4702 Cooper Road
Plant City, FL 33565
Phone 813.690.9696

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Zooville's Red Foxes

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RED FOX

 

Taxonomy:

Kingdom - Animalia
Phylum - Chordata
Subphylum Vertebrata
Class Mammalia       
Order  Carnivora
Family  Canidae
Genus  Vulpes
Species  vulpes

Miscellaneous facts: The red fox is terrestrial, normally moving by a walk or trot. It has great endurance and can gallop for many miles if pursued. It can run at speeds of up to 30 mi/hr, can leap fences 6 ft. high, and can swim well. It has keen senses of sight, smell, and hearing. Its ability to survive in the close proximity of people, and often to elude human hunters and their dogs, has given it a reputation for cunning and intelligence. Most activity is nocturnal and crepuscular. Individuals cover up to 5 miles per night as they move on circuitous routes through the home range. During the autumn, the young born the previous spring disperse from the parental home range. The usual distance traveled at this time is about 25 mi. for males and 6 mi for females; maximum known is 245 miles! Once the young animals establish themselves in a new area, they generally remain there for life.

The male fox is called a Reynard, a female is called a Vixen and the babies are called kits.  

Description: Vulpes is characterized by a rather long, low body; relatively short legs; a long, narrow muzzle; large, pointed ears; and a bushy, rounded tail that is at least half as long, and often fully as long, as the head and body. The pupils of the eyes generally appear elliptical in strong light. Some species have a pungent "foxy" odor, arising mainly from a gland located on the dorsal surface of the tail, not far from its base. Females usually have six or eight mammae. Head and body length is 18-35 in., tail length is 12-22 in., and weight is 6.6-30 lb. Average weights in North America are 9-10 lb. for females and 10-12 lb. for males. The usual weight in central Europe is 16-22 lb. The typical coloration ranges from pale yellowish red to deep reddish brown on the upper parts and is white, ashy, or slaty on the underparts. The lower part of the legs is usually black, and the tail is generally tipped with white or black. Color variants, known as the cross fox and silver fox, represent, respectively, about 25 percent and 10 percent of the species. The cross fox is reddish brown in color and gets its name from the cross formed by one black line down the middle of the back and another across the shoulders. The color of the silver fox, which has the most prized fur of any fox, ranges from strong silver to nearly black. The general color effect depends on the proportion of white or white-tipped to black hairs. An individual with only a few white hairs is sometimes called a black fox.  According to a fur harvesting website, a mutant "arctic marble" was born in a silver fox litter at a fur farm farm in Norway in 1945. When a red or silver fox gene is added to a marble fox, the mix is calico patterns in red, brown, black and gray.

Distribution: The red fox rivals the gray wolf (Canis lupus) for having the greatest natural distribution of any living terrestrial mammal besides man - Homo sapiens. Habitats range from deep forest to arctic tundra, open prairie, and farmland, but the red fox prefers areas of highly diverse vegetation and avoids large homogeneous tracts. Elevational range is sea level to 14,765 ft. Daily rest may be taken in a thicket or any other protected spot, but each individual or family group usually has a main earthen den and one or more emergency burrows within the home range. An especially large den may be constructed during the late winter and subsequently used to give birth and rear the young. Some dens are used for many years by one generation of foxes after another. The preferred site is a sheltered, well-drained slope with loose soil. Often a marmot burrow is taken over and modified. Tunnels are up to 33 ft. long and lead to a chamber 3-10 ft. below the surface. There is sometimes only a single entrance, but there may be as many as 19. A system of pathways connects the dens, other resting sites, favored hunting areas, and food storage holes.

Social System: The most favorable areas usually support an average of one or two adults per sq mi. Home range size varies with habitat conditions and food availability and becomes larger in winter and smallest around the time of the arrival of newborn. V. vulpes is apparently territorial. There is little overlap of home ranges, and individuals on different ranges avoid one another. Captive males were found continually to harass and chase foxes newly introduced to the enclosure, while females seldom became involved in such interaction. In the breeding season, however, females do exhibit territorial behavior.

A home range is typically occupied by an adult male, one or two adult females, and their young. Occasionally, two females have litters in the same den. Males may fight one another during the breeding season. A vixen sometimes mates with several males, but she later establishes a partnership with just one of them. For a period extending from shortly before birth to several weeks thereafter, the female remains in or very near the den. The male then brings her food but does not actually enter the maternal den.

