Foxes are the most widely distributed meat-eating mammal on earth. They thrive in some of world’s most inhospitable and remote areas, including the Arctic, as well in suburban neighborhoods. "The red fox has an extraordinary geographical range," wrote Oxford biologist David Macdonald in Smithsonian magazine, "spanning most of the Northern Hemisphere and embracing habitats ranging from desert to ice floe.” [Source: David MacDonald, Smithsonian, William Stevens, New York Times, May 5, 1998]

The red fox is the most common and widely distributed fox. It has a rusty, red colored coat, a bushy, white-tipped tail, black-tipped ears and legs and snowy white chest. The red fox has a wider range and terrestrial distribution than any terrestrial animal with the exception of humans and the gray wolf. A male fox is called a reynard or dog. A female is called a vixen. Young are called kits, cubs or pups. A group is called a skulk.

Foxes do well in suburban neighborhood and even urban environments because they thrive in edge-of-the-wood habitat, where there prey mice, rabbits, voles and other small mammals also thrive. They have been known to make their homes in warehouses and sheds or dens under houses. Sometimes they even chase bicycles like dogs. Foxes killed on the road are usually young one who are not experienced

Kinds of fox that are used to make fur garments include the blue fox and white fox from the Arctic region, and the platinum and silver fox from North America, Asia and Europe, Researchers have great difficulty studying foxes. Their eating habits are determined by examining their dropping and their territorial habits are observed with the help of radio collars. Foxes are observed at night with light-amplifying and infra-red binoculars invented for military purposes.

Dr. J David Henry, a Canadian Government ecologist based in Yukon,

Fox Characteristics

Field biologist have discovered that behavior-wise foxes are as much like cats as dogs. They stalk their prey and hunt alone likes cats (dogs like to hunt in packs), pounce on their prey and move like cats and have long whiskers like cats. Their long cat-like whiskers allow foxes to detect where to place the killing bite in their prey.

Foxes have excellent eyesight and night vision. Their bushy tails provides balance which allows to pounce on its prey. Foxes can reach speeds of 45 miles per hour and leap 17 feet in a single bound. They run in straight lines (perhaps one reason why they are favored by hunters on horseback).

Foxes stalk birds like cats. Describing the fox pounce, William Stevens wrote in the New York Times: ''the maneuver is similar to one displayed by crouches, leaps upward in an arcing motion, then comes down front paws first. In a longer version, the fox launches itself upward at a 45-degree angle and executes a leap." The purpose of the latter appears to surprise mice and rabbits without them detecting their presence on the ground.

Fox Behavior, Reproduction and Young

Foxes are primarily nocturnal animals that spend most of the day in their dens. Their dens are very difficult to find and the animals are known for their elusiveness. Foxes are more social than they are often given credit for. Often three vixens share responsibilities for rasing a group of five cubs.

Foxes often live in small groups made up of one male fox, and four or five vixens and their cubs. A region might be populated by several groups that usually have their own territories, which are surprisingly small—around 100 acres. Fox groups defend their territories against strangers and neighbors. The foxes are able to live in such small territories because they feed primarily on insects and earthworms.

Foxes mate for life and breed once a year. Females carry their young for 52 days and give birth to an average litter of five. The average lifespan of a fox is seven years. The oldest one on record lived to be 14 years old. Young foxes reach maturity at about six months.

Vixens sometimes try to mount each other and sometimes even try to mount dog foxes. Vixen often fight among themselves to determine which will mate with the male. The dominant vixen is often the one who breeds while subordinate ones raise the young. Sometimes mother vixens are so rough with their cubs that they die.

Foxes don't howl but they make 40 different noises include a crow-like caw and a high-pitched bark. Mothers summon their young with "low, warbling calling" and the cubs respond with squeals and a throaty, stuttering noise called "gekkering." When foxes are lonely they "warble. Foxes play with each other in the same manner as dogs for session up to 30 minutes.

Fox Food

Foxes are omnivores that eat nuts, fruits, insects, honey, leaves, acorns, other items from the forest and meat. Unlike wolves that wolf down one big meal. Foxes eat a lot of little meals. Foxes have been known to subsists on 95 percent fruit. In the suburbs, they frequently forage through garbage. Foxes have a relatively small stomach, which gives them increased mobility. They hide what they can't eat.

Earthworms come to the surface at certain times and when they do foxes gorge themselves silly. Earthworms can provide up to 60 percent of a fox's caloric intake. Describing how a fox collects and eats an earthworm, MacDonald wrote: "Skillfully, the fox avoids snapping its victim. It pauses, holding the worm taut before raising its muzzle in a slow but accelerating arc that eases the prey smoothly and intact from its hole. Then the fox deftly flips the animated spaghetti right down the chute."

