Red Foxes: The ULTIMATE Guide


When most of us think about foxes, the image that immediately springs to mind is that of the red fox. It isn’t surprising, as the red fox is the most successful, and widespread member of the fox family, and can be found everywhere from Australia to North America and Asia to Europe, and even North Africa.

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The red fox is infinitely adaptable, and can survive and flourish in just about any environment that it finds itself in. 

Because it’s so common, the red fox has become the popular face of the fox family. And thanks to being made famous by Disney films (The Fox and the Hound), countless documentaries about the natural world, literature (The Fantastic Mr. Fox and literally hundreds of other stories), and the subject of paintings and murals all over the world, the red fox has become part of our everyday lives, and even though it’s regarded as being one of the worlds hundred most invasive species, this wily canine has managed to inveigle its way into almost every single aspect of modern life.

But what do you actually know about the red fox? How much do you know about this species that has made its mark in almost every corner of the globe?

The red fox is a surprisingly versatile, and fascinating animal, and with the help of our comprehensive guide to the instantly familiar Vulpes archetype, you’ll discover everything that you ever wanted, and need, to know about this incredible creature. 

Red Fox Appearance  

What Does a Red Fox Look Like? 

Contrary to popular opinion, red foxes aren’t quite as small as you may have been led to believe. They tend to be around two feet, or twenty-four inches, tall and three feet, or thirty-six inches, long. Their faces, backs, sides, and most of their tails are covered in red fur, which is where the species, whose scientific designation is Vulpes vulpes (Vulpes being the Latin word for fox), get its name from.

However, even though the majority of its body is covered in crimson fur, the red fox’s paws tend to black, while its chest and stomach are covered in grayish, white fur, and the tip of its tail is usually capped in fluffy, white fur. It also has a long snout and pointed ears, both of which are common to all foxes and members of the canine species. 

What Is The Shape Of A Red Fox?  

Being a member of the canine species, the red fox shares a lot of dog-like characteristics. It’s a long, slender animal that looks a lot like a small to medium-sized domestic dog, and in the low light of dusk can often be mistaken for just another neighborhood pooch out for a late-night stroll. 

In fact, due to the red foxes’ bold and curious nature, and their ability to easily adapt to, and live in almost any environment, they’re becoming increasingly common in urban as well as rural areas. So, if you do spot a  strange, reddish-brown dog in your residential area, think twice about offering it a treat or calling it over for a fuss. It might not be the dog that you think it is, it might actually be a fox. 

Can Red Foxes Be Black? 

Despite the fact that it’s called a red fox, the actual color of individual members of the species can vary widely. The red fox’s fur is often paler in much warmer climates, a mutation that has evolved over time to keep the fox cooler during the hottest hours of the day, and like almost every mammal, the red fox can also be prone to melanism.

Melanism is the genetic predisposition to black pigmentation, which means that some members of the red fox family can be covered in black fur, and don’t have the same gray and white hair on their chests and tails as stereotypical members of the species do. 

Red Fox Behaviour

What Is The Behavior Of A Red Fox? 

Unlike other canines, red foxes aren’t pack animals and tend to be solitary hunters, until they mate and from that point on, live in small family groups. They can, if they need to, wander from area to area establishing a home wherever they want to, or can settle and live in a specific area, which they mark with urine in order to establish their territorial boundaries. 

They tend to communicate through body language rather than vocalization, which is mainly done through posture, tail, and ear movements.  Red foxes tend to be more active in the early hours of the morning or late evening, and are nocturnal hunters who also have a hierarchical family structure, and it isn’t uncommon for their offspring to live, once they have left the family den, within relatively close proximity of their parents. 

Are Red Foxes Aggressive? 

Red foxes, like all members of the Vulpes species, generally tend to be non-aggressive. It’s incredibly rare for a human to be bitten by a red fox, and in the majority of cases where it has actually happened, the fox only attacked out of fear and because it felt threatened.

It’s also rare that a red fox will actually attack a dog, and when they have fought with other canines, it is almost always purely a defensive reaction on the fox’s part.  The red fox isn’t an aggressive animal and providing that it’s left alone, poses absolutely no threat to humans. 

What Do You Do If A Red Fox Approaches You? 

The problem with red foxes is that they’re naturally curious and friendly animals, and driven by their instincts, have been known to directly approach humans. If you are approached by a red fox, the best thing that you can do is make a lot of noise, and attempt to shoo it away as best you can. It’s important to teach fox’s to stay away from people for their own benefit and well-being. 

Unlike foxes, some people can be aggressive, and if those less understanding homo sapiens are approached by a fox that has learned to trust humans, the end result of that encounter could be extremely unpredictable. 

