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Did You Know?
A female fox is called a Vixen
A male fox is called a Dog Fox
A baby fox is called a Cub or Kit
A group of foxes is called a Skulk
The place where cubs are born is known as an earth or den.
Red Fox (Vulpes vulpes)
The fox is a medium sized canid and is the largest fox in its genus Vulpes. Characterised by the large bushy tail tipped often with a white splash. Although commonly known as the red fox, many colour variations exist.
The most common is rust red to a flame red. The back of the ears are black and the lower leg parts often known as the socks are often black. Often due to its hunting abilities and its elliptical eyes, it’s mistakenly believed to be part dog, part cat.
Information on Red Foxes and Calendar of Events
Much like its requirements for habitat in that they are very adaptable when it comes to diet. Small mammals, beetles, earthworms, bird’s garbage and carrion. The aspect of the fox’s diet that surprises many is their love for fruit. When blackberries are ripe on the bushes, foxes will go blackberry picking and during this season because of the fruit consumed their droppings are usually purple in colour.
Like any successful predator a fox will leave nothing to waste, if food is abundant the fox will cache its food (having a highly developed memory for its hoards) for a day when there could be a shortage. In light of this many think of the fox, especially when the fox and chicken coop scenario is brought up, that foxes kill for fun. Strictly not true a fox will kill all the chickens if it’s able and cache anything it can't eat for a later day.
The fox is also known for its cat like pounce on small rodents. On seeing this, one may ask why do they expend so much energy by pouncing when to run up to the rodent would be less like hard work. The answer is simple when a vole for instance is in danger from a fox they will leap into the air to avoid capture, the fox obviously counter acts this by coming down from above
Red Fox (Vulpes vulpes) Behaviour
The fox is a very social animal and is usually territorial. Depending on the size of the territory and food availability anything up to seven adults can form the family group. A strict hierarchy will be present where usually only the dominant animals will breed. The family will usually be made up by the dominant dog fox and dominant vixen and several female helpers from previous litters. A certain amount of cubs born in one year will disperse to find territories and mates of their own. Males tend to disperse further than females.
Foxes are usually active at dusk and dawn, but in quite areas can be just as active during the day as in the night. More daytime activity increases as the mating season approaches. Both the dog fox and the vixen will only have a short amount of time in which they will be able to mate, so the dog fox will mirror the very move of the vixen to ensure he will be there when the time is right. Although foxes mainly live above ground, the vixen in January will usually start preparing an earth in preparation for when she gives birth. The cubs are usually born in March and until they are ten -
Since the wide distribution of foxes no conservation measures are needed for the species as a whole. Several organisations exist to look after injured or sick individual foxes. The fox is blamed across the world for taking livestock and this will always bring the fox into conflict with man. Foxes are trapped in high numbers for their fur. They are also killed in enormous numbers during rabies control schemes. However following such control measures foxes usually rapidly recover their numbers and because of this the current approach involves using an oral vaccine. This has proven to have a very high success rate in many European countries.
January is usually the month of unrest within the fox family -
Since it’s the breeding season the dog fox will shadow the every move of the vixen, she is only receptive for a period of about 3 days. From the dog fox's point of view he must ensure he is there when she is ready. Several attempts to mount the vixen will be rebuffed, sometimes quite aggressively. However, when she is ready she flirts around the dog fox. Caution at this stage is thrown to the wind, and many people will observe the foxes in the process of mating. When the vixen is ready the dog fox will grasp her from behind with his front two legs and start to mate. It is said that at this point the dog fox’s penis is not totally erect until he has actually entered the vagina, when it becomes completely erect and the base of it begins to swell. Also, the vixen's vagina will constrict. This swelling and constriction will cause the pair to lock together, commonly called the 'tie'. When the dog fox ejaculates he attempts to dismount, but as they are still locked together he brings one of his back legs over the vixen’s back and there they stand, back to back, for the duration of the tie, possible for hours. Through instinct the vixen will start to prepare an earth prior to giving birth; in a town environment it’s likely the chosen place will be under a garden shed. In the countryside, disused rabbit warrens are common, as are badger setts.
