The Red Fox-Vulpes vulpes

As far as the nature lover is concerned there is no finer sight in the countryside for its rustic charm than seeing a fox going about his business in an English woodland, with the exception, perhaps, of happening upon a vixen with her cubs.

This assiduous creature has been persecuted, hunted by hounds, shot, trapped and poisoned, yet still they survive.

The red fox is placed in the family Canidae and they are the only living wild mammal in Britain that belong to the dog family-the wolf becoming extinct back in the mist of time. They have a range which spans North America and Eurasia with populations in North Africa. it is an animal that adapts quickly and may be encountered in a plethora of habitat from city centres to high up in the mountain regions and almost everywhere else in between. 

Photo courtesy of John Sarvis

Description of the red fox.

The colour of the mammals fur, as its common name suggests, is an orangey red to rusty red with a white throat and under parts. The ears are prominent and have a black outline, legs are also black. the tail is thick and bushy with a prominent white tip.

From about April the fox begins to moult its winter coat, during this period , which takes several weeks, they can appear to be very scruffy. However, by the summer the coat has been renewed and they have a fresh, sleek, handsome appearance once again. Many animals tend to moult in the autumn, not so, the red fox. This mammal produces additional hair growth at this time; the fur becomes really thick as the dense winter coat develops. This coat can give the fox a stout appearance and make the animal look as though it has short legs, a very deceiving appearance.

It is not unusual to see individuals with grey or greyish fur. 

The wolf has long been extinct in the UK.

Individuals with grey fur is not uncommon

The nose of the red fox is particularly sensitive giving the fox a very keen sense of smell. Its ears  can be directed forward to focus on the tiniest sounds which will betray the presence of their prey. The legs are multi functional allowing the animal to run fast, climb well and trot for long periods without getting tired. The eyes are amber coloured. Males and females look very similar making it almost impossible for the layman to sex them in the field.

Lifestyle and breeding habits of the red fox in the UK.

Foxes breed just once a year, this usually occurs between December and February. During this time the shrieking call of the vixen carries far on cold winter nights. it can be a frightening sound as it pierces the quiet of the night, sounding almost like a human scream, to anyone unaccustomed to it.

The female is pregnant for about seven and a half weeks. The young , usually 4-5, are born in March or April in the north of the country. They are black, blind and death, each weighing  around 80-120gms. 

A few weeks before the cubs are born the vixen will choose a secure den. This may be one she digs herself, the tunnel being from 2-4 metres long with an elongated chamber for the birth.  However, in urban situations she may choose a location such as under a shed; in mountainous regions the vixen may choose a gap of deep crevice in the rocks, in fact the choice of location can be as varied as their many habitats.

For the first  month of their lives they are wholly dependent on their mothers milk. This dependency gradually diminishes and by the time the cubs are six weeks old they are taking more and more solids. During this period the dog fox will bring food for his mate and for the cubs. In the early stages the food is regurgitated for the cubs.

As the cubs grow they will be left scraps and bones to gnaw on. They spend long periods of time chewing on bones , this gnawing action strengthens their jaw and teeth. 

A young cub in woodland

Photo courtesy of Patrick Reilly

Later in the summer the cubs may accompany the adults as they forage for earthworms and any other prey they happen upon. At this stage of the cubs development their diet will consist mainly of earthworms and insects, as they have not yet required the skills to catch voles or rabbits that experienced foxes are capable of.

By September the cubs will be almost full grown and their parents will have been leaving less and less food for them over the previous two weeks or so. By August, any cubs that have survived, will make their own way in the world. In the wider countryside they may travel some distance from their natal territories. 

Red fox cubs

Photgraphs courtesy of Lamar Gore and Jim Stutzman

Red fox current issues in the UK.

Fox hunting with hounds was banned in the England under the last labour government. It was implied by hunt supporters that the fox populations would increase because of the ban and they would wreak havock in the countryside.

Studies by the RSPCA and the International Fund for Animal Welfare from the Mammal Society revealed there is no evidence to suggest there has been any increase in population numbers due to the ban.

The new Coalition government In the UK. { Conservatives propped up the Liberal Democrats} has pledged in their coalition agreements that they would have a free vote on whether to end the hunting ban before the next general election, likely to be in 2015.

The Prime Minister and Conservative leader David Cameron stated; " I will put my cards on the table, I always thought the hunting ban was a pretty bizarre piece of legislation. I think there should be a free vote in the House of Commons, I think the House of Commons should make its mind up about this. { I thought they already had}  My problem has always been that it was just taking criminal law into an area of activity where it didn't belong" 

I do not think many foxes would agree with him! 

Photographs-courtesy of Ronald Laubenstein

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