Reproduction: The mating season varies with latitude. In Europe, it is December-January in the south, January-February in central regions, and February-April in the north. In North America, mating occurs over about the same period. Females are monestrous, have an estrus of 1-6 days, and have a gestation period of 49-56, usually 51-53, days. Litter size is 1-13 young but averages about 5 throughout the range of the fox. The young weigh 50-150 grams each at birth, open their eyes after 9-14 days, emerge from the den at 4-5 weeks, and are weaned at 8-10 weeks. They may be moved to a new den at least once. The family remains together until the autumn. Sexual maturity is reached at about 10 months. Potential natural longevity is around 12 years, though few individuals live more than 3-4 years, at least where the species is heavily hunted and trapped.

Diet: The diet is omnivorous, consisting mostly of rodents, lagomorphs, insects, and fruit. To hunt mice, the red fox stands motionless, listens and watches intently, and then leaps suddenly, bringing its forelegs straight down to pin the prey. Rabbits are stalked and then captured with a rapid dash. Daily consumption is around 1-2 lb. Sometimes a hole is dug and excess prey placed therein and covered over, to be eaten at a later time.

Principal Threats: The red fox is killed by people for sport, to protect domestic animals and game, to prevent the spread of rabies, and to obtain the valuable pelt. Sport hunting may involve an elaborate daytime chase by large numbers of riders and dogs or a nocturnal effort by one person to lure the fox with a call imitating that of a wounded rabbit. In Great Britain, V. vulpes is traditionally valued as a game animal, it was noted that it is also the only mammal in the country subject to a government-approved bounty. It has become common in parts of London and other cities, and control efforts there have not substantially reduced its numbers. The red fox is often considered to be a threat to poultry, but depredations are generally localized, and many of the birds eaten are taken in the form of carrion. Studies have indicated that the red fox has little effect on wild pheasant populations. Rabid foxes are said to be a serious menace in some areas, especially Europe, and intensive persecution there may be threatening the species in certain parts of its range; 180,000 individuals are taken every year in Germany alone. A rabies epizootic, the main vector of which is the fox, spread from Poland across much of Europe from the 1940s to 1970s; however, only 5-10 percent of reported cases of rabies in domestic animals in the involved region have resulted from this epizootic. Most cases of rabies in Canada from 1958 to 1986 were reported from Ontario, and most of those occurrences (17,982) were in the red fox. Problems caused by the fox are perhaps more than balanced by its control of rodent populations, which might otherwise multiply and damage human interests.

From 1900 to 1920 in North America, and to some extent in other parts of the world, catching wild foxes and raising them in captivity developed into an important industry. In the early stages of the breeding effort, choice animals often sold for more than $1,000 each. Through selective breeding, strains were developed that nearly always produce silver-colored offspring. The number of foxes being raised for their fur now exceeds that of all other normally wild animals, except possibly the mink (Mustela vison). One fox farm permanently employed about 400 people and sold pelts worth more than 8 million. The fur is used in coats, stoles, scarves, and trimming. The value of fox pelts has varied widely, depending on fashions, availability, and economic conditions. According to reports in 1974, the average price of a silver fox skin was $246.46 in 1919/20 but only $17.94 in 1971/72. The average price of a wild-caught U.S. red fox skin rose from $12.00 in the 1970/71 season to about $48.00 in 1976/77. The reported number of red foxes trapped for their fur during the latter season in the United States and Canada was 421,705. The number of pelts taken annually rose above 500,000 during the early 1980s, with average prices peaking at over $60.00, but there was a decline to under $20.00 by 1984.

Despite human persecution, V. vulpes has maintained or even increased its numbers in many parts of its range. There are now probably more in Great Britain than there were in medieval times, because of improved habitat conditions resulting from the establishment of hedgerows and crop rotation. This species is able to carry on its mode of life in intensively farmed areas and sometimes even in large cities. It also has been successfully introduced in some areas, especially by persons of English background who desired to continue traditional fox hunting. The species was brought to Australia in 1868 and subsequently spread over much of that continent, to the lasting detriment of the native fauna.

Introductions from England also were made in eastern North America in colonial times. The species was naturally present in this region but apparently was not abundant. It subsequently increased in numbers and became established in areas not previously occupied, mainly because of the breaking up of the homogeneous forests by people and continuous introduction by hunting clubs. In the twentieth century the red fox has greatly extended its range in the southeastern United States and has occupied Baffin Island and moved as far north as the southern coast of Ellesmere Island. It has spread westward across the Great Plains, possibly in response to a human-caused reduction of coyote (Canis latrans) numbers. The only major North American population that may be in trouble from a conservation viewpoint is that of the Sierra Nevada of California, where surveys indicate that the native subspecies (V. v. necator) is very rare and evidently declining.