It’s also important to ensure that you keep your dog on a leash during any potential encounter with a red fox, to prevent any unwarranted aggression that could lead to a physical confrontation. As a red fox is a wild dog, it won’t have had its shots, and won’t have been vaccinated, and could pass on any number of dangerous and life-threatening diseases and infections to your dog during any form of interaction, so always keep your dog on a leash and away from any red foxes, you may encounter. 

Red Fox Diet

What Do Red Tail Foxes Eat? 

The short and quick answer is that they’ll eat almost anything that they can. Red foxes are natural hunters and while they prefer to hunt and eat small mammals, reptiles, and rodents and are particularly adept at catching all of those creatures when they leave their dens if their prey isn’t being particularly cooperative, the red fox can easily switch dietary gears. 

They can, and do, also eat insects, grubs, berries, and fruit.  And as red foxes are becoming increasingly common in urban areas, they’ve also become adept at scavenging and going through the trash (in much the same way that raccoons do) in order to find whatever food they can. So, while they’re carnivores, red foxes aren’t averse to giving in to the temptation of an omnivorous diet whenever they need or want to. 

Do Red Foxes Eat Cats? 

The notion that red fox’s prey on, and hunt cats for food is a common misconception that has drifted into urban legend. While it’s true that red foxes have tracked and eaten cats, they generally tend to avoid contact with cats, as most domestic felines are almost as large as the fox is, and when cornered or attacked are formidable opponents. 

Foxes tend to hunt prey that they know they can catch and overcome without putting themselves at risk and as the average house cat doesn’t fall into that category, they tend to leave them alone. As they’re playful, and canines, it doesn’t mean that a red fox won’t be tempted to chase a cat, they are and they do, but like most dogs, they very rarely catch the cats that they chase.  

Red Fox Dens

What Do Red Fox Dens Look Like?

A typical red fox den will usually be between five and ten feet deep and can be anywhere between thirty and fifty feet long. The entrance, and sometimes there’s more than one as red foxes tend to use multiple entrances and exits in their dens, will usually be between six and ten inches and in diameter, and the tunnel system inside is used to connect a number of large, underground chambers. 

Red foxes don’t always sleep in their dens, and they mainly use them to raise their young, store food and shelter in during harsher weather. While their outward appearance can be similar to those of other tunneling and den dwelling animals, it’s usually easy to tell if a den has been made by a fox due to their determination to mark their territory, which means that the entrance to a red fox usually smells musky, and isn’t unlike a slightly less pungent skunk spray.

There may also be a collection of bones, feathers, and fur from their prey littering the entrance of a red fox den, which can also help to determine, and identify its inhabitants. 

Where Do Red Foxes Make Their Dens? 

Red Foxes are incredibly adept at choosing the sites they use to dig their dens. They tend to be in well-sheltered areas that are often in close proximity to trees or areas of heavy vegetation, or underneath woodland dwellings like cabins. They also possess an uncanny natural affinity for finding areas that are either on slopes or in locations that have excellent natural drainage to dig their dens

What Do You Do If You Find A Red Fox Den? 

Providing the den isn’t in an area where it’s going to be problematic for both the fox and you, leave the den alone and forget all about it. Even if a red fox has chosen a site for their den that isn’t exactly ideal, it’s ways better to, if you can, leave it alone as the presence of a fresh den usually indicates that a vixen has just given birth to or is about to have, a litter of cubs, and it could be dangerous to attempt to move the fixes while they’re rearing their new family. 

As most foxes will leave an unfamiliar area once they have raised their family, it’s better to give them the time and space they need and let them move on when they’re ready to do so. 

Red Fox Eye Color

What Color Eyes Do Red Foxes Have? 

This is a subject of some disagreement among those of us whose hearts have been captured by the simple red fox. Most mature adults tend to have either yellow or green eyes, both of which are highly visible when the fox is hunting at night. That said, it isn’t uncommon for red foxes to have dark brown or even blue eyes. Like they are in people, the color of a red fox’s eyes can vary greatly and is usually dependent on the genetic make-up of the individual fox. 

Red Fox Gestation & Reproduction Period

What Time Of The Year Do Red Foxes Have Pups?

How they know is either instinctual or a matter of biological necessity (directly related to the fact that vixens only ovulate for six days a year), but red foxes tend to have their families at the same time every year. The female, or vixen, usually gives birth to her litter of cubs in either March or April when Spring finally arrives. 

Litters tend to be similar in size and vixens usually have between two and four cubs at a time, although it isn’t uncommon to have as many as six cubs in a litter.  Cubs are also known as kits, which is a catch-all term used to describe a red fox until it reaches adulthood and maturity. 

