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   Class : (Red) Fox

    Latin name : Vulpes Vulpes

   Family : Dogs (canidae), Mammals, Predators (carnivoor).

   Looks : Length : head-bottom = 58 to 85 cm; tail = 29 to 48 cm; ears = 7 to 11 cm; weight = 4 to 10 kg (average of 6 kg). The fur is of a reddish brown colour, excepting the belly; chest, bottom head, inside legs and tailtip are of a greyish white to white colour; the ears, the feet and a pinch on the snout are black. The big sharp ears, the long tail and the pointed snout are typical of the fox. Differences between dog fox and vixen in weight (dog fox about 15% heavier) and in length (vixen somewhat smaller). Dog foxes are slightly whiskered, a characteristic that vixen doesn't have, although this difference is very hard to determine. During the winter, the fur is thicker and the fox has a somewhat shaggy appearance; during spring, the fox loses its winterfur and looks a bit scruffy and untidy, but the animal looks slim and elegant again in summer.

   Senses : Smell, hearing and sight are strongly developed. The rear side of the eyes is covered with a reflecting layer (tapedum lucidum) which causes increasing susceptibility to light (when a fox looks into the burning headlights of your car at night, it's as if its eyes illuminate, see photo on the left above). It's assumed that foxes can still see clearly at night when there is hardly no light. The fox's pupils have an elliptic upright form (like cat's eyes). They protect the sensitive eyes against f.e. strong daylight. Experience shows that foxes only have a sharp sight at a short distance. It's very hard for a fox to see at long distance, only moving (or extremely striking) objects will draw its attention. The animal also has a strongly developed sense of smell, which plays an important role in hunting and in communicating with other foxes. Its sensitive hearing and its big movable auricles help the fox to discover the exact location of weak sounds, a strategy that he uses f.e. when hunting small rodents. A fox can hear the squeaking of a mouse already at a distance of about a hundred meters. Sudden sounds always draw its attention, slowly swelling sounds (a car riding at slow speed) or rhythmic sounds are usually ignored as long as they aren't louder than the already existing backgroundsounds. Whiskers, eyelashes and some other rigid long hairs on different parts of the body play a key role in the predominantly nocturnal life of the fox. These so-called 'vibrissae' help the fox in exploring f.e. thick bushes and/or small passages, the whiskers span the whole breadth of the fox's body. All these typically adapted senses combined with instinct, a good memory (knowledge of territory) and a fairly high intelligence (higher than that of dogs) allow the fox to go at high speed through rough territory at night and to escape the enemy. It also turns the animal into an extremely competent and flexible predator.

   Speed : Normal speed (trot): 6 to 13 km/h.; maximum speed: around 50 km/h.

   Sexual activity : In the mating season, the dog fox is ready to mate during three months (November, December, January) whereas the vixen is ready to mate during only three days. During these three days, the mating happens several times and after each mating session the dog fox stays hooked on to the vixen for half an hour. During this stage, both dog fox and vixen are very vulnerable (never chase away foxes during this stage!); monogamous relationship; bearing time is 52 to 53 days. The cubs are born blind and stay blind until 13 days after their birth. A newborn cub weighs about 100 gram. The cubs are full-grown and fertile after 9 months.

   Dispersion : The red fox (vulpes vulpes) is widespread in Europe, in the north of America (in the far north the animal has a longer fur), in Australia (where the fox was imported by the English to hunt him, nowadays a totally irresponsible idea), in the USSR and even in Japan (where the fox is a holy animal). In Belgium, the fox is also commonspread, although it wasn't always like that because of the fight against rabies.

   Annual cycle :  

January : Mating time, first-years looking for a territory.

February : Most foxes have found their favourite spot, pregnant vixens are looking for suitable shelters (mostly holes dug in the ground).

March :  Birth, dog fox carries food to partner, vixen looks after newborn cubs.

April :  Grown-up foxes start to moult, cubs leave the hole but stay in immediate neighbourhood.

May :  Cubs get solid food from parents, come out the shelter but stay nearby.

June :  Cubs explore further and further away from the shelter, vixen doesn't give milk anymore.

Juli :  Cubs become more and more independent, parents bring less food to cubs.

August :  Cubs foraging by themselves, parents don't give much attention to cubs any more.

September :  Fully-grown and independent cubs.

Oktober :  Foxes have winterfur, fox family falls apart, cubs (especially young dog foxes) chased away from hole and start to dwell, covering quite large distances. During this month and the next two months, foxes turn up in the strangest places (like your backyard, but don't worry, as soon as they feel not welcome and/or disturbedthey'll leave).

November :  Foxes in their first year (specially dog foxes) start looking for a suitable territory and a mate. Fighst between 'property owners' and drifters (mostly harmless).

December :  Foxes make a lot of noise and defend their territory (announcing the beginning of mating time).

   Food : Mostly rodents and small till mid-sized prey (Rabbits, hares, birds,...) but also insects, worms, vegetables and left-overs (from dustbins,...). 

   Legal statute (Belgium) : In the Walloon provinces (Belgium), foxes can be chased during a whole year. In Flanders (the other part of Belgium), the fox is a protected animal and hunting the animal is strictly restrained, no hunting when foxes have cubs (1st of February to 30th of June). Between 1st of July and 30th of January, hunting is allowed from dawn till dusk, but only shotguns can be used, no traps, snares or poison, no hunting within a ray of 25 meters from the den.

Hans Schockaert