months old, and breed the following spring. Foxes can potentially live for 12 years, but few live longer than 3-4 years, especially in areas of high hunting presures. In captivity, foxes can live for 15 years.
Red foxes have a hierarchical social structure. The usual social arrangement is a mated pair and their latest brood of young, although social arrangements like a harem, one male with a group of females living in his territory, have been recorded. In this case, one female is dominant, and is the only one to breed. Sometimes single pairs form of one male and one female, and sometimes with their recent offspring. The majority of foxes are non-breeding females and males, very few females actually breed. Those that stay with their mother to help raise young do not breed. However, any females that stay have to obey their mother, and will be attacked and even killed if they do not follow the alpha female's wishes. The fox pair is mainly monogamous. However, the female may mate with several males before finally choosing one as her partner. Although the family lives together, the foxes will forage for food independently.
Foxes are very territorial, and will attack intruders. Territory sizes vary widely, and depend upon the type of habitat and prey availability. Territory sizes can be 5-12 km� in prime habitat, and as much as 20-50 km� in poor habitat. In urban areas, the home range can be as little as 20 ha, up to 4,000 ha in hilly areas. In very favorable habitat, home ranges of different families may overlap significantly without conflict. The size of the territory will also change with the seasons. It is largest in the winter, and smallest in the birthing season. Both sexes will mark the territory using urine and feces. There are pathways between the densite, resting areas, food caches, and other areas of interest that the foxes use.
The main den is a large underground burrow that may have several entrances. The chamber is 1-3 m below the surface, and has tunnels up to 10 m in length leading to it. Dens are usually found in areas of loose soil on a well-drained slope. Dens may be enlargened when the female is rearing pups. Foxes have been known to take over a part of a badger sett or share an active sett for their dens, and will enlarge old rabbit warrens. In urban areas, their dens often consist of areas under sheds or buildings. The foxes usually have one or more �emergency burrows� in which to escape potential attackers. Outside of breeding season, the foxes usually will rest in thick brush or grass rather than going underground into the burrow.
Foxes are primarily nocturnal and crepuscular in their habits. However, a vixen with young kits forages more frequently and is active during the daytime. They are less active on wet or cold nights. They will move up to 8 km in one night in search of food. Foxes can reach speeds of up to 48 km/hr (30 mph). They can jump a distance 2 m. They are good swimmers.
Foxes are preyed upon by golden eagles, wolves, coyotes, bears, diseases like rabies and distemper, and humans trapping them for fur and hunting them for sport. Red foxes are also raised on farms for their fur. Despite constant hunting pressures, there are more red foxes now than during the medieval times. It appears that the red fox, unlike other species, is actually benefiting from human expansion, and so will be impossible to eradicate. Foxes also get numerous diseases and parasites. They can carry canine distemper, rabies, and upper respiratory diseases as well as mange, ticks, lice, fleas, tapeworms, roundworms, hookworms, and various protozoans.
Foxes, like other wild animals, do NOT make good pets. They are wild animals, and have evolved to live their life in the wild. These adaptations that make them able to survive in the wild make them unmanageable as pets. They have a very powerful musky odor, will mark their territory, will bite if they feel threatened, and will destroy property in order to attempt to cache food.