By Mary Lundeberg – Although not native to southwest Florida, the red fox has expanded its range from the panhandle across the state. They are resourceful in adapting to our changing environment and are a fascinating mammal to observe. Foxes are also skillful scavengers. They eat fruit, insects, frogs, eggs, rodents, small mammals, and even baby alligators. They don’t overeat preferring to hide surplus food in shallow holes covered by dirt, twigs, and leaves.
Fox dens are holes seven to nine inches in diameter commonly located near water, good cover, and plenty of prey. Their dens can be drainage ditches, spaces under sheds, empty lots with sandy soil, or thickets of brush. Foxes usually have more than one den and will readily move their kits to avoid danger, such as coyotes. Their territory ranges from less than a mile to three miles, but if food is scarce, it can expand to 40 square miles.
Every fox has its own character. The best time to observe them is in the spring during the twilight hours, after the kits have emerged from their den and both parents are gathering food and grooming them. Foxes are nocturnal preferring to hunt at dusk and dawn.
To catch their prey, foxes have developed catlike behaviors. Their large ears enable them to hear well, especially lower frequencies such as the rustling and gnawing made by small mammals. This precise hearing enables them to capture prey hiding in the dense underbrush.
The anatomy of their eyes is similar to cat eyes with vertical slit pupils that allow them to see in the dark as well as bright daylight. Foxes move quietly and can quickly pounce on unsuspecting prey.
Foxes are intelligent and caring creatures. They mate for life and tend to den in the same area. After a gestation period of 53 days, 3 to 6 gray kits are born. As devoted parents, they guard the den, provide food, and groom their pups. The vixen nurses her young until they reach five weeks old. The kits’ gray fur turns reddish in a few weeks, and when the kits are about four to five weeks old, they gradually emerge from their den. Kits play like puppies, chasing one another and jumping as they develop their renowned hunting skills.
Hunting foxes by trapping or shooting is illegal in Florida. There is a lot of misunderstanding about these useful predators, who help to keep the rodent population under control. Weighing about 10 pounds, foxes do not eat dogs, cats, or human babies, as some people fear. I’m grateful for the opportunity to observe these fascinating mammals in the wild. The red fox has the widest geographic distribution of any carnivore in the world today.
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