Fox Behaviour and Ecology
All sightings and any possible evidence of fox activity should be reported immediately. Ring the 24 hour hotline on 1300 FOX OUT (1300 369 688)
Life Cycle and Reproduction | Diet | Territories and Activity | Predators and Competition | Further Information
Foxes generally have only one mate, although social groups of one male to several females are known to exist. Foxes are reproductively receptive once per year (seasonally mono-estrous) and are stimulated to breed by changing day-length and resource availability. Gestation is 51 to 53 days with most cubs (also sometimes called ‘kits’) being born between August and September. Mean litter size is four with up to 10 being possible. Cubs are weaned by about one month and are sexually mature by 10 months. They usually have well defined home ranges with spatially stable borders. Ranges vary in size depending on habitat and have been recorded at around 30 ha in urban areas and up to 1,600 ha in arctic environments. Dispersal is a common behaviour in sub-adult males from late summer through to breeding time in winter.
In Victoria, foxes generally pair up in early winter and mate in mid to late winter. They usually hide in shelters during the day and evening. Foxes around the Port of Melbourne (Victoria dock area) shelter in thick weeds such as blackberries and remain totally quiet until after midnight. Their activity increases gradually after midnight to reach a peak in activity from 1 am to 3 am. Data on these urban foxes suggest that first and second year animals do not generally disperse further than one to two km from their natal area.
The population estimate of the fox in Victoria is one to two million (widespread) and in NSW is three to six million (widespread), with a common density of four to eight animals per square kilometre. It is estimated that one million foxes potentially eat 400 tonnes of food per night or 146,000 tonnes of food per year. Research has shown that the 'typical' fox diet in Australia consists of one third native species, one third domestic stock, and one third feral pests such as rabbits, mice and rats. Of course, diet varies considerably from region to region and at different times of the year.
The fox on mainland Australia has few natural predators except for humans, dingoes and eagles. Tasmania, however, has native carnivores (e.g. Tasmanian devil) which could potentially predate fox cubs. Mortality on the mainland is heavily influenced by competition and seasonal factors such as drought, mange and distemper.
Foxes are opportunistic predators and scavengers, and will eat freshly killed meat, carrion, fruits, berries and even scraps from refuse sites. Any animal up to 5.5 kg may be taken as prey. In Tasmania this includes bandicoots, potoroos, bettongs, lizards, lambs, goat kids, rabbits, rats, mice, free-range poultry and wild ducks. Blackberries and hawthorn berries are readily eaten, as are road kill and birthing membranes of livestock.
Foxes, like domestic dogs, ‘cache’ or store surplus food for later consumption. Caching is usually no more than simply placing the food in a small hole or depression, then lightly covering it with soil, however some foxes will also use stumps or similar structures. If food availability decreases, the cached food will be used, however if food levels remain high, the cached food is left and may be taken by other foxes or scavengers.
Foxes are generally solitary animals and usually hunt alone, except in the breeding season. They will maintain a well-defined home range with spatially stable borders. Scent marking with urine, scats (droppings) and secretions from anal glands, plus aggressive and non-aggressive confrontations and vocalisations are all used to define the borders. Ranges vary in size depending on habitat and availability of food, and have been recorded from around 9 ha in urban areas up to 1,600 ha in Arctic environments.
Apart from predation and human intervention, mortality is thought to be mostly due to seasonal factors such as drought (and its impact upon food availability), mange and distemper.
Contact: Invasive Species EnquiriesInvasive Species Branch
171 Westbury Road
PROSPECT TAS 7250
Phone: 03 6336 5320
Fax: 03 6336 5453
Media enquiries should be directed to 03 6233 3625.
Report all fox sightings and any possible evidence of fox activity to 1300 FOX OUT (1300 369 688)
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