All About Foxes
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You have probably noticed that we like foxes; and what would a FoxWeb be without a page about foxes?! Here you can learn a little about one of our favorite animals, with a section full of Frequently Asked Questions further on.
But first, the general overview:
All About Foxes! (...more or less)
PART 1: THE TECHNICAL BACKGROUND
The fox is a canid (family Canidae), distantly akin to coyotes, jackals, and wolves; but they are a distinct and separate animal, having formed their own genetic group 11-12 million years ago. They belong to the Order Carnivora and are indeed carnivores (meat-eaters); but they also eat fruits and grains, so by diet they are more properly omnivores... but that's a matter for taxonomists.
Foxes cannot cross-breed with dogs or other canids, having a different number of chromosomes. If you see a foxy-looking dog, that's exactly what it is: a dog with foxy features, not a dog-fox cross.
Foxes are distinctively shaped, with pointy muzzles, large ears, long thin bodies and long legs, and long bushy tails. The Red Fox (Vulpes vulpes) is typically the largest of all foxes, and is the type most people think of when they think "fox." Other widely known foxes include the Grey Fox (Urocyon cinereoarargenteus - aka "Tree Fox" because they can climb trees); the Arctic Fox (Alopex lagopus); and the ever-popular Fennec (Vulpes zerda - or Fennecus zerda, depending on your sources), the smallest of the foxes in spite of its huge ears. Foxes can be found in most parts of the world, like the African Bat-Eared Fox (Otocyon megalotis) and Cape Fox (Vulpes charma)... and thanks to the popularity of fox hunting among some British colonists, foxes can even be found in Australia!
Since Latin gets tiring, we'll drop it and concentrate mostly on our North American friend, the Red Fox.
The Red Fox usually features red-orange fur, a white tummy with white markings on its muzzle and on the tip of its tail, and black stockings on its legs. The pointed ears may be all black, or may be black-tipped; black markings on the muzzle are not uncommon. The Red Fox may sport a tawny yellow coat, or in some areas a silver or black coat. During the onset of Summer, the fox sheds his fur from underneath the newer coat, giving him a distinctively shaggy appearance which is often mistaken for mange. They shed this extra fur over a period of a couple of weeks and resume their svelte 'normal' appearance. With the coming of Winter, the fox's coat will grow thick and plush to help stave off the cold.
Foxes are family-oriented critters, often forming lifetime attachments when it comes time to raise young ones. During the rest of the year, however, the male (dog) fox and the female (vixen) live separately, mostly at the insistence of the highly territorial female. When Autumn rolls around and the vixen starts feeling amorous, she lets the male know by her scent marking, which changes to advertise her feelings on the matter. At this point the male will reappear and court the female, and will hang around through the Winter until the kids (kits) are born and the vixen can hunt for herself again. He will hang around into the early Spring to make sure they are well provided for, then take off for a Summer of fun and frolic.
The kits have a relatively easy life up to a point. The vixen feeds them and grooms them until they are reasonably mobile, then hunts small game and brings it back to the den so the young ones can learn and practice their hunting skills. Once they are grown and able to fend for themselves, however, Momma Vixen suddenly turns snarly and mean, and will chase them away to find their own territories - thus ensuring that a local disaster does not wipe out the entire next generation. Since it is the vixen who decides where she will raise her next family, it is not uncommon for one of the daughters to return home if Momma is gone, continuing the cycle in a familiar environment.
Foxes mostly eat small mammals and wounded birds, and are not above scrounging a meal from a garbage can if the pickings seem safe. Although foxes are infamous in stories and legend for raiding the hen house, most foxes prefer to avoid noisy prey and will not enter any situation that seems too suspicious. Similarly, foxes rarely attack dogs or cats - the former because they are noisy and likely to attract attention, the latter because they are armed and troublesome. A fox will usually fight off a dog only to protect its family, and only if there is no other choice. Most foxes prefer to lead a dog away from the den and into foreign territory, there to lose it and return without doing battle. (When family pets or small livestock do disappear, the culprit is often a coyote, a raccoon or another dog. The fox may enjoy a snack once the deed is done if there are leftovers, but will rarely go after anything that might sound an alarm.)
