Scientific name: Vulpes vulpes
Size: 18 - 35 inches in length; 6 - 30 pounds; males larger than females
Coloring: varies, pale red to deep reddish brown upper coat and white - gray on underside; lower legs usually black; tail has either white or black tip
Range: most of northern hemisphere, from the Arctic to Central America
Habitat: wide range - forests, prairies, farmland, urban areas
Food: omnivores - rodents, rabbits, insects and fruits; known to adapt to whatever is available; store for winter
Mating: practices vary; breeding pair share den; mostly monogamous pairs
Reproduction: once yearly; 1-9 kits, ave. 5; leave den after 4-5 weeks
Predators: young attacked by coyotes, wolves; adults preyed upon by man
Lifespan: ave. 3 years in wild;10-12 in captivity
Conservation concerns: population is on stable; range has expanded
The Red Fox is often regarded as a sly, cunning creature that is always up to no good. This reputation is often reiterated in old children stories, fables and folklore. But why? How does an animal that has proven to be a cautious canid able to quickly adapt to its ever-changing habitat be categorized as a thief or trickster?
Could it be that red foxes simply look suspicious? The Vulpes vulpes' coat varies from pale red to a deep reddish brown with a white underbelly, black lower legs and either a white or black tip at the tail. Nothing too suspicious there until you take account of their long, thin muzzle; large, upright ears; and bright yellow eyes with slits-for-pupils certainly make them appear as if they are up to no good.
Yet these features attribute to how skilled red foxes are as hunters. Their keen sense of smell, sight and hearing allow them to locate the rustling of prey within a degree of its true location. As fast and ready-to-pounce hunters, red foxes are able to live off the birds, rabbits and small rodents. However, if their preferred meal is unavailable, red foxes will happily consume the fruits and leaves of nearby vegetation - just an example of how they will adapt to the environment around them.
Maybe it's because we always imagine stalking about in the dark, which of course, is quite true. Red foxes are nocturnal - sometimes crepuscular - creatures that are active while most of us are in bed. They also enjoy their solitude as they only pair up in early winter for mating season. Only then will mates move into a den and stay together until the young arrive and are ready to live on their own. After the pups are old enough to take care of themselves, everyone will return to a more loner-like lifestyle.
Regardless of why we characterize red foxes as sly tricksters, the truth is that red foxes play an important role in the scheme of things. The red fox is known to control insect and rodent populations in areas it inhabits and spreads the seeds of the fruits and vegetation he consumes. While many believe they are backyard pests or a quick target, red foxes are animals that play a quiet, but integral part, in the pyramid of life.