Jeff Green | Apr 09, 2009
Back to HomeOutdoors in the Land O'lakes - April 9, 2009 The Crafty Red Foxby Lorraine Julien
The Red Fox has the widest range of any terrestrial carnivore – native to most of North America, almost all of the U.S., Europe and North Africa and almost all of Asia and Japan. As most people know, the Red Fox is a small, slim mammal with a pointy nose and pointed ears. Its beautiful fur is reddish or sandy in colour and it has a white throat and underbody. The legs have black paws with white socks.
Unlike many other carnivores, it’s not unusual to see a fox during daylight hours. Marlene Leeson of Plevna emailed that she and some of her neighbours see foxes on a regular basis and some seem almost tame. It’s nice to see wild animals up close but you just never know what diseases they may carry or if they may suddenly turn on you.
Because the fox has been known to carry rabies and distemper, humans and their pets should really avoid any contact. Both of these diseases are viral – rabies is transmitted by a bite which can then infect humans and pets; distemper, however, can’t be transmitted to humans and immunized pets. Viral diseases tend to be more prevalent in areas where there is overcrowding.
Though less well known, the most common disease affecting foxes is mange. Mange causes significant fox mortality across North America. It is caused by a mite and can be transmitted to humans and pets. Symptoms are an itchy red rash and some hair loss. Females may look as though they have this disease in early spring but their scruffy looking fur could have resulted from the fur they pull out to line their nests.
Red foxes are mainly carnivorous but enjoy a varied diet that includes mice, voles, rabbits, birds, eggs, reptiles, fish, insects, earthworms and various fruits, nuts and grasses. It’s interesting to note that foxes have very small stomachs for their size and only eat half as much food in relation to their body weight as wolves and dogs. When food is abundant, a fox stores excess food in a number of secret caches throughout its territory. Red foxes often survive the winter by feeding on the remains of animals killed by wolf packs. They usually hunt alone, using catlike stealth and staying hidden until the prey comes close; then they jump high in the air and pounce on their prey.
Predators include wolves, coyotes, bobcats, lynx and bears; cubs can be killed by fishers and great horned owls.
Though they have exceptional hearing and a fantastic sense of smell, Red foxes have poor eyesight and tend to be nearsighted. In fact, their eyes are similar to those of domestic cats - gold and yellow in colour with vertical-slit pupils. Although they can reach speeds of up to 72 km/h, average speed is usually about 45 km/h – still pretty impressive! The long bushy tail is used to provide balance for long jumps and quick manoeuvres when hunting or avoiding predators. The thickly furred tail also helps foxes survive cold winter nights when it is wrapped like a cozy blanket over their noses and feet.
Though usually silent, foxes can get quite vocal during the mating season in late January or early February. Competing males go nose to nose in screaming matches until one backs away. The winner stays with the vixen (female) until after the young are born in March or April and helps her raise them. Cubs stay in the den for about a month nourished by regurgitated meat. By fall, the family breaks up with the young males traveling an average of 75 kilometres away from their home range. Vixens stay closer to home.
Foxes have long been the bane of chicken farmers. These wily creatures are notorious for raiding chicken coops. I grew up on a small farm and I’ll always remember the nights my mom would sit by the barnyard fence with a .22 cal. rifle waiting for Mr. Fox to arrive. By this point, she had lost a number of chickens and had decided to fight back. As a curious child, the idea of catching this wily predator seemed exciting so I sat one moonlit evening with her. To my knowledge she never did catch the bandit. Thinking of my mother actually shooting anything is almost laughable – the fact is that my mother grew up in Montreal and lived in the city of London, England for many years – a real city girl. The .22 was only used to try to protect her precious hens. She certainly didn’t hunt and I don’t think she ever shot anything!