Red Fox (Vulpes vulpes)

HISTORY AND DESCRIPTION: Foxes are in the same family as dogs, coyotes, and wolves (Canidae). They do not bark like dogs (unless they need to give a warning). They do howl and whine. Red foxes are what you usually see in Florida, but they are not always red. Sometimes they look black or silver, but they always have white on the tips of their tails. A red fox is about three feet long from its nose to the end of its bushy tail, but it only weighs about 10 pounds. It looks like it should weigh more, but most of that size is fluffy fur. In the wild, red foxes usually only live about 5 years. Their main predator is man. They are hunted for sport, hunted for their fur coats, shot by farmers, or hit by cars. Red foxes used to be hunted by bobcats, lynxes, panthers, and wolves, but there are not many of those predators left. When a red fox is scared, he doesn’t usually go into a den. Instead, he depends on his speed and intelligence to help him outwit the dangerous animal. Foxes are built to be long-distance runners, with tough toe pads and hard nails that stay out all the time (like your dog).

HABITAT, SENSES, FEEDING: Red foxes live in most areas of the US and Canada, except the southwest and parts of Texas and Alaska. They like open fields and wooded areas. They are usually nocturnal (night animals), starting to hunt at sundown. Red foxes are opportunistic feeders. This means they eat pretty much anything they can find. Their diet changes with the seasons. In the summertime, when there are lots of bugs and fruits, foxes eat grasshoppers, beetles, crickets, berries, nuts, and grains. In the wintertime, when the bugs and fruits are gone, they eat small animals like mice, rabbits, birds, turtles, eggs, and even dead animals like road-kills. They will also eat your trash. Many foxes are starting to live in and around neighborhoods like raccoons. Sometimes, if they live near a farm, they will kill and eat a few chickens. Farmers used to shoot foxes for this, but today, they know that foxes help by eating the mice and grasshoppers that would damage their crops. Many foxes live near people because they can find a lot of food in a small space. (Unfortunately, they can also get hit by cars more easily.) In the wild, foxes need a much bigger space. They have a home range of one to five miles. Red foxes move over that range looking for food, usually hunting alone. They use urine (pee) to mark a spot they have already checked for food. It’s like leaving a note to remind themselves not to check there again. Red foxes can be very territorial, fighting other foxes that come into their area. Their senses of smell, eyesight, and hearing work together to help them find tiny mice scurrying through the tall grass. When they think they’ve found the mouse, they pounce on it, grabbing it with their paws.

DENS AND REPRODUCTION: Red foxes only use dens to have their babies. The rest of the time, they find an open place in the grass or brush to rest. Resting in the open makes it easier for them to spot predators. A fox den is usually an old burrow from another animal like a woodchuck or armadillo. The fox makes it bigger and adds extra tunnels. The den may have up to five entrances, so the fox can make a quick escape if it has to. Also, red foxes have more than one den, and they often move the babies (kits) around to different dens while they are growing up. Red foxes usually live and hunt alone until the breeding season (in December). Then the male and female stay together. She is pregnant for 52 days, and five babies are usually born in March. They are blind and helpless for about two weeks. During this time, the female (vixen) stays in the den with them all the time, and the male brings her food. She feeds milk to the babies and keeps them warm and clean. When the babies are about six weeks old, they start coming out of the den. They fight with each other to decide who is the strongest (dominant). When they are about three months old, their parents bring mice back for them to practice hunting and eating. After six months, the kits are fully grown. In October, they head out on their own. Sometimes the girl kits will stay with the mother and help her raise the next litter of kits during the following spring.

DISEASES: Foxes, like dogs, can catch rabies. Your dog gets shots so it can not get this disease. In some places, medicine is put out in bait (food) for foxes. This medicine keeps them from getting rabies. But this is very expensive, so most foxes don’t get the medicine. Normally, foxes are very shy. If a fox walks up to you and acts brave or friendly, it is probably sick. Do NOT touch it or feed it. Tell a grown up immediately, so they can call Animal Control. If you do get bitten, you have to get shots so you won’t catch rabies. Shots don’t feel great, but they’re sure better than dying! The best thing to do is NEVER touch, feed, or approach a wild animal.

Red Fox Foot Print

REFERENCES:

Rue, Leonard Lee III. Complete Guide to Game Animals. USA: Grolier Book Clubs, Inc. 1981.

Stokes, Donald & Lilian. Animal Tracking and Behavior. Boston: Brown and Company. 1986

Susman., Timothy. "The Ecology of Urban Red Foxes." An internet article, "written in partial fulfillment the requirements of the degree of Master of Sciences in Zoology for the University of Minnesota, 12/94. http://drycas.club.cc....du/-furrball/paper.txt.

EID, vol. 1, no. 4. "The Ascension of Wildlife Rabies: A cause for Public Health Concern or Intervention?" October-December 1995. Columbia/HCA Healthcare Corporation. 1996. http://www.columbia.net/phys/rabies.html.

Provided by the E. Dale Joyner Nature Preserve at Pelotes Island

St. Johns River Power Park, Jacksonville Electric Authority, Florida Power & Light

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