When you use the word Fox, most people think of the Red Fox (Vulpes, vulpes). In actuality, there are about 25 other species of canids that also share the name. Foxes are smaller than most members of the Canidae family – wolves, coyotes, jackals. They have sharp-featured, triangular-shaped heads that end in pointed muzzles, and full bushy tails that are called a "brush." Unlike their cousins, most foxes do not live in packs. They prefer to live alone and hunt alone unless it is breeding season.
Foxes are omnivores. Their diet consists mainly of small rodents, insects, birds and eggs, but they are also known to eat grapes, corn, berries, acorns and even grass. Foxes are opportunistic feeders and for those living in more urban environments their diet may also consist of human garbage. Foxes cache their food, burying it in shallow holes or under leaves so they can return later to eat more. The fox has a very cat-like approach to hunting. They stalk and pounce on their prey, snapping the spinal cord with a quick bite. Foxes rely on their incredible hearing to alert them to the presence of mice, rabbits and other rodents. Even if the prey is hiding in tall grass, under snow or digging in its burrows, the fox can find it.
The Red Fox is the largest member of the fox family. It can be found all across North America, Europe and Asia as well as Australia. The Red Fox is not native to most of the territory it now inhabits. Introduced around the world by English settlers who enjoyed the sport of fox hunting, the red fox has adapted to numerous climates, environments and habitats. When the Red Fox was released on the eastern coast of the United States in the 17th century, it rapidly spread across the rest of the country and Canada. It overtook local American Red Fox populations, interbreeding with the native species to the extent that the two species are no longer divergent, but one. It is this species of fox that you see in your back garden, using its wits and adaptability to co-exist with human populations in rural, suburban and urban areas.
The Red Fox usually sports a distinctive reddish brown coat, hence its name. But their coloring can range from deep red to pale orange, silver to black. The Red Fox has white fur on its underbelly, neck, jaw and under its muzzle. Its black legs are long and lean and its reddish, bushy tail generally ends in a white tip. Red Foxes mate in late winter. The mated pair is monogamous and will raise the kits together. A den will be prepared or borrowed (foxes commonly share badger setts) and a litter of 2 – 6 kits will be born in early spring. The kits will be weaned within 2 months and will be taught to hunt by both parents. When fall arrives, the family breaks up. Males will seek new territories far from the birth den. Female kits will generally stay closer to the natal area. Some will even stay on through the next mating cycle and help their mother raise the new litter. In these cases, the fox society becomes very hierarchical with the younger females staying subservient to their alpha mother.
The Fennec Fox is another distinctive fox species. It is the smallest fox (weighing about 3 lbs), but has the largest ears. Fennec inhabit the Sahara Desert and other hot, dry areas of Northern Africa. Their large, bat-like ears help them radiate heat and keep cool. They are nocturnal hunters, feeding on reptiles, insects, small mammals and plants. Fennecs are the only foxes that live in packs year round. They are also the only species of fox that can be successfully kept as pets. The Fennec Fox is generally cream in color with a black tip on its tail. They are hunted by humans for their fur and to be sold into the captive pet trade. Not much is known about their wild existence.
The Arctic Fox lives in Northern Canada, Alaska and the Arctic regions of Europe and Asia. In the summer, the Arctic Fox is dark gray, in the winter, a creamy white. Arctic Foxes have small ears, short legs and a short muzzle, all adaptations to their extremely cold habitat. Their tail is long and very bushy and is usually wrapped about the fox's body when it sleeps. They have furry soles on their feet which help grip the ice and keep their feet warm. After mating in the winter, females will give birth to large litters of 12 kits or more. Like all foxes, the Arctic Fox is an opportunistic eater. They will consume anything they come across, but in the summer will feed primarily on lemmings and other rodents. In the winter months, when food is particularly scarce, Arctic Foxes will follow Polar Bears or Wolf packs (at a safe distance) and consume whatever scraps they leave behind.
The Tibetan Fox, the Maned Wolf and the Gray Fox, are just a few of the fox species not represented in this article. It is impossible to cover all subspecies thoroughly in the amount of space we have. We will be adding specific foxes to our Article Pages as we can. Foxes are fascinating animals found across the world and in many and varied environments. Not all foxes are as adaptable or successful as the Red Fox. The Crab-eating Fox and the African Bat-eared Fox are endangered.
Fun Fox Facts
-The Red Fox is such a recognizable animal; it is a fixture in folk lore and literature around the world. The first stories incorporating a Red Fox are probably those in Aesop's Fables.
-The Tibetan Fox looks more like a big-headed wolf.
-The Fennec Fox, which inhabits the Sahara Desert, does not need to drink water. They can gather the moisture they need from the food they eat. They will drink if water becomes available.
-Red Foxes can live 10 years in captivity, but generally only live 3 years in the wild.
[National Geographic] Red Fox, Arctic Fox, Fennec Fox