FOXES

fox

by Ryan Bayles, Michelle Cuddy, Skye Gordon, Paul McGee, Billy Doolin,
Leo Jeanes, Marlee MacDonald, Melissa MacKenzie, and Travis Wilkie

Physical Description

Foxes look like small slender dogs; they have long bodies with short legs with thick soft fur and long bushy tails. Depending on the species, foxes' furs vary in color from almost pure white to red. Foxes are the smallest members of the dog family, and usually weigh around 8 to 11 pounds. The fox is related to the wolf, jackal, and coyote; they are members of the coyote family.

The swift fox is one of the smallest foxes in the world, and is only found in Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and Alberta in Canada, and the states between North Dakota and Mexico in the United States. This fox is only about the size of a house cat, standing about 30 centimeters high and weighing about 2.7 kilograms. The swift fox gets its name because it can reach speeds of 40 km per hour. The swift fox is about two thirds the size of the red fox.

Habitat

The most common places where you would find foxes are in northern areas such as Canada. They like living in winter temperature zones, especially in meadows and coniferous forests. Foxes like to live in forests near rivers, and sometimes in mountains, hills and rolling meadows. Adult foxes have home ranges that vary in size depending on the quality of the habitat. In good areas, ranges may between 5 and 12 square kilometers; in poorer habitats, ranges are larger, between 20 and 50 square kilometers. During some parts of the year, adjacent ranges may overlap somewhat, but parts may be regularly defended. In other words, foxes are, at least partly, territorial. Ranges are occupied by an adult male and one or two adult females with their young.

Individual foxes and family groups have main earthen dens and often other emergency burrows in the home range. Their dens are usaully in sheltered places, such as in rocks and grasslands, and they have small burrows to prevent wolves from coming in. Dens of other animals, such as rabbits or marmots, are often used over a number of generations. Pathways throughout the home range connect the main den with other resting sites. The adult foxes change dens time to time to prevent attacks by coyotes and infections of parasites. Family foxes have about 30 dens in 600 acres of land. Some foxes build their dens in an oblong shape in loose soil.

Behavior

Top speed for the fox is about 48 kilometers per hour, and obstacles as high as 2 meters can be leapt. Foxes use their speed to catch the faster prey.

When hunting for food, foxes are usually solitary animals, and do not form packs like wolves, although some foxes hunt in a pack if the prey is small. Foxes communicate with one another by growls, yelps and short yapping barks.

In autumn following birth, the pups of the fox's litter will disperse to their own territories. Dispersal can be to areas as nearby as 10 kilometers and as far away as 400 kilometers. Foxes remain in their own home ranges for life.

Food Supply

A food supply is very important to the fox because it helps them survive in the wild. Foxes mostly eat insects, including beetles and termites.They also eat fruit, berries, grass, salmon, small rodents such as voles, mice, lemmings and hare, reptiles and food left over from humans. Foxes do scavenge food from humans, but only if they have nothing else to eat.

Catching prey and small game is the source of food for the fox. Rodents, lizards, and insects such as locusts are popular prey. Foxes may range several miles a night looking for food. A fox hunts like a cat by pouncing and stalking. It uses its keen sense of smell to find prey underground; the fox waits with patience and silence until the small prey comes out for something to eat. Then the fox quickly pounces on it and breaks its neck with its jaw (the 'neck-bite'), which kills the prey instantly. After catching its prey, the fox then carries it back to the fox shelter before it is eaten. A fox will cache any food it dosen't eat, or it will bury its food, and then dig it back up when it gets hungry.

Hunting is strictly an individual affair; no other animals are tolerated to join in. Food is not a laughing matter for foxes for they have been known to fight family members over it; food jealousy is common. Although they care for and tolerate those within their family unit, individual foxes want all the food for themselves.

Life Cycle and Young

The annual breeding period of the female fox lasts from 1 to 6 days. Ovulation is spontaneous, and does not require copulation to occur. The exact time of breeding varies across the broad geographic range of the species, December to January in the south, January to Febuary in the central regions, and February in the north. Males will fight during the breeding season. Males have full mating capability from November to March. Females may mate with a number of males, but will establish a partnership with one male. Copulation usually is completed in 15 to 20 minutes, and is often accompanied by a loud vocal clamor. Implantation of the fertilized egg occurs between 10 to 14 days after a successful mating. Just before, and for a time after giving birth, the female will remain around the den. The male partner will provide his mate with food, but doesn't go in the maternity den. Gestation is typically between 51 and 53 days, but can be as short as 49 days, and as long as 56 days. Litters may vary in size from 1 to 9 pups, with an average of 5 pups. The pups are born in a place called the "earth". A female fox gives birth to her young in late winter or early spring. A young fox is called a pup, but may also be called a cub. The foxes live in family groups until the young grow up. Both the vixen (female) and the dog (male) bring their pups food, and lead enemies away from them.

A newborn fox weighs about 4 ounces (110 grams), and has a short muzzle and closed eyes. Its eyes are open about 9 days after birth. Pups drink their mother's milk for about 5 weeks. Then they begin to eat some solid food, and leave their den for short periods of time. When the pups are older, they will start to wrestle with one another, and pounce on insects, leaves, sticks, and their parents' tails. The adults also bring live mice back to the den for their pups to pounce on. Later, the adults show the pups how to stalk prey. The pups start to live on their own in late summer, and may wander far from their place of birth. The parents may separate then or in early fall, and rejoin during the winter. The maximum lifespan known is 12 years which was spent in captivity. The average lifespan in the wild is 6 years.

Enemies and Endangerment

The fox is in danger of becoming extinct. In many regions of the world, the fox is being hunted for furs. Some kinds of foxes, especially the Arctic fox and the red fox have long, soft fur that is highly valued. People trap foxes for their fur, and also raise the animals on fur farms. The Arctic fox is a very valuable natural resource of the Canadian Arctic regions. Originally, the Inuit and Indians caught the Arctic fox by using snares, deadfalls, and pits, but now they trap the fox. The trap is placed in a shallow hole; bait in the form of frozen meat balls is placed over the trap. Arctic foxes are not suspicious and are easily trapped.

Foxes live together in family groups; they play together and cooperate when being hunted. If one of a pair of foxes is chased by an enemy, its mate will dash out of a hiding place and lead the pursuer astray. Enemies of the red fox are wolves, coyotes and bobcats. In desert lands, their enemies are wild dogs, large cats, hyenas and cougars. Other vicious animals will sometimes attack a weak or sick fox. All species of foxes are known for their cleverness in escaping their predators.

Foxes are curious and have little fear of people, so they are easily killed. In the 1800s, they were considered pests, so they were trapped, poisoned and hunted. Hundreds of foxes were destroyed accidentally during predator control programs aimed at removing wolves, coyotes, and ground squirrels from the prairies in the 1900s. Some people continue to mistake them for young coyotes and kill them. Habitat loss due to agricultural, industrial, and urban developments also reduced their numbers. Dens were ploughed over, and native grasses replaced with tall cereal crops that are unsuitable for foxes and for their food.

Most people hunt the fox for game because of its skill in trying to avoid capture. Fox hunting is a very popular sport in England, where they chase a fox for miles on horses using dogs to track the scent of the fox, which may double back on its tail or run into the water, making its scent difficult to follow. Many hunters want only the excitement of the chase, and they usually don't kill the fox.


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