Index of Species Information

WILDLIFE SPECIES:  Vulpes vulpes


AUTHORSHIP AND CITATION : Tesky, Julie L. 1995. Vulpes vulpes. In: Fire Effects Information System, [Online]. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station, Fire Sciences Laboratory (Producer). Available: [].
ABBREVIATION : VUVU COMMON NAMES : red fox fox TAXONOMY : The currently accepted scientific name for the red fox is Vulpes vulpes Linn. Red foxes belongs to the family Canidae. Historically red foxes were classified as two species, Vulpes vulpes in the Old World and V. fulva in the New World, but today they are considered to be one species [5,11,36]. Hall [11] recognizes ten subspecies of red fox: V. vulpes abietorum Merriam V. vulpes alascensis Merriam V. vulpes cascadensis Merriam V. vulpes fulva (Desmarest) V. vulpes harrimani Merriam V. vulpes kenaiensis Merriam V. vulpes macroura Baird V. vulpes necator Merriam V. vulpes regalis Merriam V. vulpes rubricosa Bangs Red foxes interbreed with kit foxes (V. velox) [1]. ORDER : Carnivora CLASS : Mammal FEDERAL LEGAL STATUS : Vulpes vulpes necator is Under Review for listing [39]. OTHER STATUS : Information on state- and province-level protection status of animals in the United States and Canada is available at NatureServe, although recent changes in status may not be included.


GENERAL DISTRIBUTION : Red foxes are the most widely distributed carnivore in the world. They occur throughout most of North America (except in the Great Plains and the extreme Southeast and Southwest), Europe, and Asia, and are found in parts of northern Africa. They have spread throughout much of Australia, where they were introduced in the late 1800's [30,36]. There is some question whether red foxes are native to North America. Churcher [6] hypothesized that red foxes were native to North America north of latitude 40 degrees North, but were scarce or absent in most of the vast hardwood forests where common gray foxes (Urocyon cinereoargenteus) were abundant. Others believe that the North American red fox originated from the European red fox, which was introduced into the southeastern section of the United States around 1750. It may have interbred with the scarce indigenous population to produce a hybrid population [10]. The distribution of the ten subspecies of red fox is as follows [5]: V. v. abietorum - Occurs throughout western Canada V. v. alascensis - Occurs in Alaska, and Yukon Territory, and the Northwest Territories V. v. cascadensis - Occurs along the northwest coast of the United States and British Columbia V. v. fulva - Occurs in the eastern United States V. v. harrimani - Occurs on Kodiak Island, Alaska V. v. kenaiensis - Occurs on the Kenai Peninsula, Alaska V. v. macroura - Occurs throughout the Rocky Mountains V. v. necator - Occurs in California and Nevada V. v. regalis - Ranges from north-central Canada south to Nebraska and Missouri V. v. rubricosa - Occurs in southern Quebec and Nova Scotia ECOSYSTEMS : FRES10 White-red-jack pine FRES11 Spruce-fir FRES12 Longleaf-slash pine FRES13 Loblolly-shortleaf pine FRES14 Oak-pine FRES15 Oak-hickory FRES16 Oak-gum-cypress FRES17 Elm-ash-cottonwood FRES18 Maple-beech-birch FRES19 Aspen-birch FRES20 Douglas-fir FRES21 Ponderosa pine FRES22 Western white pine FRES23 Fir-spruce FRES24 Hemlock-Sitka spruce FRES25 Larch FRES26 Lodgepole pine FRES27 Redwood FRES28 Western hardwoods FRES29 Sagebrush FRES30 Desert shrub FRES31 Shinnery FRES32 Texas savanna FRES33 Southwestern shrubsteppe FRES34 Chaparral-mountain shrub FRES35 Pinyon-juniper FRES36 Mountain grasslands FRES37 Mountain meadows FRES38 Plains grasslands FRES39 Prairie FRES40 Desert grasslands FRES41 Wet grasslands FRES42 Annual grasslands FRES44 Alpine STATES :
