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Real Foxes

Real Foxes

Of course, huz Space Gypsies are real foxes, but we are a bit more evolved to those you have on Earth. This little fella sitting here is an Earth Red Fox. He is the type you're most likely to come across scampering across your planet. If you wish to know more about foxes, please read on.

Foxes

In Britain the red fox (vulpes vulpes) is one of the few species of mammal that is perhaps a more familiar sight today than for many decades. It is the largest of a select group of British animals that live successfully alongside us in the urban jungle to take advantage of the food and shelter to be found there. 

Red foxes are today the most widespread species of wild dog on the planet - found on every continent except Antarctica and in an amazing variety of habitats from salt-marsh to woodland, desert to tundra.

Identification

Adults are generally 60-80cm long with a tail of 30-50cm. The fur can vary from reddish-orange to black, but with paler underbelly fur. The tail is known as the 'brush', often with a white tip. Male foxes (the dog) are generally bigger than the females (the vixens). They have a very slender build and pointed muzzle.

Foxes can live up to eight years, however, they rarely reach this age especially in urban areas where road accidents are the main cause of death.

Diet

Foxes are opportunistic and will take food scraps, carrion, birds, frogs, insects, invertebrates (especially earthworms) and small mammals (including rabbits). They will also eat berries and occasionally plant roots.

Behaviour

Foxes hold territories, the size of which will depend on the habitat and the density of the local fox population. Territories can be as small as 0.2 spuare kilometres in urban areas or up to 40 square kilometres in more rural areas. Foxes live in a hole in the ground called an 'earth' that they dig in ditches, under tree roots and in rocky places, often converting rabbit warrens by enlarging them.

In urban areas their dens are often in quite different sites to those in a rural setting, under garden sheds or under industrial buildings, for example.

Foxes live in families, usually consisting of a dominant pair and their cubs, but where there is a plentiful supply of food, a family group may contain several adults.

Foxes tend to forage at dusk and during the night. They are very active above ground in December and January when courting takes place. During this time they are often seen during the day and after dusk as their activity increases. At this time foxes can be heard making harsh rasping barks, which are used to communicate at a distance, and a loud clicking noise is used during contact between individuals.

Usually only one vixen in a group produces cubs each year in the spring. The average number for a litter of cubs is 4-5, which are usually born in March to April. The vixen stays in the den with her cubs for the first two weeks after birth and receives food brought to her from her mate. The cubs grow rapidly and look like adult foxes at 8 weeks old.

During the summer the cubs begin to forage for themselves, but are still largely dependent on the adults for food until August. They leave their parents by Autumn. Occasionally young foxes will try to take over already established territories from weaker or older foxes.

Legal status

Up until recently, foxes, as a species, had little legal protection and in some areas were subject to much persecution including shooting and hunting for sport in an attempt to control numbers. They are however protected under The Wild Mammals (Protection) Act 1996 that protects all mammals from unnecessary cruelty and suffering. It is now illegal to hunt foxes with dogs in The U.K.

Frequently Asked Questions -

Abandoned fox cubs, what should I do?

If you see what looks like an abandoned fox cub it might be best to leave it alone unless it is obviously injured. If this is the case, it is advisable to contact a local animal rescue centre. By May many young cubs will begin exploring their surroundings and move further away from their earth. Often cubs that appear to be abandoned are not. Their mother is usually close by. The appearance of a human will cause her and the rest of her cubs to disappear out of sight. She will return once the danger has passed. The vixen may not attempt to rescue her cub at the time as it may endanger the rest of her cubs or herself, leaving her cubs motherless.

Is it true that urban foxes are a different species?

No. This is nothing more than an urban myth which states that foxes living in our towns have evolved into a new species. In reality, foxes often spread into urban areas from the countryside and vice versa.

Can my dog catch a disease from a fox?

It is possible, but unlikely. Dogs are vacinated against most potential diseases and thankfully our rabies control measures reduce this risk in Britain. There could be a risk of mange in urban areas where, as a result of the high fox population densities, mange is common, but there has to be actual contact between a fox and a dog for transmission of the mange-carrying mite to take place. This is unlikely to happen because a fox will not risk a confrontation with a dog and should be long gone before the dog picks up its scent. If, in the unlikely event that it does happen, mange can be cured (please contact your local vet for details).

Will they make a home under my shed?

In rural areas, foxes much rather excavate earth away from people in a secluded bank or wood. Those living in towns cannot afford to be so picky, and are often found living, or even breeding, in earths dug under people's sheds, especially in quiet, overgrown gardens.

Is my pet cat or rabbit in danger?

Foxes are very unlikely to kill cats, as they generally go for smaller prey unlikely to fight back. Cats can be extremely aggressive and are quite capable of seeing off a fox. Rabbits and other small animals such as guinea pigs, ducks and hens on the other hand are a potential meal that a fox will certainly size up. Make sure that these types of animals are completely secure.

Is it legal for gamekeepers to shoot foxes?

Unfortuantely, yes. Both gamekeepers and farmers are legally allowed to shoot foxes on their land. The reason given is usually to protect game or farm animals such as lambs and hens. Studies have shown that only 1-2% of lamb deaths occur as a result of fox predation. Shooting a fox has little long term benefit, as the empty territory will soon be taken over by another fox.

Will a fox attack me?

No. A fox is wary of attacking a cat, so it certainly won't attack a human, even a child. However, if it is cornered, or is itself attacked, it will defend itself like any other animal.

Contacts:

The Wildlife Information Service, BBOWT, The Lodge, 1 Armstrong Road, Littlemore, Oxon OX4 4XT. Tel (01865) 775476. Email: [email protected] .Website: www.bbowt.org.uk


This information was provided by The Berkshire, Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire Wildlife Trust.

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