“What the lion cannot manage to do, the fox can.”
– German proverb
Commonly referred to as the “catlike canid” due to physical and behavioral similarities with felids, the red fox is, in fact, a member of the canid family. Arguably the most adaptable of all carnivores, the red fox exhibits fascinating vocal displays, intense social interactions, and, in captivity, a propensity for mischief.
Small compared to a coyote or wolf, a fox only weighs between 6-12 pounds with an average height at the shoulders of 14-16 inches. They have comparatively longer and bushier tails than their canid relatives, reaching 22 inches in length and almost always tipped in white.
They are light, lithely built animals with normally black limbs and ears, a sharp pointed face, and yellow or amber eyes with a vertically slit pupil to accommodate their nocturnal habits.
Fur color can range from a deep orange or red to nearly black, tipped in silver. There are a few common variations, called “phases,” including the red phase, cross phase, and silver phase that is considered common within the species.
As opportunistic hunters and foragers, the red fox is likely the only carnivore found in the United States more adaptable than the coyote. A solitary hunter, the red fox usually searches alone for small prey such as mice and other rodents. They will forage berries and vegetables as well as feeding on carrion. The stereotype concerning the fox and domesticated animals such as chickens and cats has been found to be largely falsified. Research has shown that the red fox is not as likely to take on larger fowl that is equipped with highly developed territorial defense behaviors.
Territories range anywhere from 25-5000 acres. Due to adaptability, they can survive in just about every habitat and climate available.
The red fox has an extensive vocal vocabulary. With over 28 recognized specific vocalizations, they are considered the most vocal of the canids. They screech, bark, yip, whine, scream, and much more. They also communicate through body language and facial expressions; however, the majority are accompanied with a vocal display.
Adaptability is most easily recognized among red foxes and their breeding behaviors. Unlike the coyotes and wolves, who tend to exhibit fairly stereotyped breeding behaviors, the red fox may choose to mate monogamously, or depending on food availability and circumstance, the male may attend several females. Communal denning has been frequently observed with red foxes which is a behavior not seen in coyotes. Furthermore, several females may stay together in one den to help care for next season’s young while the males disperse.
While members of the family Canidae, the red fox exhibits many cat like behaviors, which lead many to confusion about their taxonomic relationship to Felids and/or Canids. The Red fox exhibits nocturnal habits( vertically slit pupils like most cats), hunts with body slunk low to the ground similar in habit to most cat species, and enjoys climbing and obstacles like many cat species. While coyotes are fairly proficient climbers, a fox is able to climb with the grace and ease of most cats due to their semi retractable claws(also something unseen with coyotes and wolves).