Portrait of a Predator

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Published on: Feb. 2, 2006

Last revision: Nov. 23, 2010

The red fox (Vulpes vulpes) is considered the most widely distributed carnivore in the world, and is found throughout Missouri. Readily identified by its golden-red coat, black “socks” and white-tipped tail, this sprightly member of the dog family rewards careful observers in both urban and rural locales with a glimpse into the wildness of our state.

An important furbearer and game species, the red fox is sought by trappers, predator callers and hunters. Farmers also benefit from the fox’s diet of crop-damaging species, such as rodents, rabbits and grasshoppers. However, few animals prey on the red fox. Known to sometimes pursue smaller domestic stock and game birds, and able to adapt to almost any habitat, it can become a nuisance.

Managing the size of Missouri’s red fox population helps magnify the positive role of this mid-sized predator, while minimizing its nuisance potential. The Department of Conservation monitors red fox populations closely in order to set hunting and trapping seasons, track outbreaks of disease, and develop control programs for communities and private landowners.


Not all red foxes are red. Members of this species may be red, white, silver (black frosted with white) or cross (reddish brown with a black band down the back and across the shoulders). The color “morph” that shows up depends on location and genetics. All share the distinctive white-tipped tail, and usually a patch of white under the chin.

Nearly all red foxes in Missouri have red coats, but cross foxes have occasionally been found. Males and females are colored similarly and young foxes are gray and brown.


Red foxes generally weigh between 8 and 15 pounds, with males slightly heavier than females. Their thick coats, especially in winter, can give the impression of greater size.

Home ranges are 50 to 1,500 acres, depending on habitat. Fox territories do not overlap and are defended aggressively.

Though red foxes may live 6 to 10 years in the wild, most have significantly shorter life spans. However, some individuals have lived as long as 15 years in captivity.


Primarily a carnivore, the red fox pursues rabbits, rodents and other small mammals, which helps regulate those populations. Excellent sight, hearing and sense of smell allow it to track the smallest burrowing prey. It will also hunt ground-nesting birds—including ducks, grouse and quail. Poultry and smaller livestock are occasionally taken.

Mainly nocturnal, but often active at dawn and dusk, the red fox is a

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