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Red Fox — A Clever Neighborhood Resident in the Wild in Arlington Heights

Thu January 07 2010 4:45 am  http://www.arlingtoncardinal.com/?p=18746
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Are there any foxes in Arlington Heights? Yes, almost every week neighbors throughout Arlington Heights sight a fox traveling a route of the neighborhood. Foxes have also been sighted at Lake Arlington, walking the trail or exploring the shoreline. The animals, from the Canidae Family, frequently find residence in Arlington Heights — often with dens near backyard sheds or storage areas. Most people ignore the presence of a fox in the neighborhood, but some worry, especially if there are children playing outside, and the fox is nearby. Fox attacks on humans are not common, but have been reported. In November 2008 an incident in Arizona, USA was reported in which a jogger was attacked and bitten by a rabid fox. The rabid fox hung on to the jogger’s arm for about one mile, according to the report in BBC (Attacked jogger takes fox for run).

The largest species within the genus Vulpes and the largest of the true foxes, adult red foxes range in weight from 3.6 to 7.6 kg (7.9 to 17 lb) depending on region – foxes living in Canada and Alaska tend to be larger than foxes in the United Kingdom, which are in turn larger than those inhabiting the Southern United States. Very large red foxes can weigh up to 14 kg (31 lb). Head and body length is 46 to 90 cm (18 to 35 in), with a tail of 30 to 55 cm (12 to 22 in). Size can be estimated from tracks. Red fox footprints are normally about 4.4 cm (1.7 in) wide and 5.7 cm (2.2 in) long. A normal Red fox’s trotting stride is about 33 to 38 cm (13 to 15 in).


  “Foxes typically eat 0.5 to 1 kg
(1 to 2 lb) of food a day.
They’re known to eat from pet bowls that are left outside.”

Eating Behavior
Foxes typically eat 0.5 to 1 kg (1 to 2 lb) of food a day. Although classified as a carnivore, red foxes are omnivorous and are highly opportunistic. Prey can range in size from 0.5 cm insects to 150 cm red-crowned cranes. The majority of their diet consists of invertebrates, such as insects, mollusks, earthworms and crayfish. They also eat plant material, especially blackberries, apples, plums and other fruit. Common vertebrate prey includes rodents (such as mice and voles), rabbits, birds, eggs, amphibians, small reptiles and fish. Foxes have been known to kill deer fawns. They will scavenge dead animals and other edible material they find, and in urban areas, they will scavenge on human refuse. Foxes have been seen eating from pet food bowls left outside. Analysis of country and urban fox diets show that urban foxes have a higher proportion of scavenged food than country foxes.

Foxes usually hunt alone. With their acute sense of hearing, they can locate small mammals in thick grass, and they jump high in the air to pounce on the prey. Foxes also stalk prey such as rabbits, keeping hidden until close enough to catch them in a short dash. Foxes tend to be extremely possessive of their food and will not share it with others. Exceptions to this rule include dog foxes feeding vixens during courtship and vixens feeding cubs.

Red foxes have disproportionately small stomachs for their size and can only eat half as much food in relation to their body weight as wolves and dogs can (about 10% compared with 20%). In periods of abundance, foxes will cache excess food against starvation at other times. They typically store the food in shallow holes (5 to 10 cm (2 to 4 in) deep). Foxes tend to make many small caches, scattering them across their territories rather than storing their food in a single central location. This is thought to prevent the loss of the fox’s entire food supply in the event that another animal finds the store.

There are coyotes in the area too. Do foxes and coyotes get along?
In areas in North America where Red fox and Coyote populations are in te same geographic area, fox territories tend to be located outside of coyote territories. The principal cause of this separation is believed to be active avoidance of coyotes by the foxes. Interactions between the two species vary in nature, ranging from active antagonism, to indifference. The majority of aggressive encounters are initiated by coyotes, and there are few reports of Red foxes acting aggressively toward coyotes except when attacked or when their pups were approached. Foxes and coyotes have sometimes been seen feeding together.

Behavior
Living as it does in a wide variety of habitats, the red fox displays a wide variety of behaviours. In Biology and Conservation of Wild Canids, MacDonald and Sillero-Zubiri state that two populations of the red fox may be behaviourally as different as two species.

