The Red Fox (Vulpes vulpes) occur throughout Alaska except for most areas of Prince William Sound and Southeast. The widespread distribution of the red fox in North America reflects its ability to adapt to different environments as well as its ability to survive on a varied animal and vegetable diet. The red fox is an omnivore, though their preferred food seems to be small mammals such as mice, ground squirrels and hares they also eat birds, eggs, plants, carrion and berries. The red fox belongs to the same family (Canidae) as the dog, coyote, and wolf. It is distinctive for its coat of long lustrous fur, and its relatively large and bushy tail.
The name red fox can be confusing because this species is polytypic, meaning it has several possible color schemes, some of which may occur within a single litter of pups. The human animal is similar, in that our natural hair color can range from blond to black within not only the whole population but also within a single family. Common colors for the red fox are red, black, silver and cross. The most common color is a rich red-gold with black legs and feet. The black fox is black all over. The silver phase has a black coat with silver-tipped fur and was selectively bred by fur farmers during the heyday when fox-fur was abundantly used in womens apparel. The cross fox is brownish-yellow with a dark band across the shoulders and down the back and with a black muzzle. All the members of the red fox species, no matter their color, have a white tip on their tail.
The red fox is a holarctic animal, that is, it is distributed on all the circumpolar northern lands with suitable environments. Where their range overlaps with the arctic fox the red fox is dominant and has even been observed killing arctic fox. Their size can range from 3 to 4 feet in length, 16 to 18 inches at the shoulder and weigh 6 to 15 pounds or more.
The fox hunts by smell, sight, and sound as do most dogs. However, it also has many feline characteristics with its catlike whiskers, teeth and paws, as well as vertical-slit pupils and has even been referred to as the catlike canine.Their sense of smell is excellent, being able to smell hidden nests of young hares or eggs covered by long grass. A fox will wait patiently for the sound of a mouse moving along its covered path beneath the ground or in grass or snow and then pounce, or dig quickly to the source of the sound and locate the prey by its scent. It has been called sly, cunning and crafty and many names which imply a deceitful nature. However, the fox is intelligent and loyal to its mate and pups. It is likely because of its intelligence that has exasperated men that has earned the fox such a bad reputation.
A pair are thought to mate for life and occupy the same home range, which size depends on the available food supply. The pair may separate for periods during the winter, especially if the hunting is poor, but then will usually come together for breeding and denning in February and March. Normally, a den is dug into the side of a well- drained hill with one or more entrances, usually about ten inches in diameter. It is often situated on a south-facing slope with a clear space in front of it, where the kits can play while the vixen (female) watches over them. Gestation lasts 53 days and litters average around four to seven kits. The male will hunt for them until the kits open their eyes and begin to crawl, then, he will relieve the female while she goes hunting. As the cubs are being weaned, both parents will hunt for themselves and will bring back small game for the cubs to play with. This play results in the kits learning the smell of the game and eventually how to eat it. The cubs live in and around the den until they are about three months old, when the den is abandoned by the adults, and the young foxes become less dependent on their parents. Throughout the summer as the kits mature they remain with the parents and eventually learn to hunt. In late autumn the pups leave the parents and go their individual ways. The young foxes that survive the first winter will likely produce a litter of their own the following spring.
The foxs chief enemy is probably man. Other enemies are the larger dog-like carnivores (wolves, coyotes, dogs) and the larger cats such as lynx in the north. Some accounts of foxes being attacked by large birds of prey, such as eagles or owls, are recorded, but are highly unusual. Many places have offered rewards for killing various animals that in some way are considered harmful to man, and the red fox has been included among them. The effectiveness of control is doubtful and has not had much scientific justification. However, it is important to know the fox, like all warm-blooded animals including man, is susceptible to rabies. While naturally the red fox will shy away from man, the rabid fox shows no fear and should be dispatched and taken to the nearest veterinary for examination.
Hopefully, with our too-busy lives, you will sometime go out and waste time carefully observing the animals around you. The red fox is highly entertaining. The richness of viewing wildlife in its natural environment is one of the most inspirational benefits of living here in Alaska. It is easy to become intrigued by the animals with whom we share this planet.