Portrait of a Predator

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Published on: Feb. 2, 2006

Last revision: Nov. 23, 2010

solitary hunter. It quietly stalks its prey and then pounces on it—behavior more familiar in cats than dogs. Up to a pound of meat is eaten at each feeding.

Red foxes also consume reptiles, fish, insects, earthworms, eggs, plant material, pet food, carrion, human garbage and other items when available. This flexibility of diet makes life in the city an easy transition.

COUNTRY FOX, CITY FOX

Forest edges, fields and cropland are some of the traditional habitats of the red fox. Urban areas, such as golf courses, parks and lawns offer similar amenities—with the additional benefit of fewer coyotes and bobcats. Foxes compete with these two predators for habitat and prey in the wild, and they may become their prey.

Dens are only used for rearing young, so the red fox is very mobile. It simply curls up in a convenient location to rest, tucking nose and feet under its tail in cooler weather.

The red fox population has declined in Missouri over the last three decades. However, as habitats are fragmented into smaller parcels and cities edge closer to natural areas, more foxes will probably head for town.

FAMILY TIME

Red foxes yap, bark, yell, yowl or screech throughout the year, but they use a particular pattern from January through February, when they search for mates. Females give a shrill squall, which is answered by the males with two or three short barks.

Though solitary throughout fall and early winter, the pair will live together while raising their young. They will take turns at hunting and protecting the pups.

The female modifies an existing den—from a woodchuck or other animal—for her own, or she builds anew. The site might be a sunny hillside, the edge of a forest or field, a rock crevice, or under an old building.

Den layout includes multiple entrances and a long burrow up to 75 feet, which contains one or more chambers. One of these will be grass-lined for the pups. Alternate, less elaborate dens are built nearby, in case the pups must be moved to avoid danger.

Gestation takes an average of 53 days, and a single annual litter, usually 4–7 pups, is born in March or April. The young are helpless and remain in the den until they are 4 or 5 weeks old. By 20 weeks of age, they can hunt for themselves but remain within a half-mile of the den site.

The pups disperse in the fall, traveling an average of 6–14 miles. They are capable of reproducing in the spring following their birth.

The red fox is a notoriously elusive species, but it is well-established here in Missouri. With careful management, it will continue to satisfy the curiosity of naturalists, provide plentiful sporting opportunities and fulfill a beneficial role in our natural communities.

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