Red Fox Facts: They’re Genius Hunters with Remarkable Hunting Tactics

The red fox, the enchanting trickster of the animal kingdom, is a master of adaptation and survival. Clever and crafty, these sly canines have their own ways to get even the tough prey. So, let’s dive into amazing facts about red foxes that will leave you spellbound!

Red fox
Scientific name: Vulpes vulpes
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Mammalia
Order: Carnivora
Family: Canidae
Genus: Vulpes

1. The red fox is not always red

The red fox is an intriguing and versatile species. They belong to the genus Vulpes, which includes other fox species like the Arctic fox, swift fox, and kit fox.

As the name implies, these foxes have rusty red fur with darker legs, a white belly, and a white tail tip. However, besides the red color, the species also exhibit a wide range of color variations. The other two color morph is silver/black foxes (melanistic form) and cross foxes, which showcase a blend of red and silver fur. Surprisingly, it is not uncommon for foxes from the same litter to possess different colorations.

The silver variant of red foxes

There are a total of 45 subspecies of red fox, including Northern Alaskan fox, Labrador fox, European fox, American red fox, Japanese fox, etc. Each exhibits variations in size and physical characteristics. On average, they have a size ranging from 17 to 35 inches in length, around 16 inches in height, and weigh between 10 and 15 pounds. Some types can weigh up to 30 pounds.

With this size, the red fox is the largest fox in the world. In contrast, the fennec fox takes the title of the smallest species, measuring between 9 and 16 inches in length and weighing a mere 2 to 3 pounds.

These big foxes possess a slender physique, with a tail that exceeds half its body size. It boasts prominent, pointed ears with black tips, elongated canine teeth, a lengthy snout, and eyes featuring vertical slits and a nictitating membrane, resembling those of cats. While sharing similarities with a dog’s skeleton, the fox possesses a more lightweight build.

The red fox vs grey fox

However, what truly sets them apart is their signature fluffy tail with a white tip, serving as a key characteristic for identification. This feature differentiates them and grey foxes. Both species inhabit similar habitats and ranges, but you still tell them apart due to the color of the tail’s tip. Red foxes have tails with white tips, while gray foxes have tails tipped in black. Moreover, red foxes are a little bit bigger with longer snouts and they cannot climb trees as their counterparts.

The paws of these large foxes are furnished with fur over the footpads. This feature helps the animals maintain warmth, detect the prey, and walk stealthily in the terrain. Their front paws have five digits each, one of which is an extra digit known as the dewclaw. Situated on the back of its leg, this dewclaw plays a crucial role in providing enhanced traction when the fox is dashing across slippery surfaces.

Fun fact:
The Tod fox from the Disney movie “The Fox and the Hound” is the red fox. The Vulpix character in Pokemon is also based on a red fox. 

2. Natural Habitat

Red foxes possess remarkable adaptability, enabling them to flourish in various habitats spanning the Northern Hemisphere. They hold the title of being the most extensively distributed land mammals on the planet, with a staggering 45 subspecies inhabiting 83 countries.

Their territorial range spans an impressive expanse of approximately 27 million square miles, encompassing a wide variety of ecosystems. From the frigid Arctic circle in the north to the northern regions of Africa in the south, these foxes have established their presence. However, they don’t live in South America and Antarctica.

These species have also been introduced to multiple regions beyond their native range, such as the Falkland Islands and Australia. In Australia, they are among the top 100 most invasive species that pose a significant risk to native mammals and birds.

The red fox appearance
The beautiful red fox in Yellowstone is the Rocky Mountain red fox.

The foxes can live in different habitats, encompassing mixed shrublands, tundra, desert, and woodlands. For instance, the Ezo red fox inhabits islands of Japan and Russia, while the Arabian species has evolved to live in desert environments, characterized by the development of large ears. However, red foxes like to stay in regions with a variety of vegetation, including forest edges and shrublands.

The animals can be found across the entire continental territory of the US, stretching from Alaska to Florida. They are usually in open spaces found in wetlands, woodlands, brushy fields, and rural and suburban areas. However, you can barely see them in the Southwest region.

Fact: Spiritual meaning
The species symbolizes danger, playfulness, independence, passion, creativity, loyalty, cleverness, strength, and boldness. Seeing a red fox in your dream symbolizes good fortune, representing the ability to overcome obstacles and achieve success.

3. They are cunning hunters

Red foxes have a diverse diet. They can eat rabbits, rodents (mice, hedgehogs, squirrels), amphibians, lizards, fish, birds, geese, and even fruits such as plums, cherries, grapes, and raspberries. They even scavenge from garbage cans or venture into farms in search of food. This adaptability plays a crucial role in their survival, particularly during harsh winters.

Renowned for their cunning and opportunistic nature, these omnivores are skilled predators that possess the ability to procure food from diverse environments. To detect and track potential prey, they use their exceptional sense of hearing.

The red fox after catching a fish

These creatures can perceive even the slightest squeak of a mouse from a remarkable distance of 100 feet. Not only that, they can hear them burrowing beneath the ground or beneath layers of snow. This adaption helps them locate exactly the spot to dig down and find their prey.

Foxes, along with turtles, sharks, and migratory birds, possess a remarkable ability known as the “magnetic sense.” This unique sense enables them to use the Earth’s magnetic field to precisely discern the distance and direction of their prey. Additionally, they possess a keen sense of smell and incredible vision. This enables them quickly detect and chase after targets.

Besides their unbelievable sense of hearing, the foxes also have excellent vision. They can detect even the slightest movements from afar and skillfully maneuver through dense forests during their pursuit of prey. The presence of a tapetum lucidum in their eyes helps them see in low-light environments.

