Vulpes vulpesred fox

Geographic Range

Red foxes are found throughout much of the northern hemisphere from the Arctic circle to Central America, the steppes of central Asia, and northern Africa. This species has the widest distribution of any canid. Red foxes have also been introduced to Australia and the Falkland Islands. (MacDonald and Reynolds, 2005)


Red foxes utilize a wide range of habitats including forest, tundra, prairie, desert, mountains, farmlands, and urban areas. They prefer mixed vegetation communities, such as edge habitats and mixed scrub and woodland. They are found from sea level to 4500 meters elevation. (MacDonald and Reynolds, 2005)

  • Range elevation
    0 to 4500 m
    0.00 to 14763.78 ft

Physical Description

Coloration of red foxes ranges from pale yellowish red to deep reddish brown on the upper parts and white, ashy or slaty on the underside. The lower part of the legs is usually black and the tail usually has a white or black tip. Two color variants commonly occur. Cross foxes have reddish brown fur with a black stripe down the back and another across the shoulders. Silver foxes range from strong silver to nearly black and are the most prized by furriers. These variants are about 25% and 10% of red fox individuals, respectively. Red foxes, like many other canid species, have tail glands. In Vulpes vulpes this gland is located 75 mm above the root of the tail on its upper surface and lies within the dermis and subcutaneous tissue. The eyes of mature animals are yellow. The nose is dark brown or black. The dental formula is 3/3 1/1 4/4 2/3. The tooth row is more than half the length of the skull. The premolars are simple and pointed, with the exception of upper fourth premolars, the carnassials. Molar structure emphasizes crushing. The manus has 5 claws and the pes 4 claws. The first digit, or dew claw, is rudimentary but clawed and does not contact the ground. (MacDonald and Reynolds, 2005)

Red foxes are the largest of the Vulpes species. Head and body length ranges from 455 to 900 mm, tail length from 300 to 555 mm, and weight from 3 to 14 kg. Males are slightly larger than females. Populations in southern deserts and in North America are smaller than European populations. Body mass and length among populations also varies with latitude (being larger in the north, according to Bergmann's rule). (MacDonald and Reynolds, 2005)

  • Sexual Dimorphism
  • male larger
  • Range mass
    3 to 14 kg
    6.61 to 30.84 lb
  • Range length
    455 to 900 mm
    17.91 to 35.43 in
  • Average basal metabolic rate
    13.731 W


Red fox mating behavior varies substantially. Often males and females are monogamous, but males with multiple female mates are also know, as are male/female pairs that use non-breeding female helpers in raising their young. Females mated to the same male fox may share a den. Red fox groups always have only one breeding male, but that male may also seek mating outside of the group. (MacDonald and Reynolds, 2005)

The annual estrous period of female red foxes last from 1 to 6 days. Ovulation is spontaneous and does not require copulation to occur. The exact time of estrous and breeding varies across the broad geographic range of the species: December-January in the south, January-February in the central regions, and February-April in the north. Males will fight during the breeding season. Males have a cycle of fecundity, with full spermatogenesis only occurring from November to March. Females may mate with a number of males but will establish a partnership with only one male. Copulation usually lasts 15 or 20 minutes and is often accompanied by a vocal clamor. Implantation of the fertilized egg occurs between 10 and 14 days after a successful mating. Just before and for a time after giving birth the female remains in or around the den. The male partner will provision his mate with food but does not go into the maternity den. Gestation is typically between 51 and 53 days but can be as short as 49 days or as long as 56 days. Litters vary in size from 1 to 13 pups with an average of 5. Birth weight is between 50 and 150 g. The pups are born blind but open their eyes 9 to 14 days after birth. Pups leave the den 4 or 5 weeks after birth and are fully weaned by 8 to 10 weeks. Mother and pups remain together until the autumn after the birth. Sexual maturity is reached by 10 months.

  • Breeding interval
    Red foxes breed once yearly.
  • Breeding season
    Breeding season varies from region to region but usually begins in December or January in the south, January to February in the central regions, and February to April in the north.
  • Range number of offspring
    1 to 9
  • Average number of offspring
  • Average number of offspring
  • Range gestation period
    49 to 55 days
  • Range weaning age
    56 to 70 days
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
    10.0 months
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
    Sex: female
    304 days
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male)
    10.0 months
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male)
    Sex: male
    304 days

Red fox males and females, and sometimes their older offspring, cooperate to care for the pups. Young remain in the den for 4 to 5 weeks, where they are cared for and nursed by their mother. They are nursed for 56 to 70 days and are provided with solid food by their parents and older siblings. The young remain with their parents at least until the fall of the year they were born in and will sometimes remain longer, especially females.