BLM PHYSIOGRAPHIC REGIONS : 1 Northern Pacific Border 2 Cascade Mountains 3 Southern Pacific Border 4 Sierra Mountains 5 Columbia Plateau 6 Upper Basin and Range 7 Lower Basin and Range 8 Northern Rocky Mountains 9 Middle Rocky Mountains 10 Wyoming Basin 11 Southern Rocky Mountains 12 Colorado Plateau 13 Rocky Mountain Piedmont 15 Black Hills Uplift 16 Upper Missouri Basin and Broken Lands KUCHLER PLANT ASSOCIATIONS : Red foxes probably occur in most Kuchler plant associations. SAF COVER TYPES : Red foxes probably occur in most SAF cover types. SRM (RANGELAND) COVER TYPES : Red foxes probably occur in most SRM (rangeland) cover types. PLANT COMMUNITIES : Although red foxes can survive in many habitats ranging from arctic barren areas to temperate deserts, they prefer areas with a mixture of plant communities [1,5,30,36]. Red foxes are commonly associated with grasslands, boreal forests, coniferous forests, deciduous forests, and tundra [30]. In developed regions, red foxes are generally associated with agricultural areas where woodlots are interspersed with cropland and pastureland [36]. Schofield [27] found that red foxes in Michigan preferred lowland brush and oak (Quercus spp.) woodlands but avoided swamps. In the Sierra Nevada, California, red foxes are found primarily in upper elevation forests associated with the Sierra Nevada Crest. During the summer they prefer meadows interspersed with mature Jeffrey pine (Pinus jeffreyi), lodgepole pine (P. contorta), or Shasta red fir (Abies magnifica var. shastensis) forests. In winter red foxes prefer mixed-conifer and ponderosa pine (P. ponderosa) forests [35]. In British Columbia red foxes are most common in mixed forests that are interspersed with meadows. Iowa red foxes are most numerous in hilly, wooded regions, but they are also common in the flatter prairie corn belt. One of the densest populations of red foxes in North America is in southwestern Wisconsin where they inhabit areas which contain a mosaic of woodlots, croplands, pasturelands, and stream bottoms [1].


TIMING OF MAJOR LIFE HISTORY EVENTS : Breeding season - Red foxes are monestrous [1,5]. The red fox breeding season generally lasts from December to March [1,5,36]. However, the onset of breeding varies in different parts of red fox range, earlier in the south and later in the north. Breeding in Ontario occurs from late January to late March [36]. Breeding peaks occur from late December to early January in Iowa, late January in Wisconsin, and late January and early February in New York. The earliest recorded breeding dates for red foxes in the United States are early December and the latest are in April [1]. It is not known whether red foxes in the wild are normally polygamous. However, it is common to see several males near a female during estrus [36]. Estrus last 1 to 6 days. Females may breed at 10 months of age. However, not all females breed their first year. Most males are capable of breeding their first year [5]. Gestation and litter size - Gestation usually lasts 51 to 53 days. Litters of four to seventeen have been reported, with a mean of five [5,13,36]. Generally only one litter is produced per year. Development of young - Newborn pups remain at the den for the first month of life. They first open their eyes at 9 days of age. Red fox parents may move the pups from one den to another as many as three times before they are 6 weeks old. Litters are sometimes split with half the litter residing in one den and half in another. Pups are weaned at 8 to 10 weeks. When pups are 10 weeks old they may travel short distances from the den without being accompanied by a parent. At about 12 weeks of age pups begin to explore their parents' home range independently or with a parent [5]. Dispersal - By mid-September or early October pups begin to disperse. Male red foxes usually disperse before females and move greater distances [5]. Most red foxes disperse from their parents' home range before their first birthday [36]. The mean distance dispersed by males in Iowa and Illinois was 18 miles (29 km) [23]. In Ontario, straight-line dispersal distances as great as 76 miles (122 km) were recorded, but most males dispersed a straight-line distance of about 19 miles (30 km) during the first 15 days after leaving the den. Females dispersed an average of 5 miles (8 km) in Ontario and 10 miles (16 km) in Iowa and Illinois [23,36]. Social organization - The red fox social unit is comprised of pups and either one male and one female or a group of one male and several females [21]. When a group contains