Table of Contents
- Everything You Need To Know About Red Foxes
Everything You Need To Know About Red Foxes
The mighty Red Fox is found in abundance in various parts of the world. You can find them in your neighborhood or at the camping site you are about to visit this summer. Red Foxes are not confined to forests, mountains or deserts as their habitat as they can adapt equally well in the urban and semi-urban settings. Now, one might wonder what exactly do these beasts eat and what are their habits which are proving troublesome for the natural fauna and urban population of some countries. Read along to discover some useful diet and habit information of red foxes and know why these creatures have become one of the most invasive predators in Australia.
The red fox is the second most populated land mammal on this planet after human beings. They are spread across all major continents in the northern hemisphere. These agile mammals were first introduced in Australia in the 19th century and, today, they’re spread across a major chunk of the continent. Vulpes is their scientific name. The red fox is a big name amongst the true foxes because of its big size and marvelous ability to adapt to any given environmental condition. Despite their name, red foxes can vary in color and can be of different sizes. There are more than 45 identified species of this omnivore, which are largely grouped into two categories- southern foxes that are found in Asia and Africa, and northern foxes. While the former is small and basal, northern foxes are large beasts.
The physical characteristics of these agile creatures are devised to help them hunt. As red foxes are opportunistic hunters, they have an elongated torso with smaller limbs enabling faster displacement. The tail is, approximately, as long as up to 70 percent of the rest of the body and is covered in dense fur. This tail extends towards the ground to help the fox maintain balance on the ground. It also proves as a cover in winters and helps them communicate. Red foxes are quick and active creatures when it comes to attacking a prey and they can easily jump over 6-7 feet high fences. Plus, they are great swimmers. The canine teeth of the red foxes are elongated to help the fox tear of their prey and there isn’t much difference in the physical appearance of a fox and its female counterpart, also called vixen.
Apart from the physical attributes, red foxes have extraordinary senses. They have a remarkable sense of smell and a near-perfect auditory perception. They can hear a rat squealing from 100m away. Their sense of sight mainly reacts to movement but they can see well in the dark as well and have a binocular vision.
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Where do the red foxes live?
Red foxes are naturally found in the northern hemisphere of the planet i.e. in the northern parts of Africa, Europe, temperate regions of Asia, North America, and Arctic Circle. Due to the high adapting abilities of these beasts in different socio-ecological settings, the British successfully implanted the species in Australia in the 19th century.
They are generally found in temperate grasslands and can survive extreme climatic conditions too. Though the red foxes make themselves compatible to the environment they are living in, it cannot be expected of a subspecies living in the Arctic to adapt to the conditions in the Sahara Deserts or the other way round.
They adapt well to all major land and weather conditions present in the contemporary world and, hence, the Red Foxes are not confined to just mountains, forests, or deserts. You can find these mammals in different urban and semi-urban settings as well. One major characteristic or these animals is that they prefer to keep their existence a secret from the people they live around. Though they are opportunistic hunters, they hunt at night because of their nocturnal nature.
They usually reside in burrows and such settings amongst the urban population and adapt to the lifestyle of the population they are living around well in terms of hunting and eating habits.
Social behavior of red fox
The red fox is a very peculiar creature when it comes to its social behavior as they prefer to hunt in solitude but when they have kits, both individuals participate in bringing them up. The foxes and vixens mature to the age of reproduction in 1 year and they have 4 kits on an average at once. August to September is the mating season for the red foxes. The litters are introduced to the outside world later in the spring. When the kits mature, usually by late summer or autumn, they leave the den to make a family of their own. Usually, one of the youngest offspring from the previous litter stays behind in the shelter with the kits to look after them and the rest of the family goes out for a hunt. The vixens which are no longer fertile also stay back to look after the kits of their family.
Red foxes are nocturnal creatures, therefore, during the day, they sleep in their burrows, dens, and other shelters they create in logs and with other things. At nights, they come out to hunt some rodents and smaller predators they can put their hands upon. They are careful and efficient creatures which leave their scents and urinate at spots where they have hidden food to save the time spent in finding the surplus hunt.
Can red foxes attack humans?
Though one of the 100 most invasive species in the world, the red fox is less likely to attack humans, cats, and dogs unless harmed because they do not see them as preys. Yes, there have been cases of humans or small children been attacked by foxes, but that was mainly when they were trying to defend themselves and their dens from humans. Another reason why foxes are pushed to attack anyone else other than livestock is when their den is facing acute shortage of food.
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Red foxes are very careful when it comes to living in an urban habitat because they do not want to be discovered by humans and therefore, they make best efforts to guide anyone who is near their den away from it. Even when they accidentally enter homes, they immediately look for an exit. Despite the common belief that red foxes can be harmful, they are more scared of humans than we are of them.
So, although the chances are thin, whenever you see a red fox on the streets, never try to pet or attack the beast barehanded. If there is a fox shelter under the shed or decking of your house, it is always a wise call to contact wildlife control to deal with the issue rather than trying to tackle them yourself.
What do red foxes eat?
One advantage of red foxes being omnivores is that they can survive on whatever food is readily available. Then again, they are known to prey upon livestock and rodents including mice, rabbits, voles, ground squirrels, woodchucks, hamsters, gerbils, and other small animals. Apart from those, they also prey upon birds, opossums, racoons, porcupines and reptiles. If these are not available to the red foxes, they can eat plant material like fruits and vegetables as well. The fruits they are identified as consuming are apples, raspberries, blueberries, blackberries, cherries, mulberries, acorns, plums, and grapes. They prefer grass and tubers as well in their herbivorous diet.
How do these mighty beasts hunt?
