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Foxes: Facts & Pictures

Fox in snow

The red fox is the most common and widespread fox species in the world, found throughout most of the United States.
Credit: Kaido Karner | shutterstock

Foxes are omnivorous mammals that are light on their feet. They are often confused with other members of the Canidae family, which include jackals, wolves and dogs. They stand out from their relatives because of their long, thin legs, lithe frame, pointed nose and bushy tail.

These animals are very social and live flexible lives. They are found all over the world — in North America, Europe, Asia and North Africa — and call a wide range of terrains their home. They also eat a greatly varied diet.

Size

Most foxes are around the same size as medium-sized dogs. The fennec fox is the smallest living fox and doesn't get any bigger than a cat — about 9 inches (23 centimeters). Other species can grow to 34 inches (86 cm) from their head to their flanks. Their tails can add an additional 12 to 22 inches (30 to 56 cm) to their length. Since foxes are smaller mammals, they are also quite light. They can weight as little as 1.5 pounds (680 grams) and as much as 24 pounds (11 kilograms).

Habits

Foxes are very social creatures that live in packs. A group of foxes are called a leash, skulk or earth, according to the U.S. Department of Interior. They are also called packs. No matter what you call them, foxes like to stick near family members. A pack may include older siblings, pups, foxes of breeding age, mates and mothers.

These mammals like to hunt at night and are nocturnal.  This means that they sleep during the day. This can change, though, depending on where the fox pack lives. If they live in a place where they feel safe, a fox pack may hunt during the daytime, according to National Parks and Wildlife Service of Ireland.

Foxes have great eyesight. They can see just as well as a cat, in fact. Their eyes are much like a cat's thanks to their vertically slit pupils.

Foxes are also very fast. They can run up to 45 mph. That is almost as fast as the blackbuck antelope, one of the world's fastest animals.

Habitat

Foxes usually live in forested areas, though they are also found in mountains, grasslands and deserts. They make their homes by digging burrows in the ground. These burrows, also called dens, provide a cool area to sleep, a good location to store food and a safe place to have their pups. Burrows are dug-out tunnels that have rooms for the fox and its family to live in. The burrows also have several exits so that they can flee if a predator enters the burrow.

Offspring

Fox babies are called pups. During mating season, the female will cry out to let males know that she is ready. After mating, females will make a nest of leaves inside her burrow on which to have her pups. This special room in the burrow is called a nesting chamber.

The pregnant female only carries her pups for a gestation period of 53 days. There are usually two to seven pups in a litter. Pup care is a family affair. Both the mother and father share the care of pups. Even older siblings will help take care of their younger brother and sisters by bringing them food.

Diet

Foxes are omnivores. This means that they eat meat and vegetation.  A fox's diet can consist of small animals, such as lizards, voles, rats, mice, rabbits and hares. They round out their diet with birds, fruits and bugs, according to the Smithsonian. Foxes that live near the ocean eat fish and crabs, as well. If they have trouble finding food, a fox will have no problem raiding trash cans to find scraps.

pet-fox
A fox breeding program in Russia may help reveal the genetic roots of domestication of animals.

Classification/taxonomy

  • Kingdom: Animalia
  • Phylum: Chordata
  • Class: Mammalia
  • Order: Carnivora
  • Family: Canidae
  • Genera: Cerdocyon, Dusicyon, Lycalopex, Otocyon, Urocyon and Vulpes
  • Species: About two dozen species, including Urocyon cinereoargenteus(gray fox), Vulpes lagopus (Arctic fox), Lycalopex fulvipes (Darwin's fox), Otocyon megalotis(bat-eared fox), Vulpes zerda (fennec fox) and Vulpes vulpes (red fox).

Conservation status

Arctic foxes and fennec foxes are listed on the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources list of threatened species. Humans who poach them for their fur are a major threat to their existence.

Other facts

Foxes live very short lives in the wild. They often live only around three years, according to the University of Michigan Museum of Zoology. In captivity they can live much longer. Foxes in zoos, for example, can live 10 to 12 years.

Foxes are usually monogamous. This means that they have only one mate for life. They also take on nannies to help with their pups. The nannies are female foxes that are not breeders. Sometimes, one male fox will have several female mates. Females that have the same male mate are known to live in the same den together.

Foxes can identify each other's voices, just like humans. The red fox has 28 different sounds they use to communicate. These vocalizations include yips, growls and howls.

Male foxes are known as dogs, tods or reynards, and females are called vixens.

The small, slender body of a Red fox allows it to run nearly 30 miles per hour.

Fox hunting was a popular recreation sport in England since the 1500s. Hunting foxes without the aid of dogs is still practiced in the U.K. and several other countries including the United States.

In folklore, foxes are typically characterized as cunning creatures sometimes having magical powers.

Foxes can eat up to several pounds of food a day. What they don’t eat, they often bury under leaves or snow for later.

In the wild, fox cubs can fall prey to eagles. Coyotes, gray wolves, bears, mountain lions are all predators for adult foxes.

Foxes have excellent hearing. They can hear low-frequency sounds and rodents digging underground.

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