Types of Foxes In North America

Written by Heather Hall
Updated: February 26, 2023
© L-N/Shutterstock.com
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Foxes are small members of the Canidae family. They are related to wolves, coyotes, and jackals. Foxes live on every continent except Antarctica. There are a total of 47 different subspecies of foxes. At least four types live in North America. Today we will discuss the red fox, gray fox, arctic fox, and kit fox. 

Foxes are famous for their big bushy tail, which isn’t just for beauty; it keeps them warm in winter and is a communication device. They have ovular-shaped eyes, which are different from those of other canids with round eyes. Foxes have cat-like whiskers that are quite a bit longer than other types of dogs. They don’t howl like other dogs but make shrill barking, chattering, and whining sounds. 

The Red Fox (Vulpes fulva)

The American red fox is the biggest fox in North America; it also has the largest range, with red foxes found in every US state. Scientists have long debated whether the red fox is native to North America or introduced by Europeans, but they can’t seem to agree on an answer. Nevertheless, these animals are here to stay, and they are thriving. 

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Red foxes have long, pointy snouts, and most of their fur is reddish orange. Their undersides are a darker shade, usually gray or brown. Red foxes have black fur on their feet and the tips of their ears. They have large pointy ears and a tail with a white tip. They stand about 2