Red Fox

Red Fox (Vulpes vulpes)

Red fox (Vulpes vulpes)

The red fox ( Vulpes vulpes) is the most widely distributed carnivore in the world. Although native red foxes existed in the boreal regions of northern North America at the time of European settlement, the red foxes in the United States today are probably descendants of European foxes released along the U.S. Coasts for sport hunting in the 1700s and 1800s. Woodlots interspersed with cropland are typically thought of as prime red fox habitat, but the majority of red foxes in Kansas inhabit the suburban fringes of towns and cities, which offer refuge from coyotes. Red foxes occur statewide, but are most common in eastern Kansas, where urban areas and woodlots are most abundant.

The red fox is identified by its long, bushy tail and characteristic color - orange to red upper parts, black ears and legs, and white underparts and tip of tail. Weighing 10-15 pounds, red foxes are seldom twice the size of a house cat, but their long fur makes them appear larger.

Red fox reproductive rates are highly variable, increasing with the level of exploitation or mortality of the population. In Kansas, the vixen, or female fox, gives birth to an average of five pups usually in April. The male initially provides food for the vixen and the pups, and the family group stays together until the pups disperse in the fall. There is typically little overlap between the home ranges of these family units, but one male will sometimes tend to several females.

The diverse diet of the red fox is similar to that of the coyote, consisting primarily of mice, voles, and cottontail rabbits. Red foxes will also prey on other small to medium sized mammals and ground- nesting birds, or scavenge deer and livestock. Seasonal food items primarily include fruits, vegetables, insects, and eggs. Most notorious for their depredations of domestic poultry, non-native red foxes, also pose a significant threat to native wildlife populations, which evolved without the presence of a similar predator. Red fox depredations have also been implicated for significantly reducing waterfowl survival and nesting success in the prairie pothole region of the Dakotas.

Given the red fox's dietary overlap with larger coyotes, it is no surprise that coyotes may competitively displace or even kill their smaller cousins. Roadkill may also be an important mortality factor for red foxes prevalent in urban areas, as is disease. Sarcoptic mange probably has the most significant impact on Kansas populations, but it is the red fox's susceptibility to the furious form of rabies that has led to their status as a pest in many parts of the world. However, red foxes have not been an important rabies vector in Kansas.

Because of the red fox's limited abundance in Kansas compared to other furbearers, foxes have little importance to our fur trade. About 500 red foxes have been harvested annually over the past few seasons, though double this were harvested several years in the mid-1990s. Like coyotes, red foxes are too wary to enter cage traps, and are most often captured in foothold traps - though they are considered one of the more difficult species to trap. Hunters account for less than one-third of the annual harvest.