Red Fox

From Academic Kids

Red Fox
Conservation status: Lower risk
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Red Fox

Scientific classification
Species:V. vulpes
Binomial name
Vulpes vulpes
(Linnaeus, 1758)

The Red Fox (Vulpes vulpes), the most familiar of the foxes, has the widest range of any terrestrial carnivore. The largest species within the genus Vulpes, Red Foxes have a native range spanning most of North America and Eurasia, with several populations in North Africa.

Red Foxes have both positive and negative standing with humans; while they are vectors of disease and a bane of poultry farmers, these foxes are also important to the fur industry. A prominent cultural impact is that of fox hunting, a long-practised but now controversial British tradition.

A subspecies, the Japanese Red Fox (Vulpes vulpes japonica) migrated from India to China and eventually to Japan. It is also known by the Japanese name kitsune (狐).


Physical description

Red foxes are most commonly a rusty red, with white underbelly and black ear tips and legs. The "red" tone can vary from crimson to golden, and in fact can be brindled or agouti, with bands of red, brown, black and white on each individual hair when seen close up. In the wild, two other color phases are also seen: silver or black (silver foxes, comprising 10% of the wild population and most of the farmed), and a more common variant, the so-called "cross fox", named for the black stripes running across its shoulders and down its back and forming a "cross" on an otherwise red background. "Domesticated" or farmed stock may be almost any color, including spotted, or "marbled", varieties.

Their eyes are gold to yellow and have distinctive vertically slit pupils, like a cats. The red fox is extremely agile for a canid and has been referred to as "the cat-like canid". Their long bushy tails with distinctive white tips provide balance for acrobatic leaps and bounds.

Red foxes may reach an adult weight of 4.1–5.4 kilograms (9–12 pounds). They vary greatly in size, with red foxes in Europe being larger, on average, than those in North America.

During the fall and winter, red foxes will grow more fur. This so-called 'winter fur' keeps the animal warm in the colder environment. The foxes shed this fur at the onset of spring, reverting back to the short fur for the duration of the summer.

Habitat and diet

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Red Foxes are found in a variety of biomes, from prairies and scrubland to forest settings. They are most suited to lower latitudes but do venture considerably far north, competing directly with the Arctic Fox on the tundra. Red Foxes have also become a familiar sight in suburban and even urban environments, sharing territory with the much maligned raccoon.

Red Foxes eat rodents, insects, fruits, worms, eggs, mice, and other small animals. They have 42 very powerful teeth that they use to catch their food. The foxes regularly consume from 0.5–1 kilograms (1–2 pounds) of food per day.

In recent decades, many foxes have established themselves in urban neighbourhoods in Britain. These urban foxes probably depend mainly on scavenging household waste, though they will also take rodents and birds from gardens and wasteland.


Living as they do in a wide variety of habitats, red foxes display a wide variety of behaviors. In Biology and Conservation of Wild Canids, MacDonald and Sillero-Zubiri state that two populations of red foxes may be behaviorally as different as two species.

Being primarily crepuscular with a tendency to becoming nocturnal in areas of great human interference, red foxes are most active at night and at twilight. They are generally solitary hunters. If a fox catches more food than it can eat, it will bury, or cache, the extra food for later.

In general, each fox claims its own territory; foxes pair up only in winter and in summer they forage alone. Territories may be as large as 50 square kilometres (19 square miles); ranges are much smaller (<12 square kilometres (4.6 square miles)) in habitats with abundant food sources, however. Several dens are utilized within these territories; dens may be claimed from previous residents such as marmots, or dug anew. A larger main den is used for winter living, birthing and rearing of young; smaller dens are dispersed throughout the territory for emergency and food storage purposes. A series of tunnels often connects them with the main den.

Red foxes primarily form monogamous pairs each winter, which cooperate to raise a litter of 4-6 kits each year; but in various locales and for various incompletely-explored reasons they may also practise polygamy (the male fox may spend the breeding season circulating between several females), polygyny (where a "harem" of related female foxes "share" one male), and various combinations thereof. Sometimes young foxes disperse promptly on maturity (approx. 8-10 months); sometimes they remain on their natal territory and assist in raising the next year's offspring.

The reason for this "group living" behaviour is not agreed upon; some researchers believe the non-breeders boost the survival rate of the litters while others believe there is no significant difference, and such arrangements are made spontaneously due to a resource surplus.

Socially, foxes communicate with body language and a variety of vocalizations. Their vocal range is quite large and their noises vary from a distinctive three-yip "lost call" to a shriek reminiscent of a human scream. They also communicate with scent, marking food and territorial boundary lines with urine and feces.


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A fox pup sitting on a stone.

The Red Fox's breeding period varies widely due to its broad distribution; southern populations breed from December to January, central populations from January to February and northern populations from February to April. Females have an annual estrous period of between 1–6 days; ovulation is spontaneous. Copulation is loud and short, usually lasting no more than 20 seconds. Although a female may mate with several males (who fight amongst each other for the right to), she will eventually settle with one only.

Males will supply food to females up to and after birthing, otherwise leaving the female alone with her pups in a "maternity den". An average litter size is 5 pups, but may be as large as 13. Pups are born blind and may weigh as much as 150 grams (0.33 pounds). Their eyes are open by two weeks and the pups have taken their first exploratory steps out of the den by five weeks; by 10 weeks they are fully weaned.

In autumn of the same year, the young foxes will disperse and claim their own territories. Red Foxes reach sexual maturity by 10 months of age, and may live for 12 years.


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