Ecology and behaviour: Life cycle
A typical fox year
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The following pattern is found in the northern hemisphere; in the southern hemisphere the fox life cycle is shifted by approximately six months as illustrated by the two figures right and below.
The female gives birth to 4-5 cubs in a den and at the beginning the male brings food to feed her as she rarely leaves the den. The cubs are born blind and deaf and their fur is short and black. For the first few weeks the cubs do not leave the den and are dependent on their mother's warmth.
© J. Bowry
Progressively, the female spends a greater time away from the den. After about a month, the cubs start emerging from the den and exploring their surroundings. At this stage they start eating solid food and so all adults in a group are busy bringing food to the enlarged family. In spring foxes begin their annual moult.
At the beginning of summer, the female has finished lactating and the breeding den is abandoned.
In mid-summer the adults start bringing less food for the cubs and so the juveniles (youngsters) need to learn to forage for themselves. Towards the end of the summer, the family is increasingly spread over a larger area.
Already in early autumn, the cubs are fully grown and cannot easily be distinguished from an adult fox. The family group starts to break up, fighting increases and some of the youngsters disperse.
Autumn, as well as winter, are part of the dispersal season. Whilst the adults moult out their old coat in the early summer, the growth of the new coat is not completed until the early autumn. This is when their coats look at their best, and is why most foxes are hunted for their furs in early winter.
This is the mating season and when young foxes disperse from their natal area. Males follow females at close quarters. This is the period when fights and vocalizations are their highest. Towards the end of the winter, the female will look for a suitable den where she can give birth to the cubs.
Question & Answer
TopHow many times do foxes mate per year?
The mating season only lasts a few weeks, and during this period female foxes come into heat once. Her "oestrus" is short, only about three days.
TopHow long does pregnancy last?
Pregnancy is a little shorter than in the domestic dog, lasting about 53 days.
TopWhich sort of dens do foxes use?
Foxes are not very selective when it comes to dens.
They use earths of other animals (e.g. badger setts), unused or occupied buildings and garden sheds. Dens can be underground or above ground, even in hollow trees or in the branches of dense trees.
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- Larivière, S. & Pasitschniak-Arts, M. (1996) Vulpes vulpes. Mammalian Species 537, 1-11.
- Lloyd, H.G. (1980) The red fox. Batsford, London.
- Nowak, R.M. (2005) Walker's carnivores of the world. John Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, Maryland, USA.
- Saunders, G. & McLeod, L. (2007) Improving fox management strategies in Australia. Bureau of Rural Sciences, Canberra, Australia.