While discussing the diet and habit information of red foxes, one should know their hunting behavior as well. Forest reserves, preserves, and poultry farms where birds and other livestock is reared attract red foxes as they can easily find prey here. While these creatures are accredited for their superior sense of smell as predators, research has shown that of all senses, their sight is most effective when it comes to hunting. The foxes recognize the slightest of the movements through these visual and act upon the first opportunity they get to hunt their game. They not only recognize the movements above the ground but the ones underground too. Red foxes are blessed with the spectacular hearing which can recognize the sound of an animal digging a burrow underground easily, so the, they can dig them up. They are recorded to hunt after dusk and before dawn. Hunting during these dark hours ensures that they do not have to come out in the daylight and encounter human population in urban settings.
The hunting style of red foxes is unique too. They spot the target from far away and take a leap in mid-air to land 5 meters away from the target. Though usually, red foxes hunt to satiate their hunger, they can sometimes go rogue and hunt their prey just for the sake of it. These acts might cause a huge loss to the farms rearing birds and other small poultry animals. Red foxes aren’t fond of the taste of some small rodents like moles, as the research suggests, but they like to capture them for their kits to play with.
Foxes are territorial hunters and hence they require large areas to themselves for hunting their prey. The hunting territory of a red fox can vary from as large as up to 1-5 square miles. They fight any other fox which tries to hunt in their territory. They build several burrows and dens in their territory apart from their shelter to store the surplus prey. They mark the area in which they’ve hunted already and where they’ve stored food by their urine or scent.
Why are red foxes harmful in an urban setting?
Red foxes have spreading number with time and due to their immaculate abilities to adapt to any given environment, they have managed to live amongst humans in farms as well as cities too. They prey upon livestock, nesting birds, and other small rodents which is responsible for a decline in the population of their prey in the fauna of affected regions. They have been identified as responsible for the extinction of certain smaller creatures. Red foxes also are carriers of deadly diseases, like rabies. If humans come in contact with these animals, they can get infected by the disease.
Can red foxes be domesticated?
Well, it is usual to come across advertisements that claim that these mighty beasts are a lot like dogs and can be kept as pets. Then again, what you should give a thought to the fact that dogs are domesticated and petted for centuries, but red foxes are wild animals. No matter how much efforts you or even a pet cat, they are born to live free and wild. Therefore, it will not turn out to be a wise choice if you pet a fox and expect it to be equally obedient.
The kits do look adorable with all the innocence that reflects in their play when they are young. You might love petting them at the early stage. But as these kits grow up, they will grow wild and will tend to hunt. They will lose their interest in everything and will press you to set them free so that they can hunt in the wild. They might become aggressive if not handled with care. Even after you decide to release them into their natural habitat after they grow up, they will be under the constant threat of getting killed by their contemporaries who were raised in the wild because they lack the required set of skills to survive in the wild.
Competitors and enemies of red foxes
Like every other wild animal which has to strive to survive in the wild, Red foxes too have to face competition from various other species for food. The Arctic foxes have been introduced in various islands predominantly inhabited by the Red foxes by fur traders due to their thick fur. Then again, this venture of theirs could never succeed because the Red foxes are larger and stronger than Arctic foxes and hence they do not let the competition last for long. One way Arctic foxes use to survive with Red foxes is by feeding upon the smaller game and leave the game preferred by their stronger contemporaries untouched.
Corsac foxes and Red foxes hunt for the same prey all year round. Corsac foxes are another species which gives Red foxes a tough competition in the Steppes and semi-deserts. Whereas, Red foxes are faster at hunting in areas with snow as thick as 10 centimeters. Therefore, Corsacs avoid the competition with red foxes by restricting themselves to semi-arid regions.
Grey foxes are another set of competitors which Red foxes encounter. Historically, there hasn’t been much interaction between the two because Grey foxes have stayed confined to the woods. But because of deforestation, Grey foxes have to face the defeat from the Red foxes when fighting for food or shelter.
Wolves and Coyotes pose a major threat to the Red foxes as they can kill them in a dispute, easily. In North America, Coyotes, Wolves, and Red foxes co-exist but the Red fox is smart enough to get involved into a duel with the Wolves because the latter is larger and stronger than the former. Unless the wolves provoke or try to approach the kits, Red foxes stay away from them.
In Israel, Red foxes share habitat with Golden Jackals. Golden Jackals are wolf-like canids which hunt for the same prey as Red foxes all year round, giving them a tough competition. Red foxes avoid interaction with the former. Due to competitive exclusion, it is seen that when the population of Golden Jackals is in abundance in a region, the population of Red foxes fall drastically.
In Eurasia, leopards, lynxes and caracals kill red foxes.
Red foxes in Australia
Red foxes were introduced in Australia by the British in the 19th century for the purpose of recreational hunting. Little did they know that these species will adapt very well to the environment of the country that their population would shoot up to a drastic 7.2 million. Today, this population outburst has become a major cause of concern in Australia. This is so because, Red foxes hunt for the smaller game which includes small nesting birds, rodents, hamsters, and other animals which are native to the environment. And the ecology of the nation was not devised to fulfill the supply of prey for the red foxes, therefore, these natives of the country are facing extinction.
This spread of Red foxes in the country have coincided with that of European Rabbits in Australia, which is again, posing a great deal of threat to the native fauna of the country. The authorities have come up with measures to help the decline in the population of the Red foxes in form of poisonous baits and shooting with the help of spotlighting at nights.
Due to the troubles that Australia is facing due to the spread of Red foxes, they are banned in New Zealand. No one is allowed to import the species as it is prohibited under the Hazardous Substances and New Organisms Act in the country.