Index of Species Information
WILDLIFE SPECIES: Vulpes vulpes
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: http://www.fs.fed.us/database/feis/ .
COMMON NAMES :
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  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) .
FEDERAL LEGAL STATUS :
Vulpes vulpes necator is Under Review for listing .
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.
WILDLIFE DISTRIBUTION AND OCCURRENCE
WILDLIFE SPECIES: Vulpes vulpes
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  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 .
The distribution of the ten subspecies of red fox is as follows :
V. v. abietorum - Occurs throughout western Canada
V. v. alascensis - Occurs in Alaska, and Yukon Territory, and the
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
FRES10 White-red-jack pine
FRES12 Longleaf-slash pine
FRES13 Loblolly-shortleaf pine
FRES21 Ponderosa pine
FRES22 Western white pine
FRES24 Hemlock-Sitka spruce
FRES26 Lodgepole pine
FRES28 Western hardwoods
FRES30 Desert shrub
FRES32 Texas savanna
FRES33 Southwestern shrubsteppe
FRES34 Chaparral-mountain shrub
FRES36 Mountain grasslands
FRES37 Mountain meadows
FRES38 Plains grasslands
FRES40 Desert grasslands
FRES41 Wet grasslands
FRES42 Annual grasslands
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 . In developed regions, red foxes are generally associated
with agricultural areas where woodlots are interspersed with cropland
and pastureland .
Schofield  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 . 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 .
BIOLOGICAL DATA AND HABITAT REQUIREMENTS
WILDLIFE SPECIES: Vulpes vulpes
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 . 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
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
. 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 .
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 .
Dispersal - By mid-September or early October pups begin to disperse.
Male red foxes usually disperse before females and move greater
distances . Most red foxes disperse from their parents' home range
before their first birthday . The mean distance dispersed by males
in Iowa and Illinois was 18 miles (29 km) . 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 . 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 .
Life span - Most red foxes in the wild live 3 or 4 years .
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 .
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 . Red fox home ranges tend to be
elliptical . Storm  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 
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) . In the arctic, home ranges are as
large as 8,400 acres (3,400 ha) . Adult foxes may remain in the
same home range for life .
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 , in sandy soils near
the edges of woods in New York, and on islands in Maryland marshes .
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 .
Foraging cover - Red foxes often hunt in open grassy areas, especially
along streams .
Hiding and thermal cover - In agricultural areas, shelterbelts and
fencerows are used for hiding and thermal cover as well as travel
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
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 . 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 .
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
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 . 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
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 . Timber harvest areas should
have irregular shapes to maximize edge effect .
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 .
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
FIRE EFFECTS AND USE
WILDLIFE SPECIES: Vulpes vulpes
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 .
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 . Fire
often improves hare and rabbit forage quality and quantity for two or
more growing seasons . Wagle  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.
FIRE REGIMES :
Find fire regime information for the plant communities in which this
species may occur by entering the species name in the FEIS home page under
"Find Fire Regimes".
WILDLIFE SPECIES: Vulpes vulpes
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