European Red Fox Pest Species - Brought for Fox Hunting

The European red fox was introduced to Australia for the sport of fox hunting.

There were no foxes in Australia prior to their introduction in 1855 by European settlers. It is estimated that there are about 7.5 million foxes in Australia today.

Foxes are devastating to native Australian wildlife. They threaten the survival of 48 types of mammals, 14 species of birds, 12 varieties reptiles and 2 types of amphibians. Foxes have already contributed to the extinction of many native animals.


What does the Red Fox Look Like? Description of the Red Fox

There is only one species of fox in Australia — the Red Fox (Vulpes vulpes).

The red fox is an omnivorous placental mammal of the Canidae family, which also includes wolves, coyotes and domestic dogs. It has an acute muzzle (a "fox face"), a rusty reddish-brown coat above and a white underside to its chin, throat, chest and sometimes its belly. It has large ears and a large, very noticeable, bushy tail that is usually white tipped. It has a black nose. The fox has long limbs with black lower legs. Its body length is in the range of 45 to 90 cm with a tail length of between 30 and 55 cm. Not only does this bushy tail help the fox to balance,it also acts as a warm blanket to snuggle into when sleeping in cold weather and is used as a "signal flag" to other foxes. Adult male foxes usually weigh around 6 kg and females weigh about 5 kg. Their size is dependent on their geographic location with those in the southern cooler climates being larger than those in the arid interior desserts. Foxes have long, sharp teeth and sharp extendable claws which make them excellent grabbers, climbers and burrowers. Foxes can run at speeds of up to 48 kilometres per hour, a great benefit for catching prey. With their acute sense of hearing, they can easily locate small animals hidden in vegetation. The average life expectancy of a fox is between 2 to 3 years.


What is Fox Hunting?

The fox hunt was a key social event amongst the upper-classes of England in the 19th century and was often adapted in other parts of the British Empire. It involved the chasing and the killing of wild foxes by specially trained hounds for sport. Hunters dressed neatly in their uniforms which included a black velvet hat, a white cravat around their necks, a scarlet or black coloured jacket, white riding breeches and knee length riding boots would release specially trained dogs, known as foxhounds, to sniff out foxes hiding in thickets and then give chase to these frightened animals as they fled from the baying hounds. To the shout of “Tally-ho” the riders gave chase, following the hounds through a myriad of obstacles until the fox escaped or was killed.

Why was the Fox Brought to Australia? Where the Red Fox Came From and Why

After European settlement, many newly wealthy pastoralists of Australia were keen to emulate their counterparts in the United Kingdom and adapt some of the grander trappings of pastoral living of their motherland which at that time included the fox hunt. In 1855 a number of European red foxes were imported from England into Australia and released around Melbourne, Victoria and subsequently in 1871 close by at Geelong and Ballarat solely for the purpose of fox hunting. Unfortunately this had a devastating effect on the Austrian environment.

Related Article: Introduced Animals of Australia


Spread of Foxes Throughout Australia How Foxes in Australia Become Invasive

Once introduced, foxes spread rapidly throughout the Australian mainland. They were reported in New South Wales by 1893, in South Australia by 1901, in Queensland by 1907 and in Western Australia by 1912. Within just 20 years of their introduction, foxes were so numerous and destructive that they were officially declared as pests in Victoria. Within just 100 years of their first release in Australia, they had spread across vast distances of thousands of kilometres. Their expansion closely matched the spread of rabbits, another introduced animal also released in Geelong, Victoria in 1859. This was due to two reasons. Firstly, foxes were following a plentiful food supply, namely rabbits. The second reason was that humans continued to intentionally introduce foxes into areas that they had not been in before in order to control the population explosion of rabbits. Unfortunately the fox was also devouring native wildlife at prodigious rates.


Why Everyone Hates the Red Fox The Red Fox is a Pest in Australia

Foxes Kill Australian Native Animals

Being indiscriminate feeders they wreak havoc on native wildlife not accustomed to an apex predator such as the fox. Many native animals include ground-nesting birds such as the night parrot, and animals such as the quokkas, wallabies, and native rodents, many of which are endangered or vulnerable, fall prey to the fox. It has been suggested that foxes contributed to the extinction of the Desert rat-kangaroo.

Foxes Kill Farm Animals and Livestock

The fox causes significant economic losses to farmers by preying on poultry, young lambs and goats. An unsubstantiated claim put the total annual cost of foxes to Australia’s environment and economy at $227.5 million per year.


Tasmanian Devil
- Outfoxed the Fox -

The fox has never established itself in Tasmania. It seems that the more aggressive Tasmanian Devil found there outfoxed the fox by out-competing it as a hunter and scavenger including digging up and consuming the fox's cached food supply. This is one of the rare examples where a native Australian animal has succeeded against an introduced one. Unfortunately in 1999 or 2000 some foxes were illegally reintroduced Tasmania by some very foolish humans.