A fox appearing in your backyard or neighborhood does not automatically imply that the animal is rabid. Foxes are wary of humans, but will not fear them unless given a good reason. They can and do live near humans so long as they feel safe in doing so. A popular British series, FoxWatch, documented the lives of some urban foxes as they scurried about the streets and back alleys, raising a family in the crawlspace of an abandoned building.
However, under no circumstances should anyone try to pet a fox or any other wild animal. Foxes are highly susceptible to rabies, as are dogs and raccoons, and rabies is no joke. Any animal acting 'suspiciously' should be avoided, period!
So: that's the basic story of the fox. Following are questions that FoxWeb Friends have sent in over the years - so dig in and enjoy the continuing hunt for foxy info!
PART 2: FAQ INDEX
Okay, okay... once you're done rejoicing, the question is usually along the lines of, What can I do to encourage the fox to stay? (If your question is, Should I worry for my children or pets? - click here regarding rabies or here in regard to pets.)
Foxes will hang out near humans if they perceive an advantage in doing so - that is to say, if they feel reasonably safe and there is a food supply nearby. A vixen will make her home underneath a shed or in a woodpile and raise her kits there if the site seems reasonably free of humans. Foxes are playfully curious, and will often visit near humans if it suits them to do so.
To encourage foxes onto your property, abandon an area of your yard and let it go Wild. A medium- to large-sized brush pile makes a great home for a fox, for example; or a loose pile of branches; or any sort of platform with loose, diggable dirt underneath. The area must have open access (no fences or impassable shrubs enclosing it) and will need to be away from roaming dogs; no vixen will raise her kits where a dog might come by and find them. Young children are also a no-no, foxwise, because kids are usually noisy and unpredictable.
If there is water nearby or a reasonable food source, the fox is more likely to find the area attractive.
If you know of an area where foxes live and their home is destroyed or disturbed (by developers, for example), chances are the foxes will move. Foxes hate bulldozers. Many developers are not that keen on foxes, for that matter, and will try to trap or poison them if they can. There's not much you can do in that case; the fox will find a new home on its own, and any attempts to create a new home will seem highly suspicious. Your best bet: do nothing, and see what happens.
If a fox does make its home near your yard, you'd do well to stay quiet and calm in the vicinity of its home, never getting close enough to be threatening and not acting in a suspicious or intimidating manner. A fox will allow you reasonably near - fair is fair, after all - but only so long as you don't pose a threat. What a fox finds threatening varies from fox to fox, so the best plan is to keep your distance. And rejoice quietly.
How do I get a fox to leave my yard/garden/area?
The best way to encourage a fox to move on is to be an active presence wherever you don't want the fox to be. Foxes are curious but wary, and if it seems like you are trying to trap them, they'll move on. The trick is, you can't just go out and make noises once or twice a day, as foxes are clever and will catch on to a routine... as in, "It's safe to live here as long as I'm elsewhere at 11:45 and 4:15."
At random times during the day and evening, walk in the area where the fox is hanging out and work that part of your yard. If you have a dog (or access to a neighbor's dog), walk her around your property at random and let her mark her territory as she will. This will make the fox think there's a dog loose nearby, a sure deterrent if the dog is not adhering to a schedule. If there is a special place where the fox is hanging out, leave a tool or three in that area overnight, then move them the next day. This will make the fox think something is up, and they'll warily move on.
There's no such thing in the States as Fox-Away, a chemical you can spray that will keep foxes from moving in. In England there is a liquid called Renadine which supposedly works to discourage foxes; but you have to use it frequently, and the smell is apparently enough to drive most humans away as well... not much benefit there. (We've recently been told that Renadine is no longer legal in the U.K., so it's not really an option any more.)
Last but not least, you can add a fence around your yard to discourage animals from visiting, but if you leave part of your yard abandoned, a fox may eventually find a way in and make themselves at home. To keep them away, use your property and keep it up, and your unwelcome visitor will find someplace quieter to live.
What do you call a group of foxes?
How many different kinds of foxes are there?
The five most common varieties of fox in North America are:
There is a sixth variety, the Channel Island Fox (Urocyon littoralis), specific to the Channel Islands near southern California. They are descendents of the Gray Fox and break down into six separate subspecies according to their specific island of origin.
I'm sure I've seen a black fox. Is there such a thing?
