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The red fox, known by the scientific name “vulpes vulpes” is most widely recognized by its blazing red coat and its bushy tail. The red fox has managed throughout its existence to reach across a large portion of the northern hemisphere and were even introduced in to Australia as a means of introducing fox-hunting by the British. While a wide variety of subspecies of red foxes exist most individuals are unable to identify any distinguishing features in various subspecies and instead recognize the animal by the single color deep red coat and the average canine shape. There is; however, quite a difference between all of the subspecies of red fox aside from just where they live.
Distinguished Features of the Red Fox
As a species the red fox are the largest of all fox species and the average red fox measures between 14 to 20 inches high and between 19 to 35 inches long and they can weigh anywhere from 5 to 22 lbs. Female red foxes, as with most species, weigh less than males. Unlike dogs the red fox is particularly light and nimble for its size and is known to reach maximum running speeds of up to 31 miles per hour although generally they are known for trotting at a leisurely pace when searching for food. In the United States red foxes are longer and much lighter than the often depicted British red fox and the European red fox falls somewhere in the middle of the two. The red fox is known and recognized by most for their bright red coat; however, in some red foxes the coat does not appear as red at all. A wide variety of color variation can occur in the species although these variations generally only occur in colder climates. Color variations in the red fox include grey, cross, blackish-brown, silver, platinum, amber and Samson. Generally all of these colors include some degree of red, silver, brown or black.
The red fox is not just recognized by its coat color; however, this nimble creature is well-known for its body shape as well. The red fox has a particularly slender body with short limbs and a tail which measures in at approximately half of the body length of the fox and is particularly fluffy. While the limbs of the red fox may be short they are particularly nimble and can carry the red fox at extraordinary speeds if the need arises. The front paws of the red fox have five digits and the rear paws have four with a distinct lack of dewclaws. Not only are the feet and limbs of the red fox able to carry this sneaky beast at amazing speeds but they are also able to lift the red fox over great vertical distances. Red foxes are commonly known for jumping over fences to rummage through garbage cans and with legs that can carry their body up to six and a half feet vertically over a fence it is no wonder that these creatures can’t be stopped in some neighborhoods! Many individuals who see a fox in their garden or rummaging through their garbage mistake it for a stray dog; however, the red fox is distinguishable from a dog in that it has a much more slender body, is more agile in jumping and moving and has a much narrower muzzle.
Adaptation to Urban Life
Foxes are generally rather skittish and shy animals that prefer to move under the cover of darkness and avoid people at all costs; however, as more urbanization encroaches upon the land of the red fox these creatures are being forced to coexist among humans. A red fox that has found itself being forced out of its home as a result or urbanization will quickly become desensitized to life in a town and will begin to feed on easily accessible garbage or small live animals that frequent the landscaped gardens that surround the houses. The red fox is a particularly keen hunter with exceptional hearing and binocular vision. Whereas the vision of the red fox primarily depends upon the movement of the prey being hunted the hearing of the red fox is so keen that it can even hear birds taking to flight.
One sense for the red fox that is surprisingly less keen is the sense of smell. The red fox possesses a less keen sense of smell than most dogs; however, with such keen hearing these creatures are able to hunt efficiently in the dark without reliance on a super sensitive sense of smell.
The red fox generally hunts before and after sunrise and their diets can vary incredibly depending on the time of the year and the supply of food in the specific area. Red foxes not only feed on live prey but they also eat plants, grass, tubers, blueberries, raspberries, blackberries, cherries, persimmons, apples, mulberries, plums, and grapes. Being omnivorous these aspects often times make up the bulk of the red foxes diet; however, these swift hunters often also prefer a live catch as well. The red fox hunts by finding their prey utilizing its exceptional sense of sound and after hearing the prey the red fox will leap in to the air and pounce on the prey. The red fox does not share its prey and is known for being particularly aggressive when approached by any other animal challenging its catch, Red foxes do; however, bring food back to the den to present to their young.
Reproduction and development
The red fox gives birth just once a year in spring when new life seems to be blooming all across the globe. Uniquely the red fox female will experience a growth in her reproductive organs in the dead of winter so that their uterus will be large enough to accommodate a pregnancy, this growth will continue for around two months by which time sperm will have formed and reached its peak strength in the male red fox and the two will be ready for mating.
