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  The Mammals of Texas - Online Edition

Red Fox*
Order Carnivora : Family Canidae : Vulpes vulpes (Linnaeus)

Red Fox (Vulpes vulpes).  Photo by John L. Tveten.gray fox but conspicuously different in color and in cranial characters. Considerably larger and more reddish than the swift fox. Tail a thick "bush," circular in cross section, and white-tipped; face rusty fulvous, grizzled with white; upperparts bright golden yellow, darkest along middle of back; chin, throat and mid-line of belly white; forefeet and legs to elbow black; black of hind feet extends as a narrow band along outer side of leg to thigh; backs of ears black. Several color phases — cross, black, silver, Sampson, and the normal red. Young duller in color than adults. Dental formula: I 3/3, C 1/1, Pm 4/4, M 2/3 X 2 = 42. External measurements average: total length, 972 mm; tail, 371 mm; hind foot, 163 mm; females average slightly smaller than males. Weight, 3-5 kg.

Species distribution mapDistribution in Texas. Introduced in eastern and central parts of state. Now ranges across central Texas from eastern part of the state to central Trans-Pecos region.

Habits. Red foxes are not native to Texas, having been introduced for purposes of sport around 1895. Today, red foxes occur throughout central and eastern Texas, but they do not seem to be common anywhere. Their favored habitat is mixed woodland uplands interspersed with farms and pastures. Although usually active at night, the red fox moves about considerably in daylight hours and occasionally may be observed then, especially if the observer is alert and still. The den is usually an underground burrow, a crevice in a rocky outcrop, or a cavity under boulders. Occasionally, the burrow of some other animal, such as the badger, is taken over and remodeled to suit the new occupants.

Red foxes are opportunistic feeders and will take any acceptable food in proportion to its availability. The major food items are small rodents, rabbits, wild fruits and berries, and insects. Small mammals evidently constitute staple foods during the greater part of the year. Other kinds of prey fluctuate according to season, weather conditions, abundance, and vulnerability of prey populations, and with the experience of the fox. Young animals learning to hunt have to take what they can get.

Female red foxes have a single estrous each year and reputedly remain mated for life. Males and females pair off and mate from late December to January or February. Females have a very short period of heat that lasts only 2-4 days. The young, which may number anywhere from one to 10 (average, four to six), are born in March or April following a gestation period of about 53 days.

The female establishes the den site for the young in late winter, but both parents live together while raising the young. Foxes either dig their own dens or utilize those of other burrowing animals. Sometimes two litters may occupy one den.

The young at birth are dark brown or black in color, but the tip of the tail is white. They are blind and helpless; the eyes open at the age of 8 or 9 days. They seldom venture out of the den until they are a month old, and the den may also be their refuge for the next 2 months or longer. The parents are solicitous of the pups, bringing them food and guarding the den. The family remains together until autumn, by which time the young have attained almost adult proportions.

Few foxes live beyond the age of 3 or 4 years, particularly in areas where they are hunted and trapped heavily. Man and domestic dogs are their major predators, although pups may be lost to great horned owls and other predators. Red foxes are susceptible to a variety of diseases, including rabies, distemper, and infectious canine hepatitis.

* nonnative species

Photo credit: John L. Tveten.