The red fox (Vulpes vulpes) is a solitary animal. Home ranges are occupied by one male and two females. Red foxes are common throughout Indiana with a larger population in the northeastern portion of the state. It is a small canine species that adapts well to human environments.
- The red fox is red to yellow with a white underside, throat and inner ears. The lower legs are generally black.
- It has a pointed muzzle, prominent ears and a long, bushy tail tipped in white.
- Other color phases occur, but they are not common. These variations are silver (black fur with white hairs sprinkled among the black), cross (a portion of the fur is black and a portion of the pelt is red, and the black fur runs across the shoulders and along the back forming a cross when seen from above), and black (all fur is black; this is also known as the melanistic phase).
- The long guard hairs of their pelt cause them to appear larger than they are.
- The average adult weighs 8 to 14 pounds, but can range from 6.5 to 30 lbs.
- Males are larger than females.
- Foxes can run up to 30 mph.
DISTRIBUTION AND ABUNDANCE
Red foxes are usually found in open, dry areas. Old fields, pastures, brush land, farmland, and other non-forested areas are preferred. They adapt well to human environments including agricultural lands and urban areas. Red foxes prefer a mix of habitat such as habitat edges with mixed scrub and woodlands. They occur in all Indiana counties but are most numerous in northeastern section of the state.
Red foxes seldom use dens except for rearing young. A search for a proper nursery begins in December when the pair inspects burrows and previous fox dens. The den selected may be located in the open or in woods. It is well-drained and usually has at least two entrances. One litter is born each year in March or April, 51 days after mating. Litters may range from one to 12, but five or six is the usual number.
Newborn foxes are blind until nine days old and are constantly attended by the female until several weeks old. The male delivers food to his family during this period. The pups first leave the den with their parents when they are a month old. The next two months are spent with parents learning to survive on their own. The family group disbands in late summer, living separately until the life cycle is resumed in December.
Red foxes are omnivores.
Winter and spring diet of red foxes:
- Cottontail rabbits.
- Ground squirrels.
- Large insects.
Summer diet of red foxes:
- Berries and fruits.
- Carcasses of dead hogs, sheep and cattle are eaten when possible.
- Small lambs, pigs and poultry are preyed upon by red foxes, but modern husbandry practices have reduced these losses.
More on red fox food habits:
- Foxes take foods most readily available.
- Prey populations (rabbit, quail, mice, etc.) fluctuate from year to year regardless of the number of fox present.
- Reduction of foxes has not resulted in measurable increases in small game populations.
- Where many kinds of foods are available in quantity, the proportions in the annual diet are about as follows: mammals (largely rabbits and mice), 45 percent; birds, 15 percent; insects, 20 percent; and vegetable matter (largely fleshy fruits), 20 percent.
MANAGEMENT AND CONTROL
Red foxes do not require specialized habitat management due to their adaptability and tolerance of human activity. They are protected from hunting and trapping when the young are born and learning to survive. They are recognized as an important component of Indiana's wildlife community due to their effectiveness as predators in controlling small mammals, and they are an important animal in Indiana's fur harvest.
Both hunting and trapping are allowed for red foxes. Rules and regulations can be found in the Hunting and Trapping Guide.
Although red foxes are suspicious creatures, a well-constructed dirt hole set often leads to their downfall. If care is taken to initiate the burial site of a cache of food, and if steps are taken to eliminate the telltale scent of man or trap, this set results in an ample stack of red fox pelts. There is an art to consistent success in fox trapping, and there are many Hoosiers who have learned these skills.
Trapping is an effective fox population control method.
How to prevent and control fox problems
Construct net wire fences with openings of 3 inches or less to exclude red foxes from an area. Bury the bottom of the fence 1 to 2 feet with an apron of net wire extending at least 12 inches outward from the bottom. A top or roof of net wire may also be needed to keep some foxes out of a garden or other small area. A 3-wire electric fence with wires spaced 6 inches, 12 inches, and 18 inches above the ground can help repel foxes. Combination fences with net and electric wires can also be effective.
Flashing lights, such as a strobe light, can provide temporary protection in a small area or near livestock or poultry enclosures. A combination of lights and frightening devices such as radios and timed tape recordings are likely to provide better protection.
Resident landowners and tenants can live-trap a red fox that is causing damage on their own property without a permit from the DNR. The fox must be euthanized or released within the county of capture on property in which you have permission. In order to prevent the spread of disease, the DNR encourages homeowners to safely and humanely euthanize the foxes, if possible. Legal foot-hold traps are more effective than a live cage trap when trapping adult foxes. If you do not want to trap the fox yourself, contact a licensed nuisance wild animal control operator.
Fox depredation is most common during the spring when the adults are raising their young. Damage can be reduced or eliminated by locating and removing the young foxes from the den (usually under a shed or barn). Once the foxes are removed from a den, be sure to cover the entrance to prevent it from being used again. Foxes have been known to return to the same area to raise their young each year.