Daryl L. Hunter's Photo Portfolio and Gallery

The Red Fox

Red Fox, Grand Teton National Park
Red fox on the prowl

You’ve probably read stories about the cunning fox trying to outwit his animal brothers and sisters. Foxes no doubt got their crafty reputation from the way they look, with their long thin faces and yellow eyes that have narrow slits for pupils. But in real life, foxes are more concerned with finding food than with playing tricks on anyone.

The Red Fox (Vulpes vulpes) is the largest of the true foxes, as well as being the most geographically diverse member of the Carnivora, being distributed across the entire northern hemisphere from the Arctic Circle to North Africa, Central America, and the Asian steppes. Its range has increased alongside human expansion, having been introduced to Australasia, where it is considered harmful to native mammal and bird populations, as is the case with many non-endemic species. Because of these factors, it is listed as Least Concern for extinction by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

The red fox originated from smaller-sized ancestors from Eurasia during the Middle Villafranchian period one to three million years ago and colonized North America shortly after the Wisconsin glaciation period.

Fox kit
Red Fox kit

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 and, unlike most of its cousins, is not listed as endangered anywhere. The red fox is a lean mean hunting machine that’s built for speed. About 3-3 ½ feet in length, slinky and long-legged, they only weigh 9-12 pounds full grown. These guys appear much bigger because of their thick fur, which can range from deep brownish red to sandy blonde with black legs, feet and backs of the ears and white bellies. Sometimes, they can even be all black or black with white tips (called “silver”), or have a dark brown “cross” across their backs.

These critters are social animals, whose groups are led by a mated pair that monopolizes breeding. Subordinates within a group are typically the young of the mated pair, who remain with their parents to assist in caring for new kits.

Red Fox

Breeding is done during February and March. The den is a hole in the earth, 15 to 20 feet long, usually located on the side of a knoll. It may have several entrances. Sometimes they dig their own dens. More often, though, they appropriate and enlarge the home sites of small burrowing animals, such as marmots. They also will use abandoned wolf dens. Conversely, wolves may enlarge and use a fox's den

Fox families each have their own clearly marked home range that they defend from intruders, but they don’t usually fight. A group chase or a, threat display, charging, growling, etc. will generally run the interlopers off. A fox family has a hunting range of about 150-400 acres, but in less diverse habitats, like farmland, one family might need up to 2-3 square miles.

They don’t live in dens most of the year, but do set up nurseries in abandoned badger or woodchuck burrows when it’s time to have babies. Male and female foxes breed in mid-January and have 5 or 6 pups in mid-March. Young foxes are called kits. They start hunting with their parents when they’re 3 months old, and are ready to strike out on their own after only 7-8 months.

Within the den is a grass-lined nest where well-furred but blind babies, called kits, are born after a gestation of 51–54 days. A litter of four kits is common, though a litter of 10 is not a rarity. At birth, kits weigh about 4 ounces. Normally only one litter is born each year. The kits' eyes open eight to 10 days after birth. The young leave the den for the first time a month later. The mother gradually weans them, and by the time the kits are 3 months old, they are learning to hunt. Both parents care for the young. The family unit endures until autumn, when it breaks up and each animal goes its own way.

Fox Kits
Red Fox 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 on occasion. Although they tend to displace or even kill their smaller cousins, it is nonetheless vulnerable to attack from larger predators such as wolves, coyotes, golden jackals and large felines.

The species has a long history of association with humans, having been extensively hunted as a pest and furbearer for centuries, as well as being prominently 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.

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