Description: A medium-sized canid, the largest fox in the genus Vulpes. Large bushy tail, often tipped in white. Ranges in colour from greyish and rust red to a flame red, usually reddish-brown. Black backs to ears; lower limbs often black. Enormous geographical range and corresponding wide variation in all measurements. Measures given here are ranges with selected European averages. Head-and-body length: 58-90 cm, males 67 cm, females 63 cm. Tail length: 32-49 cm, males 45 cm, females 38 cm. Shoulder height: 35-40 cm. Weight: 3-11 kg, males 6.7 kg, females 5.4 kg.
Reproduction: Time of mating: variable with latitude and habitat, usually in late winter/early spring. Gestation: 49-55 days, usually 51-52. Litter size: 3-12, usually 4-5 in Europe, 68 in Ontario (Voigt and Macdonald 1984). Lactation: 4 weeks, completely weaned at 6-8 weeks. Age at sexual maturity: 9-10 months. Longevity: 10- 12 years in captivity, but generally less than 3 years in much of agricultural Europe.
Diet: Extremely varied, including invertebrates (particularly beetles and earthworms), small mammals (rodents and lagomorphs), birds (including game species), and fruit along with garbage and carrion. Generally caches food surplus to requirements, and has highly developed memory for locations of hoards (Macdonald 1976).
Distribution: Distributed throughout the northern hemisphere from the Arctic Circle to north Africa, Central America, and the Asiatic steppes excluding Iceland, the Arctic islands, some parts of Siberia, and extreme desert. European subspecies introduced into Eastern states (e.g. Virginia) of North America in the 17th Century, and mixed with local subspecies then moving southwards as habitat changed (forest clearance); also introduced to Australia.
Habitat: Extremely varied in habitat requirements, from arctic tundra to city centres (including sightings in London, Paris, Stockholm etc.). Natural habitat is dry, mixed landscape, with abundant 'edge' of scrub and woodland. Also found in uplands, mountains (crosses alpine passes), deserts, sand dunes, and farmland. Flourishes especially in affluent suburbs and, in many habitats, appears to be closely associated with humans.
Population and Status: Abundant and widespread. Heavily trapped, shot, or poisoned in much of its range, but in North America, where it is considered an important resource (fur), trapping is carefully regulated. Populations are locally and periodically decimated by rabies epizootics, but recovery appears to be swift (e.g. western Europe, North America, Wandeler et al. 1974).