  • Parental Investment
  • altricial
  • pre-fertilization
    • provisioning
    • protecting
      • female
  • pre-hatching/birth
    • provisioning
      • female
    • protecting
      • female
  • pre-weaning/fledging
    • provisioning
      • male
      • female
    • protecting
      • male
      • female
  • pre-independence
    • provisioning
      • male
      • female
    • protecting
      • male
      • female
  • post-independence association with parents
  • extended period of juvenile learning


Red foxes have been known to live 10 to 12 years in captivity but live on average 3 years in the wild.


Red foxes are solitary animals and do not form packs like wolves. During some parts of the year adjacent ranges may overlap somewhat, but parts may be regularly defended. In other words, Vulpes vulpes is at least partly territorial. Ranges are occupied by an adult male and one or two adult females with their associated young. Individuals and family groups have main earthen dens and often other emergency burrows in the home range. Dens of other animals, such as rabbits or marmots, are often taken over by foxes. Larger dens may be dug and used during the winter and during birth and rearing of the young. The same den is often used over a number of generations. Pathways throughout the home range connect the main den with other resting sites, favored hunting grounds and food storage areas. Red foxes are terrestrial and either nocturnal or crepuscular. Top speed is about 48 km/h and obstacles as high as 2 m can be lept. In the autumn following birth, the pups of the litter will disperse to their own territories. Dispersal can be to areas as nearby as 10 km and as far away as almost 400 km. Animals remain in the same home range for life.

  • Range territory size
    5 to 12 km^2

Home Range

Individual adults have home ranges that vary in size depending on the quality of the habitat. In good areas ranges may be between 5 and 12 square kilometers; in poorer habitats ranges are larger, between 20 and 50 square kilometers.

Communication and Perception

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. There have been 28 different kinds of vocalizations described in red foxes and individuals have voices that can be distinguished. Vocalizations are used to communicate with foxes that are both nearby and very fary away. Red foxes have excellent senses of vision, smell, and touch. (MacDonald and Reynolds, 2005)

Food Habits

Red foxes are essentially omnivores. They mostly eat rodents, eastern cottontail rabbits, insects, and fruit. They will also eat carrion. Red foxes also store food and are very good at relocating these caches. Red foxes have a characteristic manner of hunting mice. 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 0.5 and 1 kg of food each day.

  • Animal Foods
  • birds
  • mammals
  • reptiles
  • carrion
  • insects
  • terrestrial non-insect arthropods
  • Plant Foods
  • fruit


Most red foxes that are taken by natural predators are young pups. Pups are kept in and near a den and protected by their family to avoid this. Adult red foxes may also be attacked by coyotes, wolves, or other predators, but this is rarely in order to eat them. The most significant predators on red foxes are humans, who hunt foxes for their fur and kill them in large numbers as pests.

Ecosystem Roles

Red foxes help to control populations of their prey animals, such as rodents and rabbits. They also may disperse seeds by eating fruit.

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

Red foxes are important fur bearers and more are raised on farms than any other wild fur bearing mammal. Red foxes also help to control populations of small rodents and rabbits and may disperse seeds. (MacDonald and Reynolds, 2005)

  • Positive Impacts
  • body parts are source of valuable material
  • controls pest population

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

Red foxes are considered by many to be threats to poultry. In general, foxes hunt their natural prey, but individual foxes may learn to target domestic birds if they are not adequately protected. Foxes are known vectors for rabies and can transmit the disease to humans and other animals.

Conservation Status

Three subspecies are listed in CITES appendix III. Overall, red fox populations are stable and they have expanded their range in response to human changes in habitats. (MacDonald and Reynolds, 2005)


Tanya Dewey (editor), Animal Diversity Web.

David L. Fox (author), University of Michigan-Ann Arbor.



Living in Australia, New Zealand, Tasmania, New Guinea and associated islands.

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living in the Nearctic biogeographic province, the northern part of the New World. This includes Greenland, the Canadian Arctic islands, and all of the North American as far south as the highlands of central Mexico.

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living in the southern part of the New World. In other words, Central and South America.

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living in the northern part of the Old World. In otherwords, Europe and Asia and northern Africa.