The red fox is primarily crepuscular with a tendency to becoming nocturnal in areas of great human interference (and artificial lighting); that is to say, it is most active at night and at twilight. It is generally a solitary hunter. If a fox catches more food than it can eat, it will bury the extra food (cache) to store it for later.

In general, each fox claims its own territory; it pairs up only in winter, foraging alone in the summer. Territories may be as large as 50 km² (19 square miles); ranges are much smaller (less than 12 km², 4.6 sq mi) in habitats with abundant food sources, however. Several dens are utilized within these territories; dens may be claimed from previous residents such as marmots, or dug anew. A larger main den is used for winter living, birthing and rearing of young; smaller dens are dispersed throughout the territory for emergency and food storage purposes. A series of tunnels often connects them with the main den. One fox may only need a square kilometer of land marked by recognition posts that are special smells that come from a scent gland located just above a fox’s tail.

Reproduction
The red fox breeding period varies widely due to its broad distribution; southern populations breed from December to January, central populations from January to February and northern populations from February to April. Females have an annual estrous period of between 1 and 6 days; ovulation is spontaneous. Although a female may mate with several males (who fight amongst each other for the right), she will eventually settle with only one.

Males will supply food to females up to and after birthing, otherwise leaving the female alone with her kits (also called cubs or pups) in a “maternity den”. An average litter size is five kits, but may be as large as 13. Kits are born blind and may weigh as much as 150 grams (0.33 lb). Their eyes are open by two weeks and the kits have taken their first exploratory steps out of the den by five weeks; by ten weeks they are fully weaned.

In autumn of the same year, the young foxes will disperse and claim their own territories. The red fox reaches sexual maturity by ten months of age, and may live for 12 years in captivity but will usually only live three years in the wild.

The scent from this gland is composed of or very closely related to the thiols and thioacetate derivatives used by skunks (most notably Mephitis mephitis) as a defensive weapon. This gives the red fox a skunklike scent detectable by humans at close proximity (about 2 to 3 meters or less) but which is not easily transferred to other animals or inanimate objects; so the concentrations in the gland must be considerably less than in that of the skunk. Vulpes vulpes and other subspecies cannot spray the thiolates like the skunks and does not appear to use the secretion as a defense.

The red fox has been considered a monogamous species, however evidence for polygamy (polygyny and polyandry) includes males’ extraterritorial movements during breeding season (possibly searching for additional mates) and males’ home ranges overlapping two or more females’ home ranges. Such variability is thought to be linked to variation in the spatial availability of key resources such as food.
The red fox primarily forms monogamous pairs each winter, which cooperate to raise a litter of 4–6 kits (also called pups) each year; but in various locales and for various incompletely explored reasons they may also practice polygamy (multiple males sharing a single female and/or vice versa). Young foxes disperse promptly on maturity (approx. 8–10 months).

The reason for this “group living” behaviour is not well understood; some researchers believe the non-breeders boost the survival rate of the litters while others believe there is no significant difference, and such arrangements are made spontaneously due to a resource surplus.

Socially, the fox communicates with body language and a variety of vocalizations. Its vocal range is quite large and its noises vary from a distinctive three-yip “lost call” to a shriek reminiscent of a human scream. It also communicates with scent, marking food and territorial boundary lines with urine and feces.

John James Audubon noted that cross foxes tended to be shyer than their fully red counterparts. He conjectured that the reason was due to the greater commercial value its fur, thus forcing it to adopt a warier behavior to evade hunters.

There are about 37 species that are referred to as foxes, of which only 12 species actually belong to the Vulpes genus of ‘true foxes’. By far the most common and widespread species of fox is the red fox (Vulpes vulpes), although various species are found on almost every continent.

In the wild, foxes can live for up to 10 years, but most foxes only live for 2 to 3 years due to hunting, road accidents and diseases. Foxes are generally smaller than other members of the family Canidae such as wolves, jackals, and domestic dogs. Fox-like features typically include a cute muzzle (a “fox face”) and bushy tail.

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