If mice are plentiful a fox and is not starving it will eat the first few it encounters then bury the others and retrieve them later. Foxes usually eat the mice that they have buried for themselves. Foxes have been seen with small deer in their mouths. Farmers don't like foxes because the feed on lambs. In the late 1990s, in Hampstead Heath many people bought tiger and lion manure from the London Zoo wit the belief that the smell of it would keep foxes from digging up their gardens.

Hares and Foxes

When a fox approaches a hare, the hare often stands on its hind legs and won't bolt unless the fox comes within ten or so meters. Naturalist Tony Holley believes that the hare doesn't stand on its hind legs to get a better view of the fox, which it knows is there, but rather to tell the fox that it has been observed and thus it doesn't have to waste energy trying sneak up on the hare.

A hare can sprint at speeds up to 45 miles per hour, fast enough to outrun a fox. Most chases of adult hares by foxes are unsuccessful. The only way a fox can really catch an adult hare is sneak up on it from a downwind side and grab it before it escapes.

According to one study in Hampshire, hares can make up to 30 percent of a fox's diet in the summer, and 16 percent in the winter. For the most part, foxes feed on young hares. A Polish study found that the foxes consumed six adult hares and 35 young.

Fox Attacks

In 2011, there were a number o reports of foxes attacking humans in England. The Daily Mail reported: The “animals are losing their fear of humans.” In June 2011, “nine-month-old twins Lola and Isabella Koupparis were mauled in their cot in East London. Shortly afterwards, Jake Jermy, three, was bitten on the arm at a playgroup party in Brighton and ambulance worker in Worthing, West Sussex told how a fox entered her house through the cat flap and bit off the end of her finger.” [Source: Daily Mail, September 2 2011]

In May 2011, animal control officers in Suffolk, England had to deal with two fox attacks in the the space of three days. David Macaulay wrote on, “On Saturday morning just after 1 a.m., a 67 year-old man reported that he was sitting in the back yard of a home on Tree Lane when he was attacked by a fox. The animal bit him on the calf and ankle. A cat at the address was also attacked by the fox, said Suffolk spokeswoman Debbie George. The victim is receiving medical treatment. Animal Control has set traps in an effort to catch the fox, George said. [Source: David Macaulay,, May 30, 2011]

“And on Monday morning animal control officers responded to a report of a fight between a fox and a dog on Bedford Place, George said. "That fox was caught. It will be euthanized and turned over to the health department for testing," George said. Police have urged all animal owners to vaccinate all pets against rabies and keep their shots up to date and to feed pets indoors and keep them on a leash or fenced in. "Pets allowed to roam, especially cats, are more likely to contract rabies and expose you and other pets in your home," George said.

Fox Attacks Woman in Bed

In September 2011, the Daily Mail reported: “One moment she was fast asleep, the next she was awake with the realisation that an animal was sitting on her chest and clawing at her face. Mary Small, 68, at first thought it was a visiting cat that had climbed on to her duvet. But then she saw that the animal peering inquisitively down at her was a fox. The grandmother screamed and leapt from her bed. The intruder, a cub, fled and was eventually chased out of the house by her husband Tony. [Source: Daily Mail, September 2 2011]

“Mrs Small, a magistrate, said yesterday: “I thought it was a cat at first when I felt it clawing at my face. But when I opened my eyes and saw this fox, I was pretty shaken up to say the least. “Obviously things look bigger when they are closer to you, so it looked enormous when I came around. “I just leapt from the covers and screamed, I’ve never moved so quickly. The scariest thing was it just appeared to be so fearless.”

Mrs Small said she had been terrified by the incident at their Victorian property in Bournville, Birmingham. She added: “Tony’s first instinct was to grab his camera rather than see if I was okay. He got a good picture of the fox in our upstairs study. “You can see it peeping out from behind the leather chair, it was a cheeky so and so. Even when we finally got it out of the house, it was pawing at the windows to come back in. “They seem to have lost their fear of humans now, it is quite concerning. They carry diseases too so I had to disinfect the whole house afterwards.”

The fox had somehow crept into the couple’s kitchen, through their lounge and up the stairs at their home either around 6.15am on Sunday morning or the evening before, the family believe. “After seeing the stories about people being bitten in London, I think I was quite lucky in the end,” said Mrs Small. The fox must have got in when Tony went outside for his pipe or the night before. “It was very scary and I was pretty upset. “With the developments around here there seems less green space for them to roam about in, so they seem to be getting braver and braver when it comes to interaction with people.”

