Red Fox with kits, Vulpes vulpes

Wisconsin Red Fox

The beautiful red fox, with its bushy tail and dog-like features, lives throughout Wisconsin. They have thrived alongside humans in many urban and suburban areas.

Red foxes are found throughout much of the northern hemisphere from the Arctic circle to Central America, the steppes of central Asia, and northern Africa. The Red Fox has the widest distribution of any canine.

Habitat

Red foxes utilize a wide range of habitats including forest, tundra, prairie, desert, mountains, farmlands, and urban areas. They prefer mixed vegetation communities, such as edge habitats and mixed scrub and woodland.

Physical Description

American Red Fox
Vulpes vulpes
Lifespan 3 years
Weight 7-30 pounds
Length 18-35 inches
Color Color ranges from pale yellowish red to deep reddish brown on the upper parts and white, ashy or slaty on the underside. The lower part of the legs is usually black and the tail usually has a white or black tip.
Sexual Maturity 10 months
Gestation Period 51-53 days
Litter Size 5 kits
Adult Predators Eagles, Coyotes, Bears,
Wolves, Mountain Lions

Coloration of red foxes ranges from pale yellowish-red to deep reddish-brown on the upper parts and white, ashy or slaty on the underside. The lower part of the legs is usually black and the tail usually has a white or black tip.

Two color variants commonly occur. Cross Foxes have reddish brown fur with a black stripe down the back and another across the shoulders. Silver Foxes range from strong silver to nearly black and are the most prized by furriers. These variants are about 25% and 10% of red fox individuals, respectively.

Red foxes, like many other canid species, have tail glands. In Vulpes vulpes this gland is located above the root of the tail on its upper surface. The eyes of mature animals are yellow. The nose is dark brown or black.

Red foxes are the largest of the Vulpes species. Head and body length ranges from 18 to 35 inches and weight from 7 to 30 pounds. Males are slightly larger than females.

Lifespan

Red foxes have been known to live 10 to 12 years in captivity but live on average 3 years in the wild.

Diet

Red Fox, Vulpes vulpes, pouncing on prey

Red foxes are essentially omnivores. They mostly eat rodents, eastern cottontail rabbits, insects, and fruit. They will also eat carrion. Red foxes also store food and are very good at relocating these caches. Red foxes have a characteristic manner of hunting mice. The fox stands motionless, listening and watching intently for a mouse it has detected. It then leaps high and brings the forelimbs straight down forcibly to pin the mouse to the ground. They eat between 1-2 pounds of food each day.

Communication

Red foxes use a variety of vocalizations to communicate among themselves. They also use facial expressions and scent marking extensively. Scent marking is through urine, feces, anal sac secretions, the supracaudal gland, and glands around the lips, jaw, and the pads of the feet. There have been 28 different kinds of vocalizations described in red foxes and individuals have voices that can be distinguished.

Vocalizations are used to communicate with foxes that are both nearby and very fary away. Red foxes have excellent senses of vision, smell, and touch.

Behavior

Two red foxes, Vulpes vulpes, communicating

Red foxes are solitary animals and do not form packs like wolves. During some parts of the year adjacent ranges may overlap somewhat, but parts may be regularly defended. In other words, They are at least partly territorial. Ranges are occupied by an adult male and 1 or 2 adult females with their associated young.

Individuals and family groups have main earthen dens and often other emergency burrows in the home range. Dens of other animals, such as rabbits or marmots, are often taken over by foxes. Larger dens may be dug and used during the winter and during birth and rearing of the young. The same den is often used over a number of generations.

Pathways throughout the home range connect the main den with other resting sites, favored hunting grounds and food storage areas. Red foxes are terrestrial and either nocturnal or crepuscular. Top speed is about 30 mph and obstacles as high as 75 inches can be lept.

In the autumn following birth, the pups of the litter will disperse to their own territories. Dispersal can be to areas as nearby as 6 miles and as far away as almost 250 miles. Animals remain in the same home range for life.

Reproduction

Red Fox, Vulpes vulpes, kits hiding at dens entrance

Red fox mating behavior varies substantially. Often males and females are monogamous, but males with multiple female mates are also know, as are male/female pairs that use non-breeding female helpers in raising their young. Females mated to the same male fox may share a den. Red fox groups always have only one breeding male, but that male may also seek mating outside of the group.

The annual estrous period of female red foxes last from 1 to 6 days. Ovulation is spontaneous and does not require copulation to occur. The exact time of estrous and breeding in Wisconsin is usually between February-April.

Males will fight during the breeding season. Males have a cycle of fecundity, with full spermatogenesis only occurring from November to March. Females may mate with a number of males but will establish a partnership with only one male. Copulation usually lasts 15 or 20 minutes and is often accompanied by a vocal clamor. Implantation of the fertilized egg occurs between 10 and 14 days after a successful mating.

Just before and for a time after giving birth the female remains in or around the den. The male partner will provision his mate with food but does not go into the maternity den. Gestation is typically between 51 and 53 days but can be as short as 49 days or as long as 56 days. Litters vary in size from 1 to 13 pups with an average of 5. Birth weight is between 1 to 5 ounces.

The pups are born blind but open their eyes 9 to 14 days after birth. Pups leave the den 4 or 5 weeks after birth and are fully weaned by 8 to 10 weeks. Mother and pups remain together until the autumn after the birth. Sexual maturity is reached by 10 months.

Predators

Most red foxes that are taken by natural predators are young pups. Pups are kept in and near a den and protected by their family to avoid this. Adult red foxes may also be attacked by coyotes, wolves, or other predators, but this is rarely in order to eat them. The most significant predators on red foxes are humans.

Further Reading:

 Beavers — Nature's Hydrologist, Part 2
 Garter Snakes — The Gardener's Friend
 Wisconsin Native Salamanders
 Goundhog or Woochuck: All The Facts
 Voles, Both The Good and The Bad

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