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Fox Mating Behavior: Ecology & FAQ

Nicole Cosgrove

Foxes are very versatile creatures. They can be found in practically every region on earth, having adapted to a wide range of environments. Foxes are so successful that the red fox, one of the most well-known fox species, is the most prevalent and wide-ranging wild carnivore on the planet.

These animals look somewhat similar to dogs, though they’re actually closer to wolves genetically. But how did they manage to spread so far and thrive so successfully as a species? Maybe the answer lies in their mating habits.divider-dog pawIn total, there are at least 37 separate species of fox. They’re all considered to be foxes, but only 12 of those species are considered “true” foxes of the genus Vulpes. Even though these 12 species are all of the same genera, they’re quite different creatures; surviving and thriving in various environments across the globe. As such, they have many different habits, including their mating habits.

Though there are 12 true fox species, most of them are quite rare and many people haven’t heard of them. Three fox species are far more common than the rest and most people know them; the arctic, gray, and red foxes.

Arctic Fox

artic fox
Image Credit: Raphael Rivest, Shutterstock

Arctic foxes are thought to be monogamous, mating for life. They live in desolate arctic wastelands across the world, where life is solitary and difficult most of the time. For shelter, they make dens in cliffside holes and caves, and they do not hibernate during the winter months.

Mating begins as playful courting between partners, where they run and play together. Once they mate, the male continues to return to the cave to bring sustenance to his partner. There are seven pups to a litter on average, though litters can be as large as 15.


Red Fox

red fox
Image Credit: RT Images, Shutterstock

Red foxes only breed once a year, spurred on by the cold of winter. Breeding takes place between December and March most often. Males will mate multiple times over these months, sticking with each partner for about three weeks while they hunt and run together on the search for a good den for raising the pups.

Most often, there are four to nine pups in a red fox’s litter. It takes just 52 days on average for the cubs to be born once mating occurs.


Gray Fox

gray fox
Image Credit: Keneva Photography, Shutterstock

Gray foxes court and mate in a similar fashion to red foxes. Their mating period is generally from January to May. They even have the same gestation period as red foxes. Gray fox litters tend to be a bit smaller though, with three to five pups on average.

The biggest difference between the mating habits of gray and red foxes is that gray foxes aren’t known for being promiscuous like red foxes. In fact, it’s generally believed that gray foxes mate for life.

FAQ

Are foxes monogamous creatures?

It was believed that foxes were monogamous for quite some time. However, it turns out that things aren’t that straight-forward. Mating habits differ between fox species. While it’s still believed that some fox species, such as arctic foxes, are monogamous, others, like red foxes, have been shown to take on multiple partners. Even females have been observed being surrounded by several male foxes at the same time during mating season. Communal dens have also been found, where multiple litters are being raised in the same den.

What happens to mating patterns when fox populations Dwindle?

In 1994, the fox population in Bristol, UK was ravaged by a massive outbreak of sarcoptic mange. A large portion of the native fox population died during this incident. But it provided researchers a unique glimpse into fox mating habits since there had been a large-scale genetic study carried out on these same foxes in the years prior.

Researches went out and studied the remaining population after the mange outbreak to see how the decline had affected their mating habits. As it turns out, foxes exhibit less promiscuous behavior when their numbers are lower. This was due to the reduction in competition since subordinate males had been practically wiped out.

How many foxes reach maturity and get to reproduce?

Foxes are born in litters that span from a few cubs to as many as 15. But most of those cubs will never reach adulthood. A majority will starve or die from freezing temperatures in winter. More than half of foxes die before reaching one year of age. Roughly 45% of foxes reach maturity, and even fewer will get the chance to reproduce.

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Conclusion

Though most foxes look pretty similar, their behavior patterns are distinctly different; especially when it comes to mating. From monogamous to promiscuous, foxes span the entire range of sexual behaviors. Sadly, most foxes will never get the chance to reproduce. Surprisingly, foxes become less promiscuous when populations dwindle. But the red fox is still one of the most successful carnivores on the planet, so there’s no need to worry.

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Nicole Cosgrove

Nicole is the proud mom of Baby, a Burmese cat and Rosa, a New Zealand Huntaway. A Canadian expat, Nicole now lives on a lush forest property with her Kiwi husband in New Zealand. She has a strong love for all animals of all shapes and sizes (and particularly loves a good interspecies friendship) and wants to share her animal knowledge and other experts' knowledge with pet lovers across the globe.