Do Red Foxes Mate For Life? 

Red foxes, like humans, are monogamous. They tend to mate for life and barring death or disaster, red foxes will bond, mate, and pair for the duration of their lifetime.  It isn’t uncommon for red foxes to return to the same den, year in and year out, to have and raise their families. 

The familiarity of the territory and the way in which it can help them to raise their young is thought to play a large role in this behavior, as while they’re prone to wander, foxes can, and do, become territorial while they’re rearing their young. 

How Often Do Red Foxes Breed?

Red foxes breed once a year. They mate during January and February when the vixen is in heat and following a seven to eight week gestation period, the vixen will then give birth to a litter of kits as Spring arrives. 

Before giving birth, a vixen and the male fox will have either established a new den or returned to a previously used one in order to raise their new family. The period leading up to red fox’s mating is usually accompanied by fearsome barks, howls, and growls as the male and female if they’re not already partnered enter into the courtship rituals that precede mating and pairing. 

How Long Do Baby Red Foxes Stay With Their Mothers? 

After giving birth to her litter, a vixen won’t leave the den and will spend twenty-four hours a day with her new kits for the next three weeks. After the initial twenty-one-day period is over, the vixen will leave the den to hunt with the male fox but will continue to provide milk for her offspring until they are two months old. 

The kits then remain with their parents until they’re seven months old, and having learned and been taught how to hunt, will then leave the den and their parents behind. While the female kits tend to remain close to their parents, the male cubs often wander away from the family to establish their own territory. 

How Does The Red Fox Reproduce? 

Red Foxes, like all mammals, reproduce sexually. The coupling lasts anywhere between fifteen and twenty minutes and is followed by a brief period of howling from both partners. Even though red foxes tend to mate for life, in order to find the right partner, vixens will breed with a number of males, and it isn’t uncommon, in areas where females outnumber males, to find one male with multiple female partners. 

However they choose to establish their relationships, they all follow a similar pattern, and breeding occurs at the same time every year without fail, whether the foxes are with the same partners or not. 

Do Female Red Foxes Stay Single If Their Mate Dies? 

They might partner for life, but if something untoward happens to the male partner, a female red fox (or vixen) will immediately begin to search for a new partner. Their relationship structure might seem unnecessarily complicated for canines, but it follows a remarkably similar pattern to that of humans. 

Red foxes adhere rigidly to the rule ‘until death do us part’, and if the Grim Reaper does strike their happy home, both the female and male red fox (depending on who has survived) will immediately set out to establish a different pairing and find a new mate. 

How Many Litters Do Red Foxes Have A Year?

As they only mate once a year, due to the vixen having an incredibly limited six-day ovulation period and the seven months that it takes them to rear a litter of kits to maturity, red foxes only have one litter of cubs a year. 

Red Fox Habitat

Where Are Red Foxes Most Commonly Found? 

Again, the simple answer is everywhere. The red fox is an incredibly adaptable hunter and scavenger that can, and has, made itself at home all over the world.  This most common of foxes can typically be found all over Europe, in North Africa, Australia, Asia, and North Africa. There isn’t a continent that they haven’t managed to get a foothold in, and as such that has helped to popularise the mainstream image of the fox. 

As well as thriving in the rural areas of each and every continent, the red fox has, in the last century, become an increasingly visible presence in urban areas, as it has learned to live alongside and scavenge from humans. 

Where Do Red Foxes Live And Sleep? 

While they make their homes in underground burrows, tunnels, and chambers that are known as dens, unless the weather and climate outside of those dens is particularly vicious or they’re raising a litter of kits, red foxes tend to sleep outside their dens. Though they don’t, and won’t venture far from their dens unless circumstance forces them to, red foxes won’t and don’t actually sleep inside them. 

Red Fox Height And Weight

Red foxes, like most canines, don’t weigh the same and aren’t the same height as every other red fox. There isn’t a uniform size that the Vulpes vulpes conforms to, but most of the species tend to be between three and three a half feet (thirty-six to forty-two inches) long, stand between two and two half feet tall (twenty-four to thirty inches) at the shoulder and can weigh anywhere between twelve and thirty pounds. Males are usually considerably bigger than females, and the difference between the size of a pair of foxes is often the easiest way to tell, at a distance, which is male and which is female. 

Red Fox Howl

Does A Red Fox Howl? 

Like all canines, red foxes use a number of different ways to communicate vocally that includes barking, screaming, whining (often used as a “greeting” between two males) howling, and the unique noise that vixens make to attract prospective mates. The latter, the vixen’s mating cry, sounds more like the early morning cry of a bird than a sound that any canine should make, and while they can howl, red foxes tend to bark and scream rather than using the cry popularised by their Wolfen ancestors. 

