Mammals: Red Fox

The wildlife researcher slowly crawled towards the animal who had incidentally been captured in the rubber padded leg hold trap. Whispering as he threw fresh chunks of beaver meat to it, he moved within a few feet of the agitated red fox...

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He looked into the slanted eyes, now close enough to notice their vertical pupils. And the wild creature looked into his. In this cautious moment, he took in the whole scene. The reddish furred animal was brilliant against the white snow. Its intense, yet helpless stare drew an unfamiliar set of emotions from the man. Whispering lightly, he gently reached in and opened the jaws of the trap. The now released animal pulled its front paw out, took two steps, and looked back. The vixen seemed to tip her head to the bearded biologist, as she turned and evaporated into the misty evening forest.    

The Red Fox (Vulpes vulpes) is a small canid family member with pointed ears, a slender muzzle, and an overall rufous coloration. There are various coat colorations and color phases, but the legs and feet are usually blackish, the throat white, and the long bushy tail has a white tip. Generally, red fox are about 36-to-46 inches in total length, two feet tall, and weigh approximately 10-to-15 pounds. Red fox in Kootenai Country Montana are adaptable to survive in various habitats, although they are rarely seen due to their nocturnal nature. They often can be associated with a combination of large open fields, mixed forests, and a year-round water source.    

These foxes are opportunistic omnivores with a highly diverse diet. Fox will feed on small rodents such as deer mice, voles, and ground squirrels. They will also take birds, grouse, and waterfowl. Fox kill martens, muskrats, weasels, raccoons, porcupines, and fawn deer as well as reptiles, insects, and will harvest eggs. Fruit is consumed and can be a major part of their diet in late summer and fall, and can include huckleberries, raspberries, thimble berries along with grass and sedges. When hunting mouse like prey underground or snow, they utilize excellent hearing to detect low frequency sounds and may tune into the earth’s magnetic fields. Often, they will leap high above the prey steering with their tails only to come down on prey up to 15-feet away!    

Red fox have an excellent sense of smell, binocular vision, and have numerous vocalizations for contact and interaction. During aggressive encounters, they will emit throaty rattling sounds called gekkering. Fox and coyote ranges are usually exclusive. Predators may include wolves, badgers, wolverines, cougars, lynx, bobcats, and Golden eagles. Red fox females are called vixens, and the young pups or kits. This fox will often use dens of other animals, or dig burrows on hills or mountain slopes, or in ravines, rock clefts, or steep banks of water bodies. Fox tracks are about 1.75 inches long, and have a somewhat chevron shaped palm pad.    

The Red fox figures prominently in Native American and other cultures folklore, as an intelligent, cunning, and magical creature that may take human form, and appear and disappear at will.    

(Author’s Note: Reference- Montana’s Furbearing Mammals, Frisina and Alt; Red Fox are a valuable fur animal and unprotected predator in Montana.)