As distinguished in appearance as it is clever, the Red Fox (Vulpes
vulpes) is perhaps, Oklahoma’s most beautiful wild canine.
Though the central portion of the state constitutes the extreme western range of the Red Fox, their populations are actually increasing in many parts of eastern Oklahoma. Sharing this area with the Gray Fox and Coyote, the Red Fox is no less adept at sustaining itself amidst human activity. Yet its ideal habitat is an area of dense timber, located within or near a pasture or other farmland.
Easily identified by its long bushy tail, pointed nose and large erect ears, those fortunate enough to observe a Red Fox in the wild often liken it to a small reddish-orange dog with a plush tail. However, the red fox may display a number of color variations, ranging from fiery orange to tawny gold, with black, brown or silver mutations acceptable. Its handsome coat is accentuated by black ears and feet, and the underside and tip of the tail are covered in white. This small canine averages 36 - 41 inches in length and weighs from 10 - 15 pounds.
Appropriately suited to predation of small mammals, the Red Fox makes its living at night when it hunts cottontail rabbits, rats and mice. Though these species constitute much of the fox’s diet, it will also consume eggs, turtles and insects. Its adaptability is further evidenced by its willingness to eat grasses, nuts, berries and grains. Though known for its craftiness in outwitting hunters and its ability to stalk prey, the Red Fox is not above doing dirty work to find a meal. It will readily excavate mice from beneath stumps or dense vegetation.
Daylight hours are normally spent resting. During this time, the Red Fox is keen on grooming its exquisite coat. Using its teeth as a comb, the fox removes loose hairs. It does not stray far from home, even when hunting. Nighttime activities rarely take them more than a mile from their daytime hunts, which they return to regularly to bed down. A hungry fox, however, may travel much farther to find food. Although essentially a solitary animal, if resources are abundant, up to three foxes may inhabit the same square mile of territory.
The Red Fox breeds in late winter. Female foxes, called vixens, prepare an underground den in the spring, for whelping, and after a 52-day gestation, up to nine kits are born. Three weeks later, the kits emerge from their den to play and explore near the burrow, under their mother’s watchful eye. An highly astute guardian, the mother will immediately hustle the kits back into the den at the first sign of danger.
The male stays with the female throughout the denning period. He provides much of the food for the young and regularly participates in their restless frolicking near the den entrance. This play, however, is actually a lesson in stalking, and will prove invaluable to the kits when they begin hunting for their own food. During this time, the entrance to the burrow is a virtual playground with the kits chasing and stalking each other. By winter, the play has ended and the kits, now young adults, and able to mate and raise their own litters, strike out on their own.
With its protected status, biologists and wildlife lovers alike, hope the Red Fox will continue to populate the wooded hills of eastern Oklahoma. With success, the sight of this beautiful and crafty canine, which is the subject of folk tale and legend alike, may one day become much more common.
* Beginning in 2007 sportsman can pursue these unique animals through hunting and trapping.