What Does A Red Fox Sound Like When It Barks? 

When a red fox barks, it’s the same unmistakable noise that domestic dogs make, even though it does sound a little different from the racket that your dog makes every time someone knocks on your door or you take them to the dog park. 

Fox barks tend to be higher and shriller than those of domestic canines, and rather than using a series of needlessly repeated barks, red foxes tend to be more precise and controlled, which manifests as either a single bark or sharp series of three to five barks that isn’t repeated. 

Red Fox Intelligence

Are Red Foxes Intelligent?

That depends entirely on your definition of intelligence. While they’re not as intelligent per se as a lot of domestic dog breeds, red foxes are smart and cunning and incredibly adaptable in ways that other canines aren’t. 

They’re clever and learn by observation and repetition, and are incredibly intelligent when they need to procure food, successfully rear litters of kits, stay out of harm’s way, and dig and create dens, which makes them the perfect hunter in any environment. They’re survivors who have learned what they need to know, and how to apply those lessons in any given situation and environment. 

Red Fox Jumping

Can A Red Fox Jump? 

Can your dog jump? Of course, he can, and as red foxes are part of, and have evolved from the same broad genus as the domestic dog, they share a lot of the same traits and abilities which means that just like your dog can when he’s chasing after his favorite ball, the red fox can, and does jump in the wild. 

They need to be able to jump in order to hunt and successfully catch their prey and to outfox, outwit and evade any and all predators who chase and hunt them.  Jumping is one of the red foxes natural defense and escape mechanisms. 

How Far Can A Red Fox Jump? 

Red foxes have evolved and adapted to suit their environment and their long bodies and shorter than average limbs mean that they possess the same sort of natural agility and grace as a domestic cat.  Through a combination of jumping and climbing, they can successfully climb over eight to ten-foot-high fences and cover a similar distance when jumping horizontally. 

Red Fox Lifespan

How Long Does A Red Fox Live In The Wild? 

The life expectancy of a red fox in the wild is tragically short, especially for a canine. Most red foxes don’t live longer than two to five years in the wild, due to the nature of their life, what it entails, and what they have to endure. 

Prey can often be difficult to find, they’re hunted by farmers, hunters, and others for their pelts and often fall victim to natural predators and the advancement of human technology when roads are run through their habitats. The life of a red fox isn’t easy, nor is it very long. 

How Long Does A Red Fox Live In Captivity?

Conversely, the lifespan of a red fox in captivity is often much longer than that of a fox that lives in the wild. In fact, it’s usually two to three times longer, as red foxes tend to live between ten and twelve years when they’re kept in zoos or have to be reared and raised by humans for any number of different reasons. Regular meals that are well-sourced nutritionally balanced, the lack of predators, and danger can, and do, significantly improve the life expectancy of a red fox. 

Red Fox Markings

Why Do Red Foxes Have A White Tip On Their Tail? 

There used to be a  commonly held belief that the white tip on a red fox’s tail was a way to identify the male and female of the species. The idea was that a male fox had the white tip, while a female didn’t, but that myth was later dispelled when it was proved that both females and males were genetically predisposed to have a white tip on the end of their tails. 

So why does a red fox have a white tip on the end of its tails? Nobody really has a definitive answer, but it’s thought to be a way of distinguishing the red fox from the gray fox.  The red fox has a white tip, while the gray fox has a black tip on the end of its tail. 

Do All Red Foxes Have White Tips On Their Tails? 

While all red foxes are genetically predisposed to having a white tip on the end of their tail, not all of them have it. Remember when we told you earlier that some red foxes were prone to melanism which means that the fur that covers their bodies is actually black rather than red? Some of the red foxes who are black don’t have a white tip on the end of their tails, as their tails are the same color as the rest of their fur. 

How Can You Tell A Red Fox From A Gray Fox? 

The truth is, there’s only one guaranteed way to tell these distant cousins apart, and that’s by looking at their tails. They’re similar in size and build, share a lot of the same behavioral traits and look incredibly similar. The only thing about them, from a distance at least, that’s different is the color of their tales. Red foxes have a white tip at the end of their tails while gray foxes a black tip at the end of theirs. 

Red Fox Population

How Many Red Foxes Are Left In The World? 

There’s good news and there’s bad news. The bad news is that it’s impossible to properly ascertain or even come close to discovering how many red foxes there are left in the world. And that’s because (which is the good news), there are so many of them spread out over every continent, their numbers can’t be counted. But it’s a lot (there’s estimated to be at least one hundred thousand in the UK alone, and you know how small that place is, right?), so the one thing that you don’t need to be worried about is the global population of the red fox. 

