Overview of fox behaviour, breeding cycle and habitat
The Red fox is a member of the Canidae family which includes wolves.
It is widespread throughout Europe and closely linked with Rabies.
Introduced in 1845 into Australia and again in 1870. They were also entered into America in Maryland in the mid-1700s and later into Virginia and Long Island and has since interbred with the North American (Grey) Fox.
The fox is very adaptable to both climate and prey species and highly successful.
The population in the UK is probably at its highest at present. Very few people are active in eradicating them.
In Australia, the only place that the fox did not colonise was a small percentage of land in the north which was desert.
The fox varies considerably in colour even within a litter of cubs. Body shape and size also varies.
They have a prolonged moult from late Spring to Autumn by which time they have a very thick coat. The skull of a fox is narrower than that of a dog. A dog fox (male) weighs on average around 15 pounds (6.5 - 7 kilos) and a vixen (female) around 14 pounds (6 - 6.5 kilos).
Fox droppings are different depending on what they have been eating and usually placed in a prominent position for marking territory; these places are called scent stations. Vocally the fox is more noticeable around late December. Vixens scream and screech. Cubs can make considerable noise.
The fox has teeth similar to a dog with four K9's and carnassials.
In the countryside, the fox mostly survives by predating on birds but will also take newborn or weak lambs and poultry. Other prey species and food sources include field voles, bank voles, wood mice, rats, hares (mostly leverets), rabbits, fruits, beetles, frogs, earthworms, slugs, snails, carrion of all types and even salmon in spawning.
Foxes do like to bury their food (known as caching), and surplus food may also be left on top of the ground, especially when cubs are present.
If there is plenty of surface cover, foxes will live above ground, but in colder weather and the breeding season, they use "earths" (underground holes). Some cubs are born and raised above the ground; these are called stub bred.
Urban habitat: Foxes have successfully established themselves in our towns and cities becoming wholly urbanised. In terms of local habitat, foxes can live virtually anywhere including railway embankments, the underground, underneath sheds, garden decking or merely a hole in the lawn that they have excavated. Foxes will also make use of communal gardens, parks and basements.
Foxes are incredibly adaptable and can utilise almost anywhere to make a home and a place from which they can source food. Unlike their relatives in the countryside who travel far and wide in search of something to eat their territory can sometimes only stretch as far as a few gardens in the cities and from here they will typically scavenge for food raiding bins, skips, building sites and the back of fast food outlets.
Male foxes are sexually active from November until March with a peak in December, January and February. During this time the males will be vocally competing for mates. During this winter period, there will be much movement.
Vixens are sexually receptive for three weeks, and fertilization is only possible for three days. The Dog Fox will stay very close to the Vixen and will mate with her quite frequently. Mating can happen almost anywhere. Not all Vixens breed.
During March the Vixen will usually start to clear out several breeding earths or sites (old drains etc).
The gestation period for the red fox is 53 days. Cubs are usually born underground. There are times when cubs arrive as early as January and as late as September. The dog fox is generally kept well away from the cubs when they born.
Cubs are born with their eyes closed which open between 12 - 14 days old. Young cubs have short grey hair which changes at around two weeks of age to a chocolate colour.
At one-month-old, the cub's ears start to stand up, and at six weeks old, they begin to get red fur. At eight weeks of age, the only black fur to remain is the ears, legs, muzzle and feet.
54% of cubs are male.
For the first three weeks of their lives, the cubs typically spend their time underground with the mother. During this time, if they are disturbed, the Vixen will move them immediately. Lactation is around six weeks, but cubs are partly weaned at 4-5 weeks and will receive regurgitated meat from the mother.
The dog fox catches the food to feed the mother and the cubs; this continues for the first 4-5 weeks. Numbers in litters vary from 1 - 11, but the average litter size is 4 - 5. At around ten weeks old the cubs mostly live above ground.
By September the cubs are of adult size and independent.
For some time it was known that a proportion of Vixens never bred at all (around 20%). It was also known that some litters of foxes are actually two litters. Radio tagging has shown that related foxes sometimes live in clans. Breeding is done by the dominant male and female with subdominant females co-operating in feeding the cubs. Sometimes the dominant male will have a second litter with a sub-dominant female, thus having a double litter in one earth.
Territory boundaries are very well defended. Various studies have found that territory sizes vary; this is related to food sources and available cover.
- Farmland 100-250 hectares (average)
- Suburbs 40 hectares (average)
Clans exist in the most productive habitats (suburbs)
Foxes usually move in their first year. Males disperse between September and February. Most females settle near to where they were born.
Usually, the highest proportion of mortality occurs in the first year, and few foxes live to pass three years old.
Diseases carried by foxes include Rabies, ticks and fleas, Mange (which can cause them to become bald), internal parasites, tapeworms and threadworms (endoparasites).
Urban foxes started in the second world war living in towns and progressed, especially in the south. Foxes have also become urbanised in other countries such as Australia and America.
The fox is a living success story because despite their natural habitat actually shrinking as towns and cities expand, they have simply transitioned in order to find food and raise their young in countries all over the world. Although there are different types of foxes living in many varied and different geographical locations throughout the world, it is a tribute to their ability to adapt that they have managed not only to survive but actually thrive in cities worldwide.