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Red foxes are members of the dog family (Canidae). They are easily recognized by their reddish coat, white-tipped tail and black “stockings”, although the species does have many color variations. The outside of the ears may be black-tipped, while the inside is usually white. Several color phases can occur in one litter. Red foxes displaying a distinct color patter are referred by the name of that phase (i.e. red, cross, silver, black), with red being the most common color phase.
Red foxes are solitary and do not form packs like wolves. Ranges are occupied by an adult male and one or two adult females with their associated young. Individual adults have home ranges that vary in size depending on the quality of the habitat. In good areas, ranges may be between two and five square miles. In poor quality habitat with lower food resources, ranges are larger between eight and nineteen square miles. Red foxes are considered nocturnal or crepuscular (active at dawn and dusk). Top speed is about 30 miles per hour and obstacles as high as six feet can be leapt. Red foxes use a variety of vocalizations to communicate among themselves. They also use facial expressions and scent marking extensively. Scent marking is through urine, feces, anal sac secretions, the supracaudal gland, and glands around the lips, jaw, and the pads of the feet. Red foxes have excellent senses of vision, smell, and touch.
This omnivore may eat muskrats, squirrels, hares, birds, eggs, insects, vegetation and carrion. Despite this variety, voles seem to be its preferred food. Foxes cache excess food when the hunting is good. Red foxes have a characteristic manner of hunting small rodents. The fox stands motionless, listening and watching intently for a mouse it has detected. It then leaps high and brings the forelimbs straight down forcibly to pin the mouse to the ground. They eat between one to two pounds of food each day.
Red foxes breed during February and March. The den is a hole in the earth, 15 to 20 feet long, sometimes with several entrances. They may dig their own dens, but most often enlarge the home sites of small burrowing animals, such as marmots. Within the den is a grass-lined nest where well-furred, but blind, babies, called kits, are born after a gestation or 51-54 days. A litter of four kits is common, though ten is not a rarity. At birth, kits weigh 4 ounces. Normally one littler is born each year. Both parents care for the young. By three months, they are learning to hunt and in the fall the family unit breaks up. Dispersal can be to areas as nearby as six miles and as far away as almost 250 miles. Animals remain in the same home range for life.
Overall, red fox populations are stable and they have expanded their range in response to human changes in habitats. They are an adaptable species and can become in danger on an individual basis due to contact with humans and their food. As foxes are around humans and food more in urban areas, they lose their natural cautious attitude and can become aggressive over food. Even an accidental snap or bite from a fox can pose health risks for humans. Many foxes come to the zoo after being given human food, either intentionally or accidentally. To keep foxes wild, we must remove our food resources from their reach and give them space.