Related Article: Tasmanian Devil

Where does the Red Fox Live? Red Fox Habitat and Distribution

Foxes are found throughout the Australian mainland except in the wet tropic to the north and on the island of Tasmania (yellow on map). They have adapted to many different Australian habitats, ranging from desserts, arid areas, alpine regions, farmland and even suburbia. They are most abundant in lightly wooded areas.

Foxes have well defined home ranges which vary in size from 2 to 5 sq. kilometres depending on the type of habitat, population density of foxes and availability of food. They scent-mark their territory with urine, scats (droppings) and secretions from their anal glands. Foxes defend their home ranges with aggressive and non-aggressive posturing and vocal communications.


Red Fox Behaviour Red Fox Traits & Habits

While classified as nocturnal animals, foxes are actually crepuscular. That is, they are most active during the evening and early mornings. The fox is a solitary animal that may travel up to 15 kilometres within their home range in a single foray. During the day it rests hidden in a tree or log hollow, or in abandoned rabbit, wombat and goanna burrows or in dense undergrowth. It may have a number of such resting places throughout its home range.


Fox Sounds Video

What Do Red Foxes Sound Like? Red Fox Sounds

Foxes use sounds to communicate with each other. They have a repertoire of about 28 different vocalisations include greeting, threat, defensive, excitement, fighting and submissive calls.

The most frequently heard red fox vocalizations are a quick series of barks, and eerie screamy howls. Fox vocalizations are higher-pitched than that of a dog, because foxes are usually much smaller than dogs. The barks are very high-pitched, almost yippy ow-wow-wow-wow sounds. Its bark is sometimes mistaken for an owl hooting.


What Do Red Foxes Eat? Red Fox Diet & Hunting

Foxes are highly adaptable opportunistic predators and scavengers with indiscriminate eating habits. They set out individually on their hunting forays in the evening or early each morning. Foxes are omnivores, meaning they eat both animal and plant material. Where present they prefer rabbits but will eat rodents, frogs, birds, insects, eggs, lizards and fruit and edible human waste. They also eat domestic livestock such as poultry, lambs, goat kids and deer fawns. They consume about 0.5 kilograms of food each day. When food is plentiful, 95% of a fox’s diet consists of meat, both hunted and scavenged, and mainly rabbits, rodents, birds and small mammals. Insects and worms may constitute another 4% and the remaining 1% may consist of fruit. During times of food shortage they are less discerning, eating whatever is available including a large percentage of insects and plant matter.

Hunting Strategy

When hunting they target animals under 5 kgs in weight. With their quick reflexes foxes kill by attacking the head and neck of their victim and inflicting several deep bites and punctures predominately around the neck.

Wasteful Consumer

While it may consume small prey in their entirety, foxes can also be wasteful predators that leave large portions of their victims uneaten. For example they may eat only the head and neck of larger birds such as poultry. Or in the case of larger prey, they may eat only the tail, ears and tongues and internal organs leaving the rest of the carcass uneaten.

Surplus Killing Behaviour and Food Caching

The fox eats until its appetite is satisfied and once its hunger is appeased, it continues to hunt, scavenge and cache; unnecessarily killing additional animals beyond its immediate dietary requirements. This is called Surplus Killing Behaviour. It has been suggested that this wasteful behaviour has contributed significantly to the demise of many native animals.

Foxes also 'food cache’. That is, they bury surplus food in a number of location for consumption during hard times. This food is frequently never retrieved and hence wasted.


Red Fox Reproduction Red Fox Babies are Called 'Kits'

Female foxes (vixens) mate once a year during the mating season which runs from mid-June to the end of July. Foxes generally form social groups only during breeding season. These social groups consists of a dominate male and female together with a number of subordinate females who don’t produces litter themselves but help rear to young of the dominant female instead. Male and female foxes form monogamous pair during this time.

After a gestation period of approximately 53 days the vixen gives birth to a litter of 4 to 6 blue-grey coloured babies, called 'kits'. The vixen remains in the den for the first two week after the birth of her kits to feed and protect them. During this time the male fox brings her food and regurgitates it to feed her. At about 2 weeks the vixen leaves here kits along in their den as she goes hunting. When the kits are about three weeks old they start consuming regurgitated food that their mother provides them. Kits start to make their first tentative moves out of the den when they are about 5 weeks old and when they are about 9 weeks old they abandon the den and start to live on the surface. At about 3 months of age they start hunting for small prey and are totally independent by about 9 months and set out to establish themselves in new home ranges of their own. Young foxes reach sexually mature in 9-10 months and are ready in time for the next mating season.


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