What does the fox say? Vulpes vulpes


and August 10, 2013

Not too long ago, I was playing golf on my local course when a beautiful small red fox (Vulpes vulpes), wandered onto the course about halfway down the fairway. We received notices from the neighborhood association warning residents not to leave small dogs or cats outside because foxes were living in the woods nearby, but this was the first one I’d seen in the area. The scientist in me said I had to learn more about this animal.

There are about 25 different species of foxes worldwide. In the U.S., there’s a debate about the species present. Depending on whom you talk to, there are four or six species and several subspecies here. Of this group, four species/subspecies are listed as endangered and protected by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service:

  • San Joaquin Kit fox, V. macrotis mutica;
  • San Miguel Island fox, Urocyon littoralis littoralis;
  • Santa Catalina Island fox, U. littoralis catalinae; and
  • Santa Cruz Island fox, U. littoralis santacruzae.

The U.S. species are:

  • Red fox, V. vulpes;
  • Gray fox, U. cinereoargenteus;
  • Arctic fox, Alopex lagopus;
  • Swift fox, V. velox and
  • Kit fox, V. macrotis.

The red fox, the most common throughout the U.S., has adapted to most areas within the range it lives in, but finds it ideal to have open area with moderate cover in which to hide. On average, the red fox weighs about eight to 15 lbs., and they look like dogs. Opportunistic feeders, they’ll take prey when they find it, eating some and burying the uneaten prey at times for later. Their preferred diet includes rabbits, bird eggs, small rodents, insects and fruits. They prefer freshly killed food, but all fox species will eat carrion. Excellent at stalking their prey, their keen senses of sight, hearing and smell help them find food with relative ease. Once discovered, the fox will skillfully stalk the intended victim and suddenly pounce for the kill.

Like mosquitoes, they’re crepuscular (twilight-active) animals, preferring to be active in the early morning or evening. But they can be active during the daytime, especially when conditions are overcast. It’s not common to find groups of them living together because they’re solitary animals. The exception is mating season, which can last from winter through the first of summer when the male, female and young will live together. When mating, red foxes will dig a den in the ground or use an abandoned den of other large burrowing animals. Several generations of a family might reuse a den if it remains in good condition. A mated pair of red foxes will produce four to nine pups annually. The potential damage from these animals normally is related to their food preferences. Economic loss can occur to poultry and other small animal farms, as well as domestic pets.

In the U.S., foxes are listed as fur-bearing or game animals. In most cases, they can be controlled to protect personal property, but always check with the local state wildlife agency before taking any action against them. pmp

You can reach Meek, international technical and training director for Orkin, at fmeek@rollins.com.


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