Red Fox

Red Fox

Photo Credit: Gerald and Buff Corsi © California Academy of Sciences

SCIENTIFIC NAME: Vulpes vulpes

OTHER NAMES:  Dependent on color phase: cross fox, silver fox

DESCRIPTION:  The red fox is generally a reddish color with a white underbelly, chin and throat.  It has a long, black, bushy tail with a white tip.  The backs of their ears, lower legs and feet are also black.  The majority of red foxes are reddish however, different color phases do occur.  The color phases include a black phase, black with silver tipped guard hairs (silver fox), reddish brown with a dark cast across the shoulders (cross fox), and an intermediate phase.  No matter the color variation, all red foxes have the distinctive white-tipped tail.

DISTRIBUTION:  The red fox is distributed throughout most of the United States and Canada.  Only some of the southwestern United States is excluded from its range.  The red fox occurs throughout Alabama.  Fur harvest records indicate red foxes occur in greater abundance in the northern half of the state.

HABITAT:  The red fox will utilize a variety of habitat types.  They can be found in forested lands as well as brush-lands.  However, the most preferred habitat contains open and/or cultivated lands interspersed with wooded areas.  This habitat serves two major purposes.  The open or cultivated land provides adequate numbers of prey species while the wooded areas offer ideal den sites.

The red fox is generally nocturnal and is seldom seen by man.  Home ranges of the red fox can average up to two and one-half square miles.  The home range may increase up to five square miles during winter months when food can be scarce. 

FEEDING HABITS:  The red fox is a carnivore that feeds primarily on rats, mice and rabbits.  Other prey species may include small mammals, birds, and insects.  Small amounts of fruit and other plant materials are included in the red foxes’ diet in some seasons.

When food is abundant, the red fox will bury or cover extra food with grass and leaves –  a habit known as caching. This food cache is then marked with urine.  The red fox will return to the cache from time to time to feed.

LIFE HISTORY AND ECOLOGY:  Red foxes make their dens in a variety of locations.  Old sawdust piles, holes under rocks, ditch banks and abandoned dens of other animals are utilized by the red fox as den sites. Mating occurs in February and March, with only one litter per year being produced.  The gestation period lasts about 53 days.

Red fox litters may contain three to nine pups.  When born, the pups are covered with a fine, dull, gray coat. Even at birth, the pups have the characteristic white-tipped tail.

Both parents participate in caring for the pups.  Weaning occurs at about two months of age.  At four to five months of age, the pups begin to venture out and will soon establish a territory of their own.  Many of the pups will breed in their first year.

Red foxes are very beneficial in helping to control populations of some small mammals, especially rodents. They are an important and valuable part of Alabama’s fauna, and are enjoyed by hunters, trappers, and naturalists alike.

REFERENCES:

Sievering, M. E. 1989.  Furbearers of Alabama.  Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources. Division of Game and Fish.  44-48 pp.

Author: Mike Sievering, Wildlife Biologist, Division of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries.


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