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Mammals

Red Fox
(Vulpes vulpes)

Photo: Sheila Newenham
Red fox

Did You Know?

  • Red foxes can run up to 30 miles an hour for short periods.
  • Red foxes may leave bones and other objects around the den as toys for their young (kits).

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Positive Benefits

Red foxes help control small mammal and rabbit populations.

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Description & Identification

Photo: Bob Coury, Painet Inc., IDNR image library
Red fox standing in the snow.

 

Red foxes belong to the Canidae family. They are small canids, approximately three feet in length including the tail, and weigh 7 to 14 pounds.

Red foxes are the only mammals in Illinois with a coat of rusty red fur. The fur on the outer ears, legs and feet are dark brown to blackish. The cheeks, throat, underside and tip of the tail are white.

There are three color phases in addition to the red phase. The melanistic phase is black; the silver phase is black with white tips; and the cross phase is red with black across the shoulders and back. In Illinois, these color phases are rare in the wild.

Red foxes have five toes on the front feet and four toes on the rear feet.

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Size Comparison

Illustrator: Lynn Smith
Man and red fox illustration
Size comparison of a six-foot tall man and a red fox.

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Signs: Tracks & Scat

The tracks of a fox are similar to those of a small coyote or dog. Like coyote tracks, fox tracks tend to run in a straight line.

Photo: Terry Kem
Red fox tracks in the mud. Note that not all of the claw marks register. Since foxes have a lot of fur on their paws, their tracks are usually somewhat indistinct.
Red fox tracks in the mud. Note that not all of the claw marks register. Since foxes have a lot of fur on their paws, their tracks are usually somewhat indistinct.

Fox droppings are similar to coyote droppings but smaller. The appearance depends upon the fox’s diet and may include bone, fur, feathers or seeds.

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Distribution & Abundance

Red foxes can be found throughout Illinois but are less common in the southern part of the state. In good habitat, it is not uncommon to find three to four red foxes per square mile.

Photo: Adele Hodde, IDNR
Red fox walking through grass.
Red foxes often are slimmer during the summer months.

Researchers in Illinois have found that as coyote populations continue to increase, red foxes are moving to urban areas to avoid competing against or being preyed upon by coyotes.

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Behavior & Ecological Role

Red foxes are nocturnal (active at night). They are often seen in the early morning or late evening while they are out hunting.

Photo: Willowbrook Wildlife Center

During the summer months they live in family groups consisting of a male, female, the current year’s young and sometimes a female from the previous year’s litter. They are typically solitary in the fall and winter.

Red foxes help control small mammal and rabbit populations.

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Diseases & Public Health

Red foxes can be carriers of rabies, coccidiosis and sarcoptic mange. Rabies can be transmitted to humans and is generally fatal if not treated quickly. Coccidiosis is an intestinal disease caused by various species of protozoan. Some species cause infections that result in mild symptoms such as diarrhea, but others are highly virulent and can be fatal. The disease is transmitted through contact with soil or water that has been contaminated by feces.

Sarcoptic mange is highly infectious and is caused by burrowing mites. Sarcoptic mange can be transmitted to both people and pets in close contact with an infected fox. People are not a suitable host for the mite and the infection will clear on its own, though the infected skin may be itchy. Infected pets can be treated with medications prescribed by a veterinarian.

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Habitat & Food

Foxes are generalists and are able to use a variety of habitats. They can be found in forest edges, grasslands, agricultural areas and in urban areas. They often sleep above ground but use a den for raising young and for shelter during inclement weather. Red foxes sometimes dig their own burrows, but often they use abandoned woodchuck or badger dens. Red foxes may leave bones and other objects around the den as toys for their young (kits).

Photo: Willowbrook Wildlife Center
Red fox den with trash and feathers which serve as "toys" for the young foxes.
Red foxes often leave playthings, like bones or trash, around the den entrance for the kits.

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Reproduction & Longevity

Red foxes are monogamous and both sexes help care for the young, called kits. Breeding takes place in January through early February. Gestation is 49 to 56 days, and the kits are born in late March to April.

Photo: Tom Brakefield
Three red fox kits sitting at the den entrance.

Red foxes live three to seven years. Hawks, owls and coyotes often take kits. Coyotes will kill adult foxes to reduce food competition in their territories. Outbreaks of sarcoptic mange occasionally cause major reductions in the fox population. Vehicles are another major source of mortality for red foxes.

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Damage Prevention & Control Measures

Red foxes sometimes take poultry and can cause a nuisance when they burrow under buildings.

Habitat Modification

Control rabbit and small mammal populations to reduce the likelihood that a fox will use your property.

Exclusion

To protect poultry, make sure that fences are secure. Wire fencing should be buried at least 12 to 24 inches below ground to prevent foxes from digging underneath the fence. Wire mesh fences should have openings less than three inches to prevent foxes from squeezing through the fence. Since foxes are good climbers, it may be necessary to add a wire roof to keep determined foxes out. Providing a shed or other enclosure will help protect poultry. All doors or other openings should be shut at night. Predation of poultry occurs most frequently during late spring and summer when adults are provisioning their young.

Repellents and Frightening Devices

There are currently no approved repellents for foxes in Illinois.

Frightening devices are typically ineffective at deterring foxes.

Removal

If a fox is taking poultry or causing other problems, they may be trapped and removed. If you want to hire someone to remove the fox for a fee, contact a nuisance wildlife control operator. If you want to trap the animal yourself, you will need a PERMIT from an Illinois Department of Natural Resources district wildlife biologist. The biologist can provide information on capture and disposal techniques.

Click HERE for full hunting and trapping regulations. Click HERE for more information about trapping. Best management practices for trapping red foxes can be found in this guide: Red_Fox_BMP

A general overview of established best management practices for trapping in the United States can be found here: Introduction_BMPs

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