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The red fox (Vulpes vulpes) is a small wild canid. It has a pointed muzzle, prominent ears and a long, bushy tail tipped in white. They appear yellowish-red from a distance. A closer look will reveal the white belly, throat and inner ears. 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 making up the colorful pelt cause them to appear larger than they actually are. The average adult weighs from 8 to 14 pounds.
In general, winter and spring foods are small mammals such as rabbits, ground squirrels, and mice as well as songbirds and larger insects. Summer diets lean heavily on berries, fruits and grasses, although a large supply of immature birds and mammals (such as mice and rabbits) are available. Carcasses of dead hogs, sheep and cattle are eaten when the opportunity is there. Small lambs, pigs, and poultry are preyed upon by red fox, but modern husbandry practices have reduced these losses. Fox take foods most readily available. In summary, 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.
Red fox are usually found in open, dry areas, but can often be seen in suburban neighborhoods where they take up residence in a nearby woodlot or under a barn or deck. Old fields, pastures, brushland, farmland, and other non-forested areas are preferred. They are abundant in some areas that are under intensive cultivation. They occur in all Indiana counties, but are most numerous in the northeastern section of the state.
Red fox 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 9 days old and are constantly attended by their mother until several weeks old. The male delivers food to his family during this period of confinement. The pups first venture outside the den under the guidance of parents when they are a month old. The next two months are spent with pups 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 do not require specialized habitat management due to their adaptability to several food supplies and their tolerance of human activity.
Prevention and Control
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.