Vulpes vulpes
(Red fox)

Order: Carnivora
Order Description: Carnivores
Family: Canidae
Family Description: Wolfs, Coyotes, and Foxes

Red fox are small, active canids with a reddish-brown coat above, with white underparts except for a black tipped nose and lower legs. It also has a large, very noticeable, bushy tail that is white tipped. This species has several different color phases including a melanisticClick word for definition or black phase. This black phase often has white-tipped guard hairs that gives it a grizzled or silvery appearance; it is commonly called the silver fox. There is a “cross fox” color phase that has a blackish or brownish color across the shoulders and down the back. This is a common color phase throughout the Rocky Mountains. Average weight of red fox varies between nearly 8 to 15 pounds (3.6-6.8 kg). Total length is 35 to 40 3/8 inches (90-103 cm), tail length is 13 ¾ to 17 inches (35-43 cm).

The red fox is widely distributed throughout most of North America north of Mexico, except for parts of the Southwest and along the southern Pacific coast.

They are found in a variety of open and semi-open habitats including riparianClick word for definition zones and transitional areas between forest and open habitat. These are typically areas where there is a high density of small mammals. They usually avoid dense forests, but frequently occurs in open woodlands. They are sometimes found in suburban areas.

The red fox is an opportunistic omnivore eating small mammals, carrion, birds, insects, considerable fruits and other plant foods. Rabbits and hares often comprise a major part of their diet as well as mice.

Red fox can be quite common, but are rarely seen. Their shy and nervous habits, have earned them a reputation as being “clever”. Perhaps this reputation comes from the fact that they have been observed cooperatively hunting where one might chase a rabbit toward the other. They are mainly crepuscularClick word for definition and nocturnalClick word for definition, and they seem very stealthy. Summer home range varies from 57 to 518 ha; winter range is more extensive. Home range diameter is usually 2 to 4 km, but may reach 8 km or more if food is scarce. Recorded population densityClick word for definition averaged 1 family (approximately 7 foxes) per 10 km2. Red fox populations are typically reduced by the presence of coyotes, while in the presence of wolves (which tend to displace coyotes), their populations will be higher. Human-caused mortalityClick word for definition includes shooting, trapping, and roadkill. Young red fox seem to be especially susceptible to road kill. This species seems to be susceptible to rabiesClick word for definition. It is one of the most widely distributed carnivores in the world. Red fox are classic “mousers”. They hunt fields where there is an abundance of mice by stalking very slowly, listing for mice rustling about in the grass. When one is located they jump spectacularly high and pounce on the mouse. A quick snap of their canines and the mouse is dead and becomes a meal. Red foxes typically don’t run down their prey as do most other canids. Young foxes are preyed on by coyotes and larger raptorial birds. Red fox have traditionally been the “enemy” of farmers because they do occasionally take chickens and other domestic stock.

After hunting together as a pair, they breed in January or February. GestationClick word for definition lasts 51 to 56 (average 53) days. The female produces a litterClick word for definition of 1 to 10 (average 4-5) young, born in March or April. The male and female may divide the young between 2 dens. The male helps care for the young by bringing food into both the mother and the young. The young emerge from the den after about 5 weeks, when they begin to learn to hunt. After about 12 weeks the young begin to disperse, often for long distances. They reach sexual maturity the winter after birth. Red fox use dens for birthing and caring for the young, but they don’t have winter dens. They merely curl up in the snow with their large bushy tails over them to help maintain their body heat.

Status: Game species
Global Rank: G5
State Rank: S5

Important State References:
Fichter, E. and R. Williams. 1967. Distribution and status of the red fox in Idaho. J. Mammal. 48:219-230.

Information written by Donald Streubel,© 2000
Photo from Yellowstone- National Park Service, Jan 2001.
Map image provided by Stephen Burton, 2000
Design by Ean Harker 1999, 2000, 2001.