Red Fox

Although there have been no reported sightings of a red fox (Vulpes vulpes) in Wind Cave National Park it is possible that they occur in the park. The red fox is a small, dog-like mammal, with a sharp pointed face and ears, an agile and lightly built body, a coat of lustrous long fur, and a large bushy tail.

Although "red fox" is the accepted common name for the species, not all members of the species are actually red. Vulpes vulpes has a number of common color variations, two or more of which may occur within a single litter. The basic, and most common, color is red in a variety of shades, with a faint darker red line running along the back and forming a cross from shoulder to shoulder on the saddle. Individuals commonly exhibit some or all of the following markings: black paws, black behind the ears, a faint black muzzle, white or light undersides and throat, a white tail tip, and white stockings. Other common colors are brown and black.

Probably red foxes eat more small mammals - voles, mice, lemmings, squirrels, hares, rabbits -- than any other food, although they supplement this with a wide variety of other foods, including plants. Their diet changes with the seasons: they may eat mainly small mammals in fall and winter, augmented in spring with nesting waterfowl, especially on the prairies, and in summer with insects and berries. They have been seen feasting on eggs and chicks of colonies of nesting seabirds, and will take other birds, and their nestlings and eggs, when they can get them. Red foxes have been known to eat and feed to their young lake trout weighing 1.5- 3 kg, which they caught by leaping from the shore onto fish schooling in shallow water. They eat a wide variety of other items, including seal pups, beaver, reptiles, fruits of all sorts, and garbage. They will frequently bury or hide surplus food for later use, but other animals often find and use it first.

Red foxes hunt by smell, sight, and sound, as do most dogs. They have excellent eyesight, and the slight movement of an ear may be all that they need to locate a hidden rabbit. They have a keen sense of smell and acute hearing. They can smell nests of young rabbits or eggs hidden by long grass. Sometimes they wait patiently for the sound of a mouse moving along its path in grass or snow and then pounce; at other times, hearing movement underground, they dig quickly and locate the prey by its scent. They hunt mostly toward sunset, during the night, and in early morning.

Red foxes have been called bold, cunning, and deceitful, particularly in children's stories. In fact, they are shy, secretive, and nervous by disposition, and they appear to be very intelligent. They have a sharp bark, used when startled and to warn other foxes.

Last updated: April 10, 2015

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