Her husband, 69, added: “Mary was terrified. She’s paranoid about foxes. We quite often get cats coming inside but not foxes.” He said the animal must have been only a few months old because it was only about 2ft long. The RSPCA said fox attacks on humans were extremely rare. A spokesman added: “Foxes are opportunists, searching for and defending areas with suitable food and shelter. They learn to trust people who are not causing them harm.”

Fox Attacks Girl in Her Bedroom

In September 2003, a young girl in the London borough of Islington was attacked by a fox while she slept. Rob McNeil wrote in the Evening Standard, “The animal bit four-year-old Jessica Brown after creeping through an open door at her home in Tufnell Park. Her parents Richard Brown, and his wife, Corinne Magnier, both 36, had been watching a video downstairs when they heard her screams. [Source:Rob McNeil, Evening Standard, September 4, 2003]

“Mr Brown, an English teacher, said: "It was about 9.30pm on Sunday. We'd left the back door open as we often do in the summer. We heard a loud cry from Jessica's room and my wife dashed up and screamed at me to come upstairs. She was shouting that there was a cat in the room and then she said, 'No, it's a fox'. I ran upstairs, saw the fox and managed to chase it out. "I went back upstairs and saw Jessica's arm, which had big, U-shaped teeth marks on it, and there was blood. "We got into the car and dashed to hospital. She was seen in about 15 minutes." He continued: "Jessica has recovered well. She slept in our room that night but has been back in her own bed since."

“He believed the smell of a roast chicken dinner the family had eaten earlier in the day lured the fox into the house. But Mr Brown branded Islington council's response to the fox attack "appalling". He said the fox's lair was in the garden of a council-managed house next door, which had not been cleared for five years and resembled "a jungle". He said: "We have a dangerous animal living next door. I phoned the pest control department and their response was to send me a leaflet." Mr Brown said he was considering buying a chemical to spray in his garden to deter foxes. But Islington council said it now planned to clear the garden and take advice on how to deal with urban foxes. Councillor Jyoti Vaja said: "I was shocked to hear what had happened and wish the girl well."

Pregnant Woman Bitten by Rabid Fox in New York

In June 2014, a pregnant woman in Syracuse, New York was repeatedly bitten by a rabid fox. Michelle Gabel and James T. Mulder wrote in “Shannon Edwards, 30, said the attack happened about 3 p.m. She had just returned home with her 3-year-old son from a doctor's appointment. Edwards said a grayish-red fox was chasing her cat in circles outside her house. Edwards, who was standing in her front yard, said the fox looked at her and started biting her legs. Edwards, who is six months pregnant, kicked the fox and started running up the driveway. She fell and the fox bit her right wrist. "I got to my feet and it was dangling from my arm," she said. "Its teeth were really sunk in." [Source: Michelle Gabel and James T. Mulder,, July 7, 2014]

“Edwards said she grabbed the fox by the scruff of its neck with her other hand, ripped it off her arm and threw it into the road. She then ran to the front porch, grabbed her son and took him inside the house. The fox tried to follow them. "It was hurling itself against the screen door," she said. A sheriff's deputy and an ambulance arrived after a neighbor called 911. The fox attacked the wheels and the running board of the ambulance, according to Onondaga County Sheriff's Deputy Herb Wiggins. The deputy shot and killed the animal, he said.

Edwards said the fox bit her at least seven times. She was treated at Upstate University Hospital's emergency room where she received stitches and the first round in a series of four rabies vaccine shots. Her son, Silas, also had to be treated because he was exposed to the fox's saliva when she picked him up.

Quinn Bucktooth, who lives across the street from Edwards and saw the attack, said the fox was wandering around her yard before it bit Edwards. She said the fox was jumping against and biting the side of her above-ground pool while her children were swimming. She said the fox also bit a picnic table and other random objects. "You could tell it was sick," Bucktooth said.

She warned her children not to get out of the pool. She called 911 which sent a DEC officer and a sheriff's deputy to her house to check out the animal. By the time they arrived the fox had gone inside Bucktooth's garage. She said the DEC officer observed the fox in the garage and watched it go into the woods behind her house. "He said it's just a pup and it's playing," Bucktooth said. She said he told her if it returned and she wanted it removed to call a trapper. Bucktooth said she was upset the DEC officer did not kill or remove the fox. Edwards said if the DEC officer had taken the situation more seriously she might not have been attacked."I feel this was poor judgment on their part," she said.

Image Sources:

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, U.S. government, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, and various books, websites and other publications.

Last updated May 2016

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