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uses sound to communicate


living in landscapes dominated by human agriculture.


young are born in a relatively underdeveloped state; they are unable to feed or care for themselves or locomote independently for a period of time after birth/hatching. In birds, naked and helpless after hatching.

bilateral symmetry

having body symmetry such that the animal can be divided in one plane into two mirror-image halves. Animals with bilateral symmetry have dorsal and ventral sides, as well as anterior and posterior ends. Synapomorphy of the Bilateria.


flesh of dead animals.

causes or carries domestic animal disease

either directly causes, or indirectly transmits, a disease to a domestic animal


Found in coastal areas between 30 and 40 degrees latitude, in areas with a Mediterranean climate. Vegetation is dominated by stands of dense, spiny shrubs with tough (hard or waxy) evergreen leaves. May be maintained by periodic fire. In South America it includes the scrub ecotone between forest and paramo.


uses smells or other chemicals to communicate

cooperative breeder

helpers provide assistance in raising young that are not their own


active at dawn and dusk

desert or dunes

in deserts low (less than 30 cm per year) and unpredictable rainfall results in landscapes dominated by plants and animals adapted to aridity. Vegetation is typically sparse, though spectacular blooms may occur following rain. Deserts can be cold or warm and daily temperates typically fluctuate. In dune areas vegetation is also sparse and conditions are dry. This is because sand does not hold water well so little is available to plants. In dunes near seas and oceans this is compounded by the influence of salt in the air and soil. Salt limits the ability of plants to take up water through their roots.


animals that use metabolically generated heat to regulate body temperature independently of ambient temperature. Endothermy is a synapomorphy of the Mammalia, although it may have arisen in a (now extinct) synapsid ancestor; the fossil record does not distinguish these possibilities. Convergent in birds.


union of egg and spermatozoan


forest biomes are dominated by trees, otherwise forest biomes can vary widely in amount of precipitation and seasonality.


a distribution that more or less circles the Arctic, so occurring in both the Nearctic and Palearctic biogeographic regions.

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Found in northern North America and northern Europe or Asia.


referring to animal species that have been transported to and established populations in regions outside of their natural range, usually through human action.


offspring are produced in more than one group (litters, clutches, etc.) and across multiple seasons (or other periods hospitable to reproduction). Iteroparous animals must, by definition, survive over multiple seasons (or periodic condition changes).


Having one mate at a time.


having the capacity to move from one place to another.


This terrestrial biome includes summits of high mountains, either without vegetation or covered by low, tundra-like vegetation.

native range

the area in which the animal is naturally found, the region in which it is endemic.


active during the night


an animal that mainly eats all kinds of things, including plants and animals


having more than one female as a mate at one time


Referring to something living or located adjacent to a waterbody (usually, but not always, a river or stream).

scent marks

communicates by producing scents from special gland(s) and placing them on a surface whether others can smell or taste them

scrub forest

scrub forests develop in areas that experience dry seasons.

seasonal breeding

breeding is confined to a particular season


remains in the same area


reproduction that includes combining the genetic contribution of two individuals, a male and a female


associates with others of its species; forms social groups.


lives alone

stores or caches food

places a food item in a special place to be eaten later. Also called "hoarding"


living in residential areas on the outskirts of large cities or towns.


uses touch to communicate


that region of the Earth between 23.5 degrees North and 60 degrees North (between the Tropic of Cancer and the Arctic Circle) and between 23.5 degrees South and 60 degrees South (between the Tropic of Capricorn and the Antarctic Circle).


Living on the ground.


defends an area within the home range, occupied by a single animals or group of animals of the same species and held through overt defense, display, or advertisement

tropical savanna and grassland

A terrestrial biome. Savannas are grasslands with scattered individual trees that do not form a closed canopy. Extensive savannas are found in parts of subtropical and tropical Africa and South America, and in Australia.


A grassland with scattered trees or scattered clumps of trees, a type of community intermediate between grassland and forest. See also Tropical savanna and grassland biome.

temperate grassland

A terrestrial biome found in temperate latitudes (>23.5° N or S latitude). Vegetation is made up mostly of grasses, the height and species diversity of which depend largely on the amount of moisture available. Fire and grazing are important in the long-term maintenance of grasslands.


living in cities and large towns, landscapes dominated by human structures and activity.


uses sight to communicate


reproduction in which fertilization and development take place within the female body and the developing embryo derives nourishment from the female.


Lloyd, H. G. 1981. The Red Fox. B. T. Batsford, Ltd., London.

Nowak, R. M. 1991. Walker's Mammals of the World. The Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, MD.

MacDonald, D., J. Reynolds. 2005. "Red fox (Vulpes vulpes)" (On-line). IUCN Canid Specialist Group. Accessed September 27, 2007 at