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1.7 What is a red fox (Vulpes vulpes)?

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Red fox (Vulpes vulpes)

The species Vulpes vulpes is a small canid weighing 4.5 to 8 kg. Red fox morphology and biology is described in detail in numerous publications listed here.

The red fox is widely distributed over temperate and sub-arctic regions of the northern hemisphere, and also in Australia, where it was introduced in 1864. Red foxes exploit a wide variety of habitats from the seashore to alpine meadows, including peri-urban and urban environments. Population densities may vary considerably depending on geographical and topological features.
Foxes are omnivorous and opportunistic in their diet selection. Depending on habitat and season, foxes prey on rodents, primarily voles (Arvicolinae), rabbits, ground-dwelling birds, domestic chickens, earthworms and insects. They also eat fruit (mostly cherries, plums, prunes) and berries. In highly developed and densely populated habitats in Europe, foxes scavenge on farm refuse and other anthropogenic foods.

Foxes are seasonal breeders and have one litter a year. Mating takes place between mid-December and March in the northern hemisphere. Kits are born after a gestation period of 51 to 53 days, mostly between mid-March and mid-April. Kits are likely to be born earlier in more southern latitudes than northern, and earlier at lower elevations compared to higher mountainous habitat. The number of implanted foetuses in pregnant vixens may vary between 1 and 12 (average of 5.5). Reproductive success varies considerably with food availability and may be related in some cases to rodent and lagomorph population cycles.

Kits receive milk for their first few weeks, but are also provided with solid food from about 3 weeks onwards. They reach sexual maturity at about 10 months of age.

Fox kits usually roam less than 1 km away from dens during summer and early autumn. Dispersal of sub-adult foxes starts between mid-September and the end of October. The distribution of dispersal distances is skewed; most animals move less than 10 km, and only a few between 10 and 50 km. Dispersal distances over 50 km are rarely observed. Male foxes travel longer distances, on average, than females. It is suggested that there is a link between home range occupancy, mortality and dispersal patterns. Higher resource densities result in higher population densities further resulting in smaller home ranges and shorter dispersal distances.

The social use of space by foxes appears to be highly flexible. Initially it was believed that adult foxes lived in pairs with their young from that year in exclusive territories or only slightly overlapping family home ranges. However, recent investigations indicate that foxes may also roam in non-exclusive home ranges, or may form territorial groups consisting of a number of adults, not just a monogamous pair. Dominance hierarchies are established within social groups. The flexible social organisation of the fox population is predominantly influenced by population density and resource dispersion.


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Version 1 - Last updated November 2012