several females they are generally kin. In much of North America, social groups are just pairs. Where groups include additional adult females, the largest groups occur in rural-suburban habitat and average more than three females. Only a minority of females in large groups rear pups. Nonbreeding females tend to be socially subordinate to breeding ones, and some act as helpers. Where more than one female breeds within a social group, communal denning and nursing are common [36]. Life span - Most red foxes in the wild live 3 or 4 years [1]. PREFERRED HABITAT : Red foxes can survive in a variety of habitats. They select areas of greatest diversity and use edges heavily [1,5,36]. Dense forests are usually avaoided. In rural areas they prefer diverse habitats consisting of intermixed cropland, rolling farmland, brush, pastureland, mixed hardwood stands, and edges of open areas that provide suitable hunting grounds. Red foxes may also inhabit suburban areas, particularly parks, golf courses, cemeteries, and large gardens [5]. Home range - The size of individual red fox home range varies. Home ranges are generally not more than 5 miles (8 km) in diameter. During the period of parturition and for a few weeks afterwards, adult red foxes usually remain within 0.5 mile (0.8 km) of the den. Ranges are largest during the winter [1]. Red fox home ranges tend to be elliptical [5]. Storm [32] found that one adult male had a home range 1.9 miles (3.1 km) long by 1.4 miles (2.2 km) wide. Schofield [27] followed tracks in the snow and estimated red fox home ranges to be 1 to 1.5 miles (1.6-2.4 km) in radius in Wisconsin. In Ontario red fox home ranges in farmland averaged 2,224 acres (900 ha) but ranged from 1,235 to 4,940 acres (500-2,000 ha) [36]. In the arctic, home ranges are as large as 8,400 acres (3,400 ha) [16]. Adult foxes may remain in the same home range for life [1]. COVER REQUIREMENTS : Dens - Red foxes may dig their own den; more often they use an abandoned woodchuck (Marmota spp.) or American badger (Taxidea taxus) burrow [1,5]. Dens are prepared in late winter at which time the female restricts her activities to the vicinity of the den site. There is a preference for loose soils on well-drained sites near or within vegetative cover. Most red fox dens were located on slopes in Iowa, on southerly facing slopes in woods in Wisconsin [25], in sandy soils near the edges of woods in New York, and on islands in Maryland marshes [1]. The same den may be used for many generations, with burrows being added each year. Most dens have at least two openings. Red fox dens with up to 19 entrances have been found in Alaska [5]. Foraging cover - Red foxes often hunt in open grassy areas, especially along streams [34]. Hiding and thermal cover - In agricultural areas, shelterbelts and fencerows are used for hiding and thermal cover as well as travel corridors [3]. FOOD HABITS : Red foxes are omnivorous. They eat a variety of animals and plant materials depending mainly on the availability of the food source. Small mammals, birds, fruits, and insects comprise the bulk of the diet [5]. Voles (Microtus spp.), mice (Muridae), woodchucks (Marmota monax) and several lagomorph species (eastern cottontails [Sylvilagus floridanus], snowshoe hares [Lepus americanus], and black-tailed jackrabbits [L. californicus]) are often preferred [36]. In New York and New England, meadow voles (Microtus pennsylvanicus) were the most commonly eaten prey item. Rabbits (Sylvilagus spp.) were also commonly eaten. Throughout most of the year in Ontario, meadow voles are the major prey, constituting as much as 50 percent of the red fox's diet [36]. Red foxes may also eat squirrels (Spermophilus spp.), young Virginia opossums (Didelphis virginiana), raccoons (Procyon lotor), skunks (Mustelidae), domestic cats (Felis catus), domestic dogs (Canis familiaris), weasels (Mustela spp.), mink (Mustela vison), common muskrats (Ondatra zibethicus), shrews (Soricidae), moles (Talpidae), common porcupines (Erethizon dorsatum), pocket gophers (Geomyidae), songbirds, crows (Corvus spp.), ring-necked pheasants (Phasianus colchicus), northern bobwhite (Colinus