Something Wild: Red Fox

Oct 14, 2005

If you see a fox near your house, it's likely to be a red fox. These cunning creatures are evolving into suburban- and even urban- dwellers. 

So how do you tell a red fox from a grey fox? Well, the red fox has a white tip on its tail, and the grey fox has a black one. But a better clue is where you've spotted one of these handsome canines. If you see it near your house, it's likely to be a red fox. That's because these cunning creatures are evolving into suburban- and even urban - dwellers. 

Some biologists suspect this change is related to the increase in coyotes, which are out-competing foxes for food and territories. Ever adaptable, red foxes have figured out it is safer to live near humans than their larger canine cousins. Reputed to be fierce predators, those who know red foxes best say they are, in fact, extremely cautious, very smart, and always opportunistic. Foxes will eat almost anything, from fruits to insects to garbage to their preferred prey, rodents. A fox's ear is especially well-adapted for hearing the tiny feet of mice, voles and shrews as they scurry about underground. Therefore, one benefit of having more foxes nearby is a definite drop in rodent levels. 

Some people react unfavorably, of course, to the idea that this pointy-faced predator may be moving under their porch. They worry about their pets, or even their children. But most biologists believe a healthy fox will avoid any confrontation that they cannot win easily. And after all, a red fox rarely weighs more than 15 pounds. And while foxes do sometimes carry rabies, at the moment this terrible disease seems to have abated. So, if you see a fox around during the day, it isn't necessarily a bad thing. Vixens, or female foxes, will often be about when they have young, for example. The red fox has proven to be nothing if not resilient. After all, they've certainly out-foxed us time and again!