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Red fox

Fact File

Scientific Name: Vulpes vulpes fulva

Classification: Mammalia, Order Carnivora, Family Canidae

Life Span: 3-4 years in the wild and up to 12 years in captivity

Identifying Characteristics

The red fox has an elongated body compared to it’s legs and a tail that is 70% of their head and body length; The red fox is typically lighter than similarly sized dogs; as their bones are 30% lighter in density than dogs. The adults typically are 14-20 inches tall and 18-35 inches in length from head to tail with 3-5in tall ears and 5-7 inch long legs. The girls typically weight 15-20% less than the boys and their footprints will be 2 inches long and wide to set them apart from coyote paw prints.

Despite its name the red fox has 45 subspecies of varying coloration which are divided into two categories the large northern foxes and the small basal desert foxes of Asia and Africa. Typically, the Virginian red foxes range in color from yellow-red to red-brown; with white or pale cream undersides. Their tail tip is usually white or black and often their lower legs are black in color. The two most common color variants are cross foxes which account for 25% of foxes and have reddish brown fur and a black stripe along their spine and across their shoulders. The other common phenotype is the silver fox which is occurs in 10% of red foxes and are almost completely black in color. When young the red fox has brown eyes but as they mature they turn yellow and their irises are oval and vertical much like that of a cat.

The paw prints  of the red fox are also distinctive from members of the Felidae family as four claws will accompany their paw pad markings and are 2inches in height and width setting them apart from other Canidae populations in Virginia such as they coyote


The red fox is the largest of the fox species as they weigh between 7-31 lbs with the males being slightly larger than the females; often populations in more sparse regions such as deserts tend to be smaller than those in less challenging environments. This fox is well known for its adaptability leading it to colonize a variety of habitats from tundra’s to deserts; often in Virginia they occur in forests, meadows, farms and urban areas. They prefer locations with mixed vegetation such as scrubland and the forest edge.


Red foxes are omnivorous although most of their diet is made of rabbits and mice. They are also known to eat in smaller amounts, poultry, squirrels muskrats, quail, small nongame birds, insects, nuts and fruits. Poultry loss to this species is largely due to improper husbandry practices. It does not exert real pressure on game bird populations. The red fox is unique in it’s food storage ability as it will collect it’s hunted prey and store them in caches throughout the territory; the fox usually will consume 0.5-1 kilogram of food daily. Red foxes appear to dislike the flavor of moles but will catch them and give them to their pups as playthings.


The red fox is the largest of the true foxes and found throughout the northern hemisphere in Asia, North Africa, Europe and North America. They are thus found throughout the entirety of Virginia barring the southeastern corner; it typically prefers area of low human population and diverse habitat.

Outside of breeding seasons the red foxes are found in densely vegetated areas near burrows that are dug into hills and bluffs, they often dig in well drained soils and their dens can last for decades if in a stable location. There are very few reasons a fox may abandon their den but a mange outbreak or destruction will cause them to abandon their home.


Typically, when breeding the red fox is monogamous for the season; it is common for the female kits of past generations to stay with their parents for several years and aid with the rearing of their siblings are well. Red fox groups always have a single breeding male. Female foxes ovulate spontaneously for 1-6 days with the exact time of their breeding differing by their location but in Virginia is typically January-February. After mating the female will be pregnant for 51-53 days and then birth a litter of on average 5 kits that are between 50-150 grams in weight and blind for the first 9-14 days of their life. After 4-5 weeks in the den the pups can be seen outside the burrow and in the next 4-6 weeks they will be weaned. Typically, in foxes the kits and mother will stay together until they reach sexual maturity at 10 months of age.

Where to See in Virginia

Red foxes for the majority of their life they will occupy their own territory which is regularly defended from other foxes and 5-12 square kilometers in size. Within their territory the fox will have an main den which is often a discarded burrow that has been repurposed for their use and several emergency burrows throughout their territory. Often the same dens are used for multiple generations and well trod pathways can be seen in the forest flow leading from the main den to the other preferred areas of their habitat such as hunting grounds and food storage locations. Often when the young disperse in autumn they will travel between 10-400 kilometers away from their original territory. The red fox is crepuscular or nocturnal depending on food availability preferring to be awake at dawn and dusk but will remain active until their needs have been met.

Whilst the red fox is a large animal, they do have natural predators especially as pups being hunted by coyotes, eagles, bears and most significantly humans as they are a popular hunting target and are well known threats to farmed poultry. Albeit a fox in your neighborhood can also be beneficial as they control rodent populations which can be beneficial for agricultural farmers.


Fox, D. 2007. Vulpes vulpes. Animal Diversity Web.

Hoffmann, M. & Sillero-Zubiri, C. (2021) Vulpes vulpesIUCN Red List of Threatened Species.

Feldhamer, G.; Thompson, B. & Chapman, J. (2003). Wild Mammals of North America: Biology, Management, and Conservation: Biology, Management and Economics (Second ed.). Johns Hopkins University Press. pp. 516–530.

Castello, Jose, 2018. Canids of the World. Princeton University Press: Princeton, NJ

Iossa, G.; Soulsbury, C.D.; Baker, P.J. & Harris, S. (2008). “Body mass, territory size, and life-history tactics in a socially monogamous canid, the red fox Vulpes vulpesJournal of Mammalogy. 89 (6): 1481–1490.

Elbroch, L. M.; Kresky, M. R. & Evans, J. W. (2012). Field Guide to Animal Tracks and Scat of California. University of California Press. p. 189

Updated 2024: Mara Snyder

Last updated: February 17, 2024

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