Red fox fur color ranges from pale yellowish red to deep reddish brown on the upper parts and white, ashy, or slaty on the underside. The lower part of the legs is usually black and the tail usually has a white or black tip. Two other kinds of fur colors are fairly common. Cross foxes have reddish brown fur with a black stripe down the back and another across the shoulders. Silver foxes range from strong silver to nearly black and are the most prized by furriers. These variants are about 25% and 10% of red fox individuals, respectively. Red foxes, like many other canid species, have tail glands. The eyes of adult foxes are yellow. The nose is dark brown or black. The length of their jaws is more than half the length of the head. They have sharp canines for grabbing and strong molars for chewing and crushing. They have 5 claws on their front feet and 4 on the rear. Red fox males are larger than females. They range from 827 to 1097 mm in length, with the tail making up 291 to 455 mm of that. They weigh from 3 to 7 kg. (MacDonald and Reynolds, 2005)
Red foxes are the largest fox species. Head and body length ranges from 455 to 900 mm, tail length from 300 to 555 mm, and weight from 3 to 14 kg. Males are slightly larger than females. Populations in southern deserts and in North America are smaller than European populations.
Red foxes are found throughout much of the northern hemisphere from the Arctic circle to Central America, the steppes of central Asia, and northern Africa. This species has the widest distribution of any canid. Red foxes have also been introduced to Australia and the Falkland Islands. (MacDonald and Reynolds, 2005)
Red foxes utilize a wide range of habitats including forest, tundra, prairie, desert, mountains, farmlands, and urban areas. They prefer mixed vegetation communities, such as edge habitats and mixed scrub and woodland. They are found from sea level to 4500 meters elevation. (MacDonald and Reynolds, 2005)
Red foxes may breed in male/female pairs or in groups with one breeding male and multiple females. Females in the same group may share a den and help each other raise their young.
Breeding season varies from region to region but usually begins in December or January in the south, January to February in the central regions, and February to April in the north. Females are pregnant usually for 51 to 53 days and give birth to about 5 pups, although some litters have been as large as 13 pups! Just before and for a time after giving birth the female remains in or around the den. The male will give his mate food but does not go into the maternity den. Young red foxes are between 50 and 150 g in weight when they are born. The pups are born blind but open their eyes 9 to 14 days after birth. Pups leave the den 4 or 5 weeks after birth and are fully weaned by 8 to 10 weeks. Mothers and pups remain together until the autumn after birth. Red foxes are fully grown by 10 months old.
Red fox males and females, and sometimes their older offspring, cooperate to care for the pups. Young remain in the den for 4 to 5 weeks, where they are cared for and nursed by their mother. They are nursed for 56 to 70 days and are provided with solid food by their parents and older siblings. The young remain with their parents at least until the fall of the year they were born in and will sometimes remain longer, especially females.
Red foxes have been known to live 10 to 12 years in captivity but live on average 3 years in the wild.
Red foxes are relatively solitary animals and do not form packs like wolves. Individual adults have home ranges that vary in size depending on the quality of the habitat. In good areas ranges may be between 5 and 12 square kilometers; in poorer habitats ranges are larger, between 20 and 50 square kilometers. During some parts of the year adjacent ranges may overlap somewhat but red foxes generally defend their territories from intrusion by other foxes. Ranges are occupied by an adult male, one or two adult females, and their young. Individuals and family groups live in earthen dens and often have other emergency burrows in the home range. Dens of other animals, such as badgers or marmots, are often taken over by foxes. Larger dens may be dug and used during the winter and during birth and rearing of the young. The same den is often used over a number of generations. Pathways throughout the home range connect the main den with other resting sites, favored hunting grounds, and food storage areas. Red foxes are either nocturnal or crepuscular. Top running speed is about 48km/h and they can jump over obstacles as high as 2 m. In the autumn following their birth, the pups will often leave their parent's territory to establish their own. These young may travel as little as 10 km or as far as 400 km to set up their own territory. Animals remain in the same home range for their entire life.
Individual adults have home ranges that vary in size depending on the quality of the habitat. In good areas ranges may be between 5 and 12 square kilometers; in poorer habitats ranges are larger, between 20 and 50 square kilometers.
Red foxes use a variety of vocalizations to communicate among themselves. They also use facial expressions and scent marking extensively. Red foxes have excellent senses of vision, smell, and touch.
Red foxes are essentially omnivores. They mostly eat rodents, eastern cottontail rabbits, insects, and fruit. They will also eat carrion. Red foxes also store food and are very good at relocating these caches. Red foxes have a characteristic manner of hunting mice. The fox stands motionless, listening and watching intently for a mouse it has detected. It then leaps high and brings the forelimbs straight down forcibly to pin the mouse to the ground. They eat between 0.5 and 1 kg of food each day.
Most red foxes that are taken by natural predators are young pups. Pups are kept in and near a den and protected by their family to avoid this. Adult red foxes may also be attacked by coyotes, wolves, or other predators, but this is rarely in order to eat them. The most significant predators on red foxes are humans, who hunt foxes for their fur and kill them in large numbers as pests.
Red foxes help to control populations of their prey animals, such as rodents and rabbits. They also may disperse seeds by eating fruit.
Red foxes are considered by many to be threats to poultry. In general, foxes hunt their natural prey, but individual foxes may learn to target domestic birds if they are not adequately protected. Foxes are known vectors for rabies and can transmit the disease to humans and other animals.
Red foxes are important fur bearers and more are raised on farms than any other wild fur bearing mammal. Red foxes also help to control populations of small rodents and rabbits and may disperse seeds. (MacDonald and Reynolds, 2005)
Three subspecies are listed in CITES appendix III. Overall, red fox populations are stable and they have expanded their range in response to human changes in habitats. (MacDonald and Reynolds, 2005)
Tanya Dewey (editor), Animal Diversity Web.
David L. Fox (author), University of Michigan-Ann Arbor.
Lloyd, H. G. 1981. The Red Fox. B. T. Batsford, Ltd., London.
Nowak, R. M. 1991. Walker's Mammals of the World. The Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, MD.
MacDonald, D., J. Reynolds. 2005. "Red fox (Vulpes vulpes)" (On-line). IUCN Canid Specialist Group. Accessed September 27, 2007 at http://www.canids.org/species/Vulpes_vulpes.htm.