The female red fox has a period of three weeks where she may be able to conceive and for a few days at a time the male red fox will tie with the female. After conceiving the female red fox will carry her litter for seven to eight weeks before giving birth. The average litter for the red fox is around 4 to 5 “kits” or pups and while the red fox is believed to be monogamous for the most part examples of polygyny, mixed paternity and incest have been noted within certain red fox communities. The young kits are largely dependent on their parents for everything as they are born deaf, blond and without teeth. These dark fluffy fur balls don’t seem to resemble their parents at all as they appear slightly fat and completely helpless, not to mention that they all have dark brown fur rather than the well-recognized red fur of most red foxes. Not only are the red fox kits unable to function alone they are also unable to regulate their own body temperatures which gives the mother red fox no other choice but to stay with her kits nonstop for three weeks following their birth. As the mother cares for and feeds the red fox kits the father or other females in the pack will bring food to the mother to ensure her health while raising her litter. If the mother red fox dies while the red fox kits are still unable to care for themselves the father red fox has been known to take over from the deceased mother and care for his kits.
As the red fox kits grow they become more independent and by the time they reach six months they are the size they will be for the rest of their lives. The female will reach sexual maturity at around ten months old; however many red wolves only live to be around eighteen months old in the wild meaning that they will generally only give birth to one litter during their lifetime. When raised in captivity the red wolf can live as long as 14 years; however, in the wild the red fox is forced to contend with many factors which shorten this creature’s lifespan. When fox-hunting was a more popular sport many foxes were killed this way, more recently other competitors for food sources such as coyotes are killing off red fox populations. The red wolf population also has to contend with a variety of diseases and parasites which often shorten their lifespan, such diseases and parasites include rabies, leptospirosis, arthritis, brucellosis and encephalitis. As if this creature did not have enough to contend with, in many parts of the world the red fox is still hunted for its pelt. As one of the more populous creatures with a large and colorful coat the red fox is in high demand by fur buyers who create all types of garments from fox pelts.
The Red Fox and Humans
Foxes have widely been utilized as targets in fox-hunting from as early as the 4th century BC. Fox hunting began as a way to eradicate or at least lessen the population of a pest; however, it later became the sport of noble men and increased in popularity. Many foxes are still killed today as a result of being pests as well as for the fur trade; however, due to changes in the population, fox hunting as a sport has lost much of its popularity. Many countries do eliminate the red fox these days; however, instead of doing it as a sport they do it as a means of pest control to reduce the outbreak of fox carried parasites and diseases as well as a means to control the red fox populations in urban areas.
Red Fox Hunting : Exotic Pets
More recently the fox population has been under attack from a whole new form of “hunting”. Individuals are capturing and breeding red foxes to sell as exotic pets. While these red foxes are bred some of their more natural characteristics are minimized through selective breeding; however, it takes a long line of breeding to evolve a red fox that is adapted to living as a pet and with that adaptation comes change. The red fox that evolves from selective breeding programs often results in different coloring where most domesticated fox kits have large patches of white fur in their coat, they also feature larger ears that flop down instead of point upwards like they should do and curled tails much like some fluffier breeds of dog like the Shiba Inu.
What results from this “domestication” process is not actually a red fox; it is a genetically engineered fox that has been created so that someone somewhere could have the next “cool” pet. The truth of the matter is; however, that the red fox does not make a good pet just as a black bear does not make a good pet. Granted that these two animals are two completely different categories of animal but they are both creatures that were born to live in the wild and run free and they are both creatures that would be extremely miserable when confined to live indoors.
Over the years man has made his mark on the red fox population, ironically this first involved slaughtering them for pest control and then sport, and wound up with taming them for domestication. Unfortunately for the red fox it has always had to face oppression from the human race and while some may say that without the human race the red fox population would explode, as long as humans play their part as fox hunters and circus masters, no one will ever know. Even without the predation and domestication by humans the red fox faces the challenge of deforestation and increased urbanization which is forcing this “pest” in to human territory in order to survive. It is particularly unfair to take the homes of these animals and persecute them as pests when they show up on our front doorstep looking for where their home used to be. The single biggest factor in the life cycle of the red fox is the human being and one can only wonder what would happen were there a species higher than us on the food chain, whether the human race would be the next red fox.
Video of a Red Fox Being Fed
A Canadian wilderness expert shoots a video of a red fox being hand fed.
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