FOX – Red – Grey – Gray – Removal – Damage – Prevention – Oklahoma

Identification


The red fox (Vulpes vulpes) is the most common of the foxes native to North America. Most depredation problems are associated with red foxes, although in some areas gray foxes (Urocyon cinereoargenteus) can cause problems. Few damage complaints have been associated with the swift fox (V. velox), kit fox (V. macrotis), or Arctic fox (Alopex lagopus). The red fox is dog-like in appearance, with an elongated pointed muzzle and large pointed ears that are usually erect and forward. It has moderately long legs and long, thick, soft body fur with a heavily furred, bushy tail. Typically, red foxes are colored with a light orange-red coat, black legs, lighter-colored underfur and a white-tipped tail. Silver and cross foxes are color phases of the red fox. In North America the red fox weighs about 7.7 to 15.4 pounds (3.5 to 7.0 kg), with males on average 2.2 pounds (1 kg) heavier than females. Gray foxes weigh 7 to 13 pounds (3.2 to 5.9 kg) and measure 32 to 45 inches (81 to 114 cm) from the nose to the tip of the tail. The color pattern is generally salt-and-pepper gray with buffy underfur. The sides of the neck, back of the ears, legs, and feet are rusty yellow. The tail is long and bushy with a black tip. Other species of foxes present in North America are the Arctic fox, swift fox, and kit fox. These animals are not usually associated with livestock and poultry depredation because they typically eat small rodents and lead a secretive life in remote habitats away from people, although they may cause site-specific damage problems.

Range

Red foxes occur over most of North America, north and east from southern California, Arizona, and central Texas. They are found throughout most of the United States with the exception of a few isolated areas. Gray foxes are found throughout the eastern, north central, and southwestern United States They are found throughout Mexico and most of the southwestern United States from California northward through western Oregon. Kit foxes are residents of arid habitats. They are found from extreme southern Oregon and Idaho south along the Baja Peninsula and eastward through southwestern Texas and northern Mexico. The present range of swift foxes is restricted to the central high plains. They are found in Kansas, the Oklahoma panhandle, New Mexico, Texas, Nebraska, South Dakota, Wyoming, and Colorado. As its name indicates, the Arctic fox occurs in the arctic regions of North America and was introduced on a number of islands in the Aleutian chain.

Habitat

The red fox is adaptable to most habitats within its range, but usually prefers open country with moderate cover. Some of the highest fox densities reported are in the north-central interspersed with farmlands. The range of the red fox has expanded in recent years to fill habitats formerly occupied by coyotes (Canis latrans). The reduction of coyote numbers in many sagebrush/grassland areas of Montana and Wyoming has resulted in increased fox numbers. Red foxes have also demonstrated their adaptability by establishing breeding populations in many urban areas of the United States, Canada, and Europe. Gray foxes prefer more dense cover such as thickets, riparian areas, swamp land, or rocky pinyon-cedar ridges. In eastern North America, this species is closely associated with edges of deciduous forests. Gray foxes can also be found in urban areas where suitable habitat exists.

Food Habits

Foxes are opportunists, feeding mostly on rabbits, mice, bird eggs, insects, and native fruits. Foxes usually kill animals smaller than a rabbit, although fawns, pigs, kids, lambs, and poultry are sometimes taken. The foxes’ keen hearing, vision, and sense of smell aid in detecting prey. Foxes stalk even the smallest mice with skill and patience. The stalk usually ends with a sudden pounce onto the prey. Red foxes sometimes kill more than they can eat and bury food in caches for later use. All foxes feed on carrion (animal carcasses) at times.

General Biology, Reproduction, and Behavior

Foxes are crepuscular animals, being most active during the early hours of darkness and very early morning hours. They do move about during the day, however, especially when it is dark and overcast. Foxes are solitary animals except from the winter breeding season through midsummer, when mates and their young associate closely. Foxes have a wide variety of calls. They may bark, scream, howl, yap, growl, or make sounds similar to a hiccup. During winter a male will often give a yelling bark, ewo-wo-wo, that seems to be important in warning other male foxes not to intrude on its territory. Red foxes may dig their own dens or use abandoned burrows of a woodchuck or badger. The same dens may be used for several generations. Gray foxes commonly use wood piles, rocky outcrops, hollow trees, or brush piles as den sites. Foxes use their urine and feces to mark their territories. Mating in red foxes normally occurs from mid-January to early February. At higher latitudes (in the Arctic) mating occurs from late February to early March. Estrus in the vixen lasts 1 to 6 days, followed by a 51- to 53-day gestation period. Fox pups can be born from March in southern areas to May in the arctic zones. Red foxes generally produce 4 to 9 pups. Gray foxes usually have 3 to 7 pups per litter. Arctic foxes may have from 1 to 14 pups, but usually have 5 or 6. Foxes disperse from denning areas during the fall months and establish breeding areas in vacant territories, sometimes dispersing considerable distances.