A different sort of fox, the Cross Fox, is another variety of Red Fox with a black stripe over his/her shoulders and another running down the back, forming a cross - hence the name.
Do foxes interbreed with ___________ - ?
There are a number of dog breeds that look rather foxy. If you see a dog that looks like it's half fox and half poodle (for example), chances are that the 'fox' half is actually an American Eskimo (Spitz), Shelte, Pemboke Welsh Corgi, or even a Samoyed - all of whom have foxy features.
What is the lifespan of a fox?
If you're not doing anything threatening and the neighborhood is quiet, a fox can and will get very close out of curiosity or if it is hungry. Urban foxes often raid trash cans and compost piles looking for tidbits, especially if there are young ones or a hungry mate to care for. That aside, it often happens that foxes investigate new territories to find out what's happening - to make sure there are no new threats, or to see if a good restaurant has moved into the area. So: if a fox gets close and doesn't seem spooked, that doesn't necessarily mean it is rabid.
Having said that: foxes are easily susceptible to rabies, as are raccoons and dogs. Rabies is a dangerous disease and is not something to take lightly. If you have reason to believe there is an outbreak of rabies in your area, it would best to give any oddly-acting animal a wide berth.
In no case should you try to catch or pet any wild animal, regardless.
Is a fox likely to eat my pet ___________?
Very young puppies and kittens are in that indeterminate range; if a fox is really hungry, the puppy or kitten is very young and nearly helpless, and the two find each other out in the middle of nowhere... maybe. However, any animal that can run, fight back or scream for help or who smells of humans will probably not find itself on the menu. Foxes are too wary to bother.
A fox will defend its den if it has kits and there is no way to lead a pet away, but the same is true of most overprotective mothers, so....
Will a fox attack children?
That aside: children playing in their own yard or a playground or walking to/from home should be perfectly safe from foxes.
How big is a fox?
Sadly, foxes have very weak eyesight which is mostly geared towards detecting movement. If you see a fox and stand very still, there is a fair chance the fox won't see you.
On the other hand, the fox's hearing and sense of smell are way above average.
Can foxes see in color?
What sort of sounds do foxes make?
How fast is a fox?
Is it true that Red Foxes were
In the 17th century, European fox hunters tried hunting the indigenous Gray Foxes, only to discover that these foxes were no fun: they went to ground (i.e. went home) at the first sign of trouble - unlike the beloved Red Fox, who would lead the hounds and hunters around and about for hours, providing great 'sport.' So a series of mating pairs were released in the U.S. where they quickly spread throughout the northeast and have been happily populating ever since.
a baby Kit Fox, you would have a Kit Fox Kit Kit!
'Dog' isn't a very pretty term for a male fox.
Some do and some don't. Vixens turn romantic in the early winter, and the male fox will hang around until well after the kits are born. It is usually up to the vixen to raise the little tykes once they are on their feet, but the male fox will often be seen in the vicinity helping out one way or another (building decks, watching TV, going out for chips... that sort of thing).
Come the next winter, males and females often seek out the same mate for another winter of romantic entanglements and family rearing. But some males seek out more than one vixen, and sometimes families break up for no good reason at all.
What do foxes eat?
- with the possible exception of Wendy's Spicy Chicken Combo....
I heard they're breeding pet foxes in __________;
What's up is as follows: some time ago, Russian biologists attempted to breed the wildness out of fur-farm foxes to make them easier to handle, something the breeders themselves had been unable to do. After 20 years of effort, what the biologists ended up with was indeed tame; but it was a fox in name only. The animals had floppy ears, multiple reproductive cycles per year, spotted or patterned coats, and barked like any ol' dog - tail-wagging, face licking and all. The researchers had created a sort of dog-fox. This was of vast interest to the biologists, but (thankfully) was no use whatsoever to the fur breeders because the result was no longer foxlike.
Anyone familiar with New Zealand's comic strip Footrot Flats would recognize the 'tame fox' as a bushy-tailed version of Dog. So far as it being a tame fox, however, a Welsh Corgi looks more like a fox and is already widely available.
What are some foreign names for foxes?
Here's a small sampling of names from around the world:
There are lots of others; but this list is a start!
If you have a question about foxes,
or some nifty fox trivia to share, e-mail us by clicking here!