Quite the opposite of January, February is usually a relatively stable month for the fox family. The dispersal season is over and the fights over who breeds with whom have now stopped. Whilst many of the litters born over the years disperse when old enough some of the foxes, usually the females, may be allowed to stay on within their parent’s territory. Although they will have given up their right to breed, some of the benefits outweigh this i.e. a secure territory, a regular supply of food and also knowledge of the area. The dominant vixen is usually the only vixen allowed to mate, but females from previous litters will play their part in actually looking after and rearing the young when they are born. They act as aunties looking after the cubs whilst the vixen is away hunting, and will also bring food back for the cubs. In February the vixen, during the day, will be denned down in the earth she has prepared.
The vixen will be confined to her earth at one point during this season because March is the peak cubbing season. If you are lucky enough to have witnessed the breeding, by counting down between 51-
It will usually be on a nice warm day in April when the cubs venture for the first time above ground. After a great play they will often slump down in a pile and go to sleep out in the open. Play is an important role in any youngster’s upbringing and it’s during this play that mini pecking orders will start already to be established. The vixen will still be kennelled down with them but now she will hunt for herself. The dog fox will usually lie close to the earth protecting the cubs from any unwanted attention from cats. In March and April telephone calls from concerned householders peak, thinking that foxes are looking to kill cats to feed to the cubs. What however, is actually happening, is the cats which are attracted to the earth because of the noises of the cubs, are seen off by either the dog fox or vixen, in some cases both. Left to their own devices, when cubs are very young cats will kill them as they would a bird.
To wean the cubs off her milk the vixen will lay away from them during the day, bringing small items of food back for them often. It is this behaviour that leads many to believe that cubs out on their own during the day, with no adult apparently around, must have been abandoned. To ensure this is not the case a good idea is to put down an egg about five feet from the earth. Cubs at this age will not be able to pick it up and move it, and the fox is really the only animal apart from badgers that will actually take the egg away. In short if the egg’s gone it means there's a fair chance an adult has visited the cubs.
June is possibly the best month of the year to observe fox cubs at play, and it’s usually in this month that the vixen will leave them in an area whilst she goes out hunting. This area, known as the play area, will also be where the vixen now starts bringing food to the cubs. It may also be to wean them from the earth, because later in the month this will be abandoned and the cubs, like the adults will lie above ground. Although still playing during the day, the cubs start to become more lethargic. Now completely weaned off their mother’s milk, it will be the food she supplies that the cubs are reliant upon.
The cubs are becoming more self sufficient, which may be due to the fact that the adults will bring back less food. Both dog fox and vixen will take the cubs out to known feeding sites, usually the cubs will be split e.g. 3 with the dog fox 2 with the vixen. How they learn anything one wonders, when still all of their time is taken up playing!
Looking more like adults now, the cubs will start their activities around the same time as the adults, most active between dusk and dawn. The latter half of the month gives a clue as to what they are all eating, adults included, as their droppings will be almost purple with the amount of blackberries picked. Fruit plays an important part in the fox’s natural diet. Cubs hunting for voles, mice etc. can be observed early in the morning perfecting the ‘mouse pounce’. Cubs, after an initial play in the play area, will usually depart in two's for a night’s foraging. At any point if the vixen or dog fox detects danger they will give out a sharp bark, which will send the cubs scurrying for cover. When in close proximity to the cubs the warning bark is more of a ruffled cough. So, for anyone who has sat watching cubs, only to see them all disappear when you have tried to muffle a cough will now know it was you who gave them the warning!
The fox cubs are now almost full-
More people see a fox for the first time in this month, suggesting maybe that it’s a fox in the process of dispersing. Many of the foxes born this year will die under the wheels of a car, or snared etc., for they are crossing unfamiliar terrain. As is the case in most months of the year, on warm wet nights the foxes will spend a lot of their time hunting earthworms.
Even this early the vixen will start to investigate earths in preparation for the New Year. Often she will select two to three earths and this, I feel, is done so when the new cubs are born if one earth is disturbed in any way she will move them onto another. Although a lot of aggressive encounters can be heard it will still be possible to observe the young foxes playing. Foxes will start to forage in quiet areas from 6.00pm onwards.
With the mating season approaching, foxes will now be actively defending their territories. The triple bark often followed by a scream can be heard frequently. It's this call that leads many to believe the foxes are killing cats. Often the police will also be called out in the belief that someone is being attacked. The territory borders are now showing increasing evidence of fox activity, and the musky smell of foxes is evident.
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