Red fox

Vulpes vulpes

TAXONOMY

Canis vulpes Linnaeus, 1758, Sweden. Forty-six races or subspecies have been recognized over the species' immense range.

H Vulpes vulpes H Cerdocyon thous

However, much variation appears due to climate, with smaller, paler animals in the south, e.g. Egypt and larger, darker foxes in places like Alaska.

OTHER COMMON NAMES

English: Silver fox (a color morph used in the fur trade), cross fox (a dark, naturally occurring color morph); French: Renard; German: Fuchs; Spanish: Zorro.

PHYSICAL CHARACTERISTICS

The largest of the true foxes, the genus Vulpes, red foxes can weigh up to 24.3 lb (11 kg) but males in Europe average 14.8 lb (6.7 kg) while females weigh 11.9 lb (5.4 kg). The shoulder height is 13.8-15.7 (35-40 cm). The body color is almost always some shade of red but it can vary from bright to grayish. The belly is paler and the muzzle, legs and backs of the ears are black. The snout is long and the canines long and pointed, but the molars are not very large.

DISTRIBUTION

The red fox occurs across Europe and Asia as far south as the Himalayas. It is found in Egypt and Algeria in Africa, and in northern North America extending along the Rockies and to the Gulf Coast in the United States. It has been introduced into Australia and occupies all but the northern parts. It was also introduced in the eastern section of North America.

HABITAT

Red foxes are uncommon in densely wooded habitats, but otherwise show great flexibility in their habitats. They can live in semi-desert scrub in Africa and on the tundra in Alaska. They have adapted well to humans, foraging in towns and hunting in the areas cleared for agriculture.

BEHAVIOR

Red foxes are mainly monogamous and territorial. Often cubs will remain on the parental territory. These non-dispersers are usually female and may help with raising the next litter. Like most canids, red foxes remain playful for most of their lives and there are boisterous games of chasing and mock fighting among the pups, with the adults sometimes joining in.

FEEDING ECOLOGY AND DIET

Mammals, mainly rodents and rabbits, are the mainstay of the diet in most places. However, a wide range of vertebrate and invertebrate food is eaten including earthworms, beetles, the young of ground nesting birds, and human scraps. Lambs are found around red fox dens, but in many cases the victims are known to be sickly or stillborn. Red foxes use their ears to locate the rustle of a mouse in the grass and then launch themselves in a pounce to land on their prey. Other food items appear to picked up opportunistically as they traverse their territories at night.

REPRODUCTIVE BIOLOGY

Monogamous. Cubs are born after a 50 day gestation in an underground den, usually at the end of winter. Litter size is from three to 12 with seven typical in western Europe. The mother nurses the litter for four weeks. The cubs start to eat solid food regurgitated by the group starting at about three weeks. At 10-12 weeks, the young will start to forage on their own but their hunting skills will take nine to 12 months to develop. Most young disperse from six to 12 months.

CONSERVATION STATUS

Although persecuted for predation on game birds and livestock and hunted for fur, red foxes have continued to flourish and have colonized the urban habitat, often without the knowledge of the human inhabitants.

SIGNIFICANCE TO HUMANS

The fox is the sly trickster in the folklore of the Old World. The term "sour grapes" comes from Aesop's anthropomorphic fox. Predation of chickens has probably been going on for several thousand years, but the nineteenth century brought more conflict as game birds and lambs born in the fields provided food. Foxes have been persecuted by guns, hounds, and poison, but have seldom been exterminated. The sport of fox-hunting in England has ensured the survival of the quarry, and now that the sport is close to banned, the fox's range may contract. A vigorous campaign to control foxes in western Europe so as to limit the spread of rabies, has not eliminated the species. ♦

cm) at the shoulder. Its bushy tail is 70% the length of the head and body, second only to Rueppell's fox in this category among the canids. The coat is a uniform sandy-gray with paler undersides and a dark band along the back. The tail tip is black. Shoulder height is 11.0-11.8 in (28-30 cm). The teeth are small but otherwise typical for the family with a shearing carnassial and grinding back molars.

DISTRIBUTION

The central part of the species range is in the central Asian steppes including Pakistan, northern Iran, Afghanistan, and parts of Turmenia. Since 1970 three outlying populations have been discovered in the Negev desert of southern Israel, in southwest Saudi Arabia and in Oman. With its small size and nocturnal habits, it is possible that other populations will be found in the deserts of the Middle East.

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