To catch the prey, they use their intelligence and cunning nature to come up with various hunting strategies.

When dealing with a hedgehog, they do not attack it directly. They will use their paws to poke it, prompting it to uncurl and lose balance, eventually stumbling into a nearby pond. When the poor animal finds itself on land, it becomes an easy target for the foxes. Likewise, they deceive scavenging birds by pretending to be dead. When these birds get closers, they launch a sudden and swift attack.

Or they can stealthily traverse their prey’s habitat, carefully observing for potential targets. Once they identify suitable prey, they employ a distinctive pouncing technique, jumping into the air and descending upon their target. This approach effectively reduces resistance from their prey, conserves energy, and minimizes the risk of injuries.

Red foxes have various predators, including humans, bobcats, lynxes, large owls, leopards, eagles, caracals, cougars, and even other foxes. Despite having numerous enemies, they have learned to coexist with hyenas, domestic cats, coyotes, and jackals to survive in the harsh world.

4. Behavior

These giant fox species are nocturnal, most active during the pre-dawn and post-dusk hours to hunt for food.

They rely on their athleticism and agility to survive in the wild. They run with impressive speed, reaching up to 30 mph (~ 48 km/h), and possess the remarkable capacity to jump as high as 6 feet to conquer barriers such as fences.

Like other foxes, red foxes can swim and they possess an innate instinct for swimming. They demonstrate swimming capabilities comparable to dogs, utilizing a technique similar to the “doggy paddle.” While they may not match the speed of dogs, red foxes are capable of swimming extended distances of up to 2 kilometers, all while conserving energy thanks to their compact size.

These species swim when traveling, evading predators, hunting, and tracking prey. However, they usually avoid water unless there is a specific necessity or motive for swimming.

Much like domesticated cats, their long, bushy tails play a crucial role in enhancing their agility and balance. Additionally, these magnificent tails provide warmth and act as a signal to communicate with other foxes and warn about threats in the wild.

Previously, it was commonly thought that foxes were solitary animals. Nevertheless, it has been discovered that they actually reside in compact family groups comprising at least one male, one female, and frequently their offspring. Although they typically hunt for food individually, they maintain strong familial connections.

To communicate, red foxes use a diverse range of communication methods, from smells to sounds. In terms of sounds, they can produce various noises, encompassing barks, howls, ‘gekkering’, squeals, and screams. Adult foxes can emit 12 distinct vocalizations spanning five octaves, whereas kits create 8 unique sounds.

They mark their territories using scent, utilizing urine or feces to not only demarcate boundaries but also to indicate the whereabouts of food caches.

Red foxes are generally non-aggressive and pose little danger to humans. They seldom attack unless they are infected with rabies, feel threatened, or are provoked or captured. They won’t hurt your dog or cat, even a small one. However, kittens can become targets and be hunted as prey.

5. Reproduction

The mating season of red foxes takes place in the winter months. The female fox, known as a vixen, becomes sexually mature at approximately 9 to 10 months of age and can give birth at the age of 1 year old. To attract a potential mate, the foxes produce mating calls that sound like a scream of a young child.

After mating, the female goes through a gestation period of about 52 days. She then gives birth to a litter comprising 2 to 12 pups. These pups are born with a coat that is either brown or gray in color. These pups are born without sight, hearing, or teeth. These newborns are very vulnerable, they depend entirely on their mother for their needs and protection.

Both the male and female will take turns to care for their offspring. At times, a sister who is not currently breeding or a female cub from a previous litter may take care of the cubs, fulfilling the role of “aunts.” This involvement allows them to acquire important skills and knowledge in preparation for raising their own offspring in the upcoming breeding season. In certain instances, there may even be two male foxes in association with a single female fox.

As time progresses, the kits undergo swift development. Approximately 2 weeks in, their eyes and ears awaken, granting them new senses. By the time they reach around 4 weeks of age, they start exploring beyond the confines of their den. It is during this period that their coat color undergoes a transformation, shifting to shades of red, reddish-brown, golden, silver, or even black. Simultaneously, their once-blue eyes transition to a captivating amber hue.

The cross breed of red foxes

The young red foxes nurse until they reach approximately 6 to 7 weeks. At this point, they start to wean. When they are about 3 – 4 years old, these juveniles begin venturing out of the den. In the wild, red foxes can live for only 3 – 5 years. However, in captivity, their lifespan is longer, about 15 years.

6. Threats and Conservation status

Although the red fox is generally considered a species of least concern according to the IUCN Red List, certain populations of this species are currently experiencing declines and are at risk. Some of the endangered subspecies are Cascade red foxes (native to North America, Washington state), Korean foxes with 50 individuals remaining, Sierra Nevada red foxes with only 39 individuals,

One species facing endangerment is the, which is currently at risk due to several factors including habitat loss, poisoning, and poaching for the fur industry. Another vulnerable species is the Sierra Nevada fox, found in North America. Its population is exceptionally scarce with fewer than.

These species face numerous challenges such as habitat loss due to human development. This makes them get into human places like parks and along the edges of woodlands, hiding from humans and trying to survive here.

These creatures are also hunted for sport and targeted as destructive pests. Their young are eaten by dogs and badgers, they can die because of rabies.

Nevertheless, the primary threat to the lives of these young individuals arises from motor vehicles, frequently leading to untimely fatalities. Additionally, severe winters can exacerbate mortality rates, as starvation and exposure to cold become prominent contributing factors.



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