Damage and Damage Identification

Foxes may cause serious problems for poultry producers. Turkeys raised in large range pens are subject to damage by foxes. Losses may be heavy in small farm flocks of chickens, ducks, and geese. Young pigs, lambs, and small pets are also killed by foxes. Damage can be difficult to detect because the prey is usually carried from the kill site to a den site, or uneaten parts are buried. Foxes usually attack the throat of young livestock, but some kill by inflicting multiple bites to the neck and back. Foxes do not have the size or strength to hold adult livestock or to crush the skull and large bones of their prey. They generally prefer the viscera and often begin feeding through an entry behind the ribs. Foxes will also scavenge carcasses, making the actual cause of death difficult to determine. Pheasants, waterfowl, other game birds, and small game mammals are also preyed upon by foxes. At times, fox predation may be a significant mortality factor for upland and wetland birds, including some endangered species. Rabies outbreaks are most prevalent among red foxes in southeastern Canada and occasionally in the eastern United States. The incidence of rabies in foxes has declined substantially since the mid-1960s for unexplained reasons. In 1990, there were only 197 reported cases of fox rabies in the United States as compared to 1,821 for raccoons
and 1,579 for skunks. Rabid foxes are a threat to humans, domestic animals, and wildlife.

Risk of Disease

While it is responsible to draw your attention to the potential hazards associated by living in close proximity to the red fox it is also important to keep the level of threat in perspective. Foxes can carry a range of parasites and diseases relevant to the health of domestic pets and people. As members of the canine family foxes are known to harbor numerous contagious diseases which can effect the health of pet dogs.

Toxocariasis This is the most common disease which foxes are likely to transmit to man. It is caused by a parasitic roundworm in the fox, toxocara canis. Microscopic toxocara eggs are present in the feces of infected animals. These eggs have thick, sticky shells which means that they can remain infective in the soil for two to four years after the feces have disappeared. The sticky shell helps eggs to adhere to fingers or clothing.

Humans can become infected with toxocara by accidentally swallowing the infective Toxocara eggs. This is why crawling babies and toddlers are most at risk; they tend to put dirty fingers and toys into their mouths. Medical records show that approximately 100 new cases of Toxocariasis are diagnosed each year. Once swallowed, Toxocara eggs release larvae into the intestine. These larvae travel through the body until they die, which may take several years.

The symptoms of this disease can be unpleasant and difficult to treat. They can include stomach upset and pain, headache, sore throat, wheezing and listlessness. In some cases, larvae reach the eyes where they can cause sight problems and in some cases blindness.

Domestic cats and dogs are prone to a form of this disease as well so cleaning up after their fouling is just as important.

* It is important to always clear up fox feces as soon as possible to deposit it in a safe and secure bin. This is so as not to allow sufficient time for any roundworm eggs to incubate.

Leptospirosis (Weil’s Disease) Foxes are also susceptible to Weil’s disease, which is a potentially life threatening condition and can be passed on to domestic pets and humans via contact with their urine.

Hydatid disease is a parasitic infestation by a tapeworm of the genus Echinococcus. It can result in the formation of cysts or parasitic tumours usually to the liver though lung, brain and bone can also be infected. It can be transmitted to humans either by directly ingesting food items or drinking water that is contaminated with stool from an infected animal or by petting or having other contact with cats and dogs that have been infected by proximity to foxes. These pets may shed the eggs in their stool, and their fur may be contaminated. They may also contaminate other objects, such as harnesses or leashes, which can also spread infection.

Sarcoptic Mange is a highly contagious skin condition which is caused by mites and results in irritation and extensive loss of hair. It can be fatal if left untreated. Foxes can pass mange on to dogs if they frequent each others’ living space. If the infected dog then sleeps on beds or furniture, everyone will begin scratching. Fortunately scabies in humans is self-limiting, that is the mite can burrow under the skin and cause itching, but cannot complete its life cycle on humans and dies within a few weeks.

Fleas and ticks are carried by most foxes, thus carrying a parasite that itself can be a carrier of serious or even fatal diseases.

Rabies – Fox are a “Rabies Vectored” wildlife species in Oklahoma, and most of the United States.

Risk to Pets

Given the opportunity foxes will kill small domestic pets such as rabbits, birds, guinea pigs and kittens. Unlike many predators foxes have the habit of killing more than they need to eat immediately. They may subsequently return for any uneaten corpses. Any small domestic animal should be securely protected with galvanized weld mesh or electrified fencing. Chicken wire is insufficient protection as it was designed to keep chickens in rather than to keep predators out.

The Oklahoma Wildlife Control®, L.L.C., is a nuisance & predatory wildlife solutions and service company, with a number of specialties. However, OWC is not an animal rescue nor a rehabilitation organization. If you have problems with domestic cats and dogs, we suggest that you contact your local animal shelter for assistance. Thank you.

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