Foxes in your neighborhood? You might be surprised to learn red foxes are the most widespread land mammal, other than humans, on the planet. Living all over the world except in Antarctica, it is a wonder we do not see them more often.
Foxes are called a synanthropic species (wow, that is a big word). It simply means they benefit from landscapes altered by humans, like garbage dumps, yards and gardens.
So why do we rarely see them? Because they are mostly solitary animals except when rearing babies (called kits) and they are nocturnal coming out at night except on rare occasions.
Cool Facts About Red Foxes
As omnivores they eat anything. Fish, frogs, worms, even fruit but mostly they hunt small animals like rodents, rabbits and birds. In an urban setting, they will also eat garbage, birdseed, and anything else they can find.
And when it comes to mating, red foxes mate for life but do not live together. How strange! When it is time to mate, the male & female find each other and then stay together for the first few months raising the kits. Then it is off to separate lives until next year.
Most litters are 4-5 kits born once a year. They are born in a den made of sand or mud and the kits are blind and helpless until 3 weeks old.
How Does A Fox Find Its Prey?
And there is much to be learned from red foxes. Now, what could you possibly learn? How about their use of the earth’s magnetic field to hunt. Really!
If you have ever seen a red fox successfully pounce on a mouse, you might wonder if they are smelling it. Or maybe hearing it? Foxes use all their senses to hunt, especially their ears. Each ear can rotate 180 degrees in different directions so they can actually hear a mouse over 100 feet away.
But even cooler is they use the earth’s magnetic field to measure the depth and distance of the mouse. By aligning their bodies in a northeast direction (the same direction as the earth’s magnetic pull), they increase their success in catching prey from 18% to 74%. Wow. To learn more read our blog “A Foxy Way To Use Earth’s Magnetic Field”
How Do You Tell A Red From A Gray Fox?
Look closely and you will see their long, beautiful bushy tail. They use their tail for balance but also to keep them warm at night and to communicate with other animals.
And the tip of the tail is one way to tell a gray fox from a red fox. A gray fox has a black tip and a red fox has a white tip.
And what if you see a fox climbing a tree. Wait, they climb trees? Well, only gray foxes climb trees. Red foxes stay on the ground.
Now you know 2 great ways to tell the difference between the two species. You are becoming an expert!
The Biggest Threat to Foxes?
So does the red fox have any predators? Actually quite a few. Coyotes, bald eagles, bears, mountain lions and wolves all hunt them. The kits are especially vulnerable which is why they stay close to their den while they are young.
But the biggest predator is us, humans. We hunt red foxes for their fur, especially their tails (used in coats and as good luck charms). People also hunt them for sport such as fox hunting or because they are considered pests.
Why Are Foxes Important?
As foxes move through their habitat, they disperse seeds of the fruits and vegetables they have eaten. This allows plants to spread out and survive.
Plus they control small rodent populations, especially mice, rats & rabbits. And of course, they are really cute.
How Can We Help?
Spread the word on social media why red foxes are cool and why they are important to protect.
Support conservation organizations like Wildlands Network which is saving habitat for foxes.
Learn about the Sierra Nevada red fox which is critically endangered.
BBC Wonder of Animals: Foxes. Watch foxes hunting using the earth’s magnetic field.
The Secret Life of the Red Fox by Laurence Pringle (author) & Kate Garchinsky (illustrator). A children’s book about a year in the life of a red fox rated 5 stars by Amazon.
And check out Dale’s sculpture “Catching the Scent” with all proceeds donated to Wildlands Network.