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red fox near roaring mountain jim peaco march 3 2016

Yellowstone Natural History: Red Fox

It’s a very famous scene now: a red fox diving into the snow in Yellowstone National Park.

The video (such as the one below) opens in winter. After some establishing shots, to convey the winteriness of the scene, we come upon our main actor or actress. Stepping slowly, cocking their head like they’re trying to make sense of a piece of modern art. Then: they rise! And they dive! And more often than not, they come up with a tasty mouse or vole.

It’s a shame, in part, that wolves (however majestic and loveable) get more visitor attention than the humble red fox. And sure, you may have red foxes where you live. But, interestingly, Yellowstone is home to a number of red foxes. There are even a few subpopulations.

Indeed, in the northeast corner of the Park around Cooke City and the Beartooth Plateau, the red foxes are more commonly yellowish and even cream-colored. Further, the various red fox subpopulations tend to differ in terms of ear and hind foot length, most likely owing to longer, more intense winters at high elevation. It’s reportedly similar to differences in fox populations in Australia.

Otherwise, most red foxes in Yellowstone tend to hang out in the Hayden and Pelican valleys, or around Canyon Village.

Basic Facts

• Scientific name: Vulpes vulpes.
• Specifically, Yellowstone’s red fox is the Rocky Mountain red fox (Vulpes vulpes macroura).
• Adult males weigh 10-12 pounds.
• Adult females weigh 10 pounds on average.
• Measure an average 18 to 33.75 inches.
• Males called dogs, females called vixens.
• Live 3-7 years in the wild, although red foxes have been known to live for up to 11 years in Yellowstone.
• Nocturnal, but will increase activity during the winter.

Sound

• Known for its bark.
• Unlike wolves and coyotes, red foxes rarely howl or sing.

fox blacktail deer plateau april 2015 neal herbert

Range/Migration

• Home range measures approximately 3.75 square miles.
• Males tend to have slightly larger home ranges.
• Red foxes make “scent posts” with urine to mark territories.
• Travel solitary or in mated pairs.
• Females generally travel with previous litter.
• In Yellowstone, prefer forested habitats and the edges of grass and brushland, but the red fox can acclimate to several different ranges.

Canine Comparison

• The red fox is noticeably smaller than both coyotes and wolves.
• Usually avoid both coyotes and wolves, since both are known to kill red foxes for food or territory management.
• Known to visit wolf kills to scavenge, especially in winter.

red fox soda butte drainage jim peaco march 26 2015

Fur

• In general, the Yellowstone red fox is reddish orange, with a white chest and black legs.
• Of course, the red fox has been known to have golden, reddish-brown, even silver and black fur.
• As previously mentioned, one of Yellowstone’s red fox subpopulations has a more cream-colored coat.

Diet

• Preys on small rodents such as voles and mice.
• Will also hunt rabbits.
• Otherwise, red foxes are somewhat opportunistic, seeking out birds, amphibians, and other small prey.

red fox pups in den opening june 5 2015 jim peaco

Reproduction

• The red fox mates in winter.
• The average litter comprises two to 12 pups.
• Fox cubs born with brown or gray fur.
• Red fur generally grows in after first month.
• Mated pair cares for litter through the summer before the litter strikes out on their own.

Dive! Dive!

• Fox diving is the product of an intricate interplay between ground conditions and a fox’s senses.
• Because foxes are so light, they can lightly walk on snow surface.
• Further, they can hear with pinpoint accuracy the movement of prey.
• Some researchers believe red fox diving is combination of accurate hearing and the Earth’s magnetic field.
• When the two coincide, the fox leaps.
• On average, a fox catches something 73 percent of the time.
• The whole process is astonishing accurate.

About Sean Reichard

Sean Reichard is the editor of Yellowstone Insider and author of Yellowstone Insider For Families 2017.

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