virginianus), grouse (Tetraoninae), waterfowl (Anseriformes), wild turkeys (Meleagris gallopavo), domestic chickens, American woodcocks (Scolopax minor), hawks (Accipitridae), owls (Strigiformes), bird eggs, turtles, and turtle eggs. Plant foods such as grasses, sedges (Carex spp.), nuts, berries, pears, apples, grapes, and corn, wheat, and many other grains are eaten by red foxes. Livestock and big game are sometimes eaten as carrion [1,5,30,36]. Seasonal variations are prominent in the diet of red foxes. The diet generally changes from mostly animal matter in the winter to insects and fruit in the summer and fall [5]. Red foxes show a strong preference for certain wild berries and fruits. During seasons of abundance, blueberries (Vaccinium spp.), raspberries (Rubus spp.) and black cherries (Prunus serotina) may constitute almost 100 percent of the diet [1]. PREDATORS : Gray wolves (Canis lupus) and lynx (Lynx lynx) sometimes kill red foxes [1,5]. Other large predators such as mountain lions (Felis concolor), bobcats (Lynx rufus), and coyotes (Canis latrans) probably also occasionally kill red foxes. Humans hunt and trap red foxes [1,5,36]. MANAGEMENT CONSIDERATIONS : Habitat management - To enhance or maintain habitat quality for red foxes, managers should maintain woodlots in agricultural areas with minimal grazing or disturbance; this ensures diversity of understory vegetation and foods. Establishment of fruit producing shrubs and trees should be encouraged. Shelterbelts and fencerows should be maintained to provide cover and travel corridors [3]. Timber harvest areas should have irregular shapes to maximize edge effect [5]. Diseases - Red foxes are particularly susceptible to rabies. Rabies may cause from 60 to 80 percent mortality in a population during an outbreak. Red foxes are also susceptible to canine distemper, parvovirus, toxoplasmosis, canine hepatitis, tularemia, leptospirosis, staphylococcal infections, encephalitis viruses, and mange [2,5,33,36]. Red foxes host a large number of parasites (hookworms and roundworms) typical of carnivores that feed on small prey [36]. Studies of the effects of red fox predation in the prairie pothole region of North America have indicated that although the consumption of mallards (Anas platyrhynchos) may not be high, the effect on the mallard population may be critical [7,26]. Red fox predation on mice and woodchucks has been beneficial to most agricultural areas. Red foxes may play a role in controlling population explosions of rodents and rabbits [36].


DIRECT FIRE EFFECTS ON ANIMALS : Red foxes are very mobile and probably escape most fires. There are no reports of direct red fox mortality due to fire [19]. HABITAT RELATED FIRE EFFECTS : Red foxes commonly inhabit areas with a high proportion of edge. Fire that creates a mosaic of burned and unburned areas is probably the most beneficial to red foxes. Periodic fire may help to maintain habitat for many prey species of red fox. Many small mammal populations increase rapidly in response to an increase in food availability subsequent to burning [14,19,22]. In Alaska red foxes should benefit during the first 10 to 20 years following fire due to the increase in northern red-backed voles (Clethrionomys rutilus) and meadow voles [38]. Fire often improves hare and rabbit forage quality and quantity for two or more growing seasons [19]. Wagle [37] reported that fire suppression in grasslands is detrimental to populations of small bird and mammal herbivores due to organic matter accumulation and reduced plant vigor. Many fruiting shrubs that are important late summer and fall foods of red foxes such as blackberries (Rubus spp.), blueberries, and raspberries, do not fruit the year of burning but produce the most fruit 2 to 4 years after fire pruning [14,19]. FIRE USE : Prescribed fire that favors small mammals by enhancing forage and fruit production would probably maximize the abundance of food for red foxes. Red foxes would probably benefit from prescribed fire that increases the proportion of edge and the complexity of the vegetation mosaic.


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