Journey with Nature

Red Foxes

While Hoosiers consider the red fox a backyard pest at best, it does play an integral role.

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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.

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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.

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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.

5 things you didn't know about me  
  1. In many cultures, I am seen as a trickster or thief. Talk about a PR nightmare - I may be clever, but I'm a pretty good citizen when you get down to brass tacks. I keep a firm eye on rodents and insects, and I also help to distribute seeds of local flora wherever I roam.
  2. You think you can jump? I can actually beat out a kangaroo for leap distance - I can vault 15 feet at one time, and I can reach up to 30 miles per hour!
  3. I like my space...when rearing young, my mate and I will stay together until our pups are self-sufficient, and then we will part ways. I like my "me time!"
  4. I'm not the longest-lived creature in Indiana's wild spaces: I typically only live about 3 years in the wild, and maybe double in captivity.
  5. I'm what you might call an opportunivore: I may be famous for eating meatier subjects, but I like my fruits and salads, too. I'm not picky, so if my favorite entree isn't on the menu, I'm always okay to go with something a little more in-season.
More fun facts about the red fox
  • At birth, red foxes are actually brown or gray. They are also born blind and very vulnerable. Only after 9 -14 days do they open their eyes.
  • Foxes only inhabit a den when caring for their young. After the young are weaned from its mother's milk - around 8,10 weeks - both parents and pups will abandon the den.
  • Even in the cold months of winter, foxes prefer to stay out in the open. To protect itself from the elements, the fox will curl into a ball and wrap its bright, busy tail over its nose and foot pads, and at times can be blanketed with snow.
  • The Red Fox will also use its tail to communicate with other foxes, waving it about to let his presence be known.
  • Red foxes are very territorial animals, marking rocks and trees within their territory with urine, and willing to fight for what he deems as his.
  • They also use a wide range of vocalizations when communicating.
  • Wolves, coyotes, and eagles are natural predators of foxes.

Information found on Animal Diversity Web, Wikipedia and National Geographic.

Red Fox Quick Facts
  • 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