Red Fox, Vulpes vulpes
Common Names: red fox
Species: Vulpes vulpes
General Description Red Foxes are relatively small canids, weighing a meager three to four ounces at birth and maturing to a modest ten pounds (on average). Their bodies measure approximately two feet, head to rump; each with a long bushy tail in the range of 16 inches. They normally stand between 15 and 16 inches off of the ground once they’ve reached adulthood. They are characterized by pointy muzzles, wide, triangular ears, elongated bodies and long cylindrical tails. Their thin, short legs terminate in front paws with five fingers and hind paws with four fingers. Despite their common name, Red Fox, the Vulpes vulpes typically show several colours in their fur. Their legs, eye covers, nose tips and sometimes even parts of their tails are black. There are white tufts of fur on the sides of their mouths, under their necks (breast region), on their stomachs and on the interior points of their legs and tails. The remainder of their bodies are usually a rusty-brown or light yellow; although, some instances of gray coats have been documented.
Geographical Distribution and Habitat Requirements The Vulpes vulpes have had great success due to their ability to change their behaviour to better suit the conditions around them. A current estimation for their population across Canada and the United States is in the area of three to four million. They can also be found throughout Europe, North Asia, Middle Asia and in the 1800s were introduced to Australia to eliminate the overpopulation of rabbits; ironically, the Red Fox is now causing problems there as it is now the overpopulated species! They inhabit rural, suburban, urban and wild areas depending on the availability of food and shelter sources. The Red Fox has been found living on mountainous plateaus at altitudes as high as 2500 m above sea level. Recently, with the industrialization of the 20th century there have been large numbers of Vulpes vulpes living in and among cities and towns. They sometimes even take over abandoned buildings to make dens and prowl the parks and deserted streets through the night. However, if given the choice, they usually prefer bushes and forest regions. Red Fox dens in the forest are usually abandoned woodchuck or badger burrows situated on a ridge or knoll. They prefer ones that have openings that allow a comprehensive view of the immediate surroundings outside the den. The nest is a widening in the 15 to 20 foot long tunneled burrow that is lined with grass. If the Vulpes vulpes can re-use their own dens from a previous year, they will. Their ranges in the forest are reasonably large and will remain theirs for one year (starting with courting and ending when the young are released to be on their own). For foxes in more urban areas, the individual ranges are smaller and are very fluid changing monthly or even weekly depending on food availability.
General Biology This carnivorous canid enjoys rabbits, birds, rodents and, in particular, voles. However, if there is a scarcity of resources they can subsist on grasshoppers, beetles, berries, eggs or garbage; this becomes particularly necessary for urban foxes. When the Red Fox stalks and kills a prey too large to eat all at once, he (usually the male who does all of the hunting) will often hide it somewhere; like tame dogs often do with bones or treats. Their diet remains basically the same throughout the year although there is some inconclusive evidence to suggest that males eat less during mating season, relying on their fat stores for energy, as they concentrate on beating out the competition for the best mate. Reproduction begins with courtship in midwinter; two mates meet and play together communicating through their forty different sounds of communication (howls, whines, whimpers, etc.). Just before mating the play becomes rough and almost violent. Once the female is impregnated she and the father become inseparable; hunting, playing and sleeping together until the early spring. Then, as the female nears the end of her 53 day gestation period the male is rejected from the den. He will stay outside the den until and after the pups are born. He will hunt and leave the food at the entrance to the den for the mother and pups. The Red Fox has one of the longest periods of double parental care; the pups will be cared for until the following fall when they have reached maturity and will go out to find a mate themselves. The first studies on the Red Fox reported them to be monogamous however, recent studies have shown the possibility that males’ ranges overlap. This would result in a polygynous lifestyle. There is not enough evidence on either side to prove one conclusively over the other. The Vulpes vulpes are mostly nocturnal, preferring to hunt and play in the twilight and under the evening moon. The Red Fox is winterproof (does not hibernate) and able to use its burrow as shelter when necessary.
Conservation The Red Fox is by no means endangered nor is it listed threatened by the IUCN. In the United States it is protected by state Game Laws because it is considered a fur bearer. However, Vulpes vulpes pelt has lost value in recent years and therefore it is not greatly hunted, other than for sport. Their biggest danger comes from coyotes as coyotes will hunt foxes and, more dangerously, beat them out at competition for food and habitat. However, their superb adaptiveness usually enables their survival; if coyotes are plentiful they will often migrate to urban areas where they can live happily and at peace.