Are Red Foxes Going Extinct?

No, the red fox isn’t about to go extinct any time soon. Their conservation status is currently listed as “least concern”, which means that we don’t have to worry about the red fox disappearing. Their numbers are reducing in some of the countries that they’re none native to, such as here in America and in Australia, due to a loss of habitat thanks to increasing urbanization, but their numbers are still more than high enough to guarantee the species survival for a long, long time. 

Are Red Foxes Rare? 

The red fox is the most common of all foxes, and thanks to its widespread distribution and the fact that it lives just about everywhere on Earth, it isn’t rare. It isn’t rare at all and seems to be one of the only species that, despite man’s best efforts to throw a wrench in nature’s works, still seems to be thriving. 

Red Fox Traits

What Are The Behavioral Traits Of The Red Fox?

Mostly nocturnal, red foxes have adapted to hear low-frequency sounds which means that they can hear their prey (mostly small mammals like voles) burrowing in the earth, which makes it easier for them to catch their targets. Red foxes also store food, by burying it in shallow holes and covering it in their dens in order to save it for when they might need it. . They also mate annually, as the female-only ovulates for six days a year and the vixen has adapted a peculiar mating cry which is more reminiscent of a bird than a canine. 

What Traits Do Red Foxes Have?

Red foxes are covered in red fur, with the exception of their chests, stomach, and the tips of their tails, which are all white. Their paws are lined with black fur, they have long snouts and pointed ears, and are perfectly adapted to live in a number of different environments. 

Red Fox Territorial Behavior

Are Red Foxes Territorial?

Like all canines, red foxes are territorial animals and have adapted to behave in a manner that allows them to mark and create their own territorial boundaries which warns other foxes to stay away and move on. Red foxes mark their territory with pungent urine, the smell of which is unique to each animal, and by marking their territory, they effectively create their own boundaries to keep other foxes at bay. 

What Is The Territorial Range Of A Red Fox?

That depends entirely on their environment. In the wild, most red foxes are thought to have a territorial boundary of around five miles, but it has been known to extend to up to twenty-seven miles depending on the terrain and location of the fox. However, in an urban environment that is relatively rich in food that can be easily scavenged, a red fox’s territorial boundary can be less than one thousand meters. 

Red Fox Vision

Do Red Foxes Have Good Eyesight?

Foxes are nocturnal hunters, and as well as having great hearing, they also have great eyesight. Their eyes use vertically slit pupils and can gather much more light than the eyes of a normal canine can, which means that their vision is closer to that of a cat than a dog. Their incredible eyesight and agility make the red fox a new perfect hunter and ideally suited to life in both an urban and rural setting. 

Does A Red Fox Have Night Vision?

They do. Thanks to something called the tapetum lucidum which is a layer just behind the pupil of the eye that’s designed to reflect light back and increase their night vision to an uncanny level, the red fox has earned a reputation as being an incredible nocturnal hunter. It’s also that layer of their eyes, the one that helps them to see at night that makes a red fox’s eyes shine with a green intensity when a torch or beam of light catches them in the darkness. 

Are Red Foxes Color Blind? 

Yes and no. Red foxes have dichromatic, or two-color, vision which means that like a lot of people, they’re red-green blind. They can see in color, they just can’t see it the same way that most people can, which means that the way a fox sees the world is somewhat muted and isn’t the same way that we see it. 

Red Fox Facts

Okay, so we’ve told you about the red fox and what makes it tick, so here are some additional crazy facts about the Vulpes vulpes that make it even more unique in the animal kingdom –

Speed King – As well as being able to leap tall fences in a single bound, the red fox can also run at close to thirty miles per hour. So unless you’re a dedicated athlete, there’s no way that you’ll ever be able to catch one. 

Till Death Do, Us Part – Red foxes are monogamous and choose one partner to spend the rest of their life with. Well, the females do at least, as sometimes the males adopt a more polyamorous approach to life. The only time a vixen (female fox) takes a new mate is when her old mate dies. 

Five And Four – While their front paws have five toes, their back paws only have four, a physical trait that’s thought to have evolved from den digging. And their tails? They make up half the length of the average red fox’s body. 
They’re Not All Red – Thanks to melanism, not all red foxes are actually red. Some red foxes, due to their darker skin pigmentation, are black.

Chad Fox

Chad Fox is an author and researcher dedicated to bringing reliable information about foxes to the public. He supports animal sanctuary awareness.

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