Critter of the Month: Red fox

Animal of the week for November 23: Red fox

• Species: Red fox.

• Scientific name: Vulpes vulpes.

• Nicknames: Red foxes have no common nicknames, but the Spanish word for “fox” is a familiar word to many – zorro.

• Claim to fame: Red foxes are well-known furbearing mammals of Missouri and are included in the state’s furbearer trapping season which runs November 15 through January 31. 

There are an increasing number of foxes seen in urban areas. Whereas gray foxes live in brushy, swampy or timbered areas and show a high aversion to humans, red foxes seem less bothered by people.

• Species status: Red foxes are found throughout the state. They’re more abundant in Missouri than their cousin, the gray fox, which is also found throughout the state.

Although less numerous, gray foxes (Urocyon cinereoargentus) are a much older species. Based on fossil records, it’s theorized gray foxes pre-date their red cousins by several million years.

• First discovered: The first scientific description of the red fox was written by Carl Linnaeus in 1758. Based on early journals, it’s presumed the bulk of North America’s red fox population was originally north of Missouri.

As the eastern U.S. was being colonized, the European red fox was introduced between 1650 and 1750 for fox hunting. At this time, the dense forest was being opened to colonial development, which created more habitat for North America’s native red fox.

It is not known whether the descendants of matings between the North American and European red fox populated Missouri or whether the continent’s native red fox moved into newly created habitat in Missouri.

It makes little difference whether Missouri’s red foxes have a European or North American ancestry, though, since both are members of the same species.

• Family matters: The red fox is a member of the family Canidae, which includes all species of wolves, dogs and foxes. More than 20 species of foxes can be found in the world.
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• Length: One foot to four feet in length.

• Diet: Foxes have long been portrayed as predators of poultry, but studies have shown domestic fowl make up only a small portion of most foxes’ diets.

Foxes are opportunistic predators, so chickens may be taken if the opportunity presents itself, but studies show that rabbits, field mice, other small mammals, birds and carrion make up the bulk of a fox’s diet.

• Weight: Seven to 15 pounds.

• Distinguishing characteristics: A fox’s physical features are well-known. It has a dog-like appearance with an elongated, pointed muzzle; large, pointed ears, moderately long legs and a heavily furred tail.

Red foxes are reddish-brown to reddish-yellow. They are extremely vocal. They commonly give short yaps or barks, followed by a single squall. They also emit long yells, yowls and screeches.

During the mating season (which is usually January and February in Missouri), females give a shrill squall. Males answer with two or three short barks.

• Life span: In the wild, most red foxes live six to 10 years.

• Habitat: Red foxes prefer the borders of forested areas and adjacent open lands for their range, avoiding dense and extensive forests.

Except for when they are using a den to raise young, foxes have no special site they call home and often sleep on the open ground.

• Life cycle: Fox pups (also called kits) are born in March or April. The female fox (vixen) stays in the den with her pups for the first few days after their birth and the male brings food to her.

Fox pups stay in their den until four to five weeks of age. At 8-10 weeks, fox pups are weaned and begin to accompany their parents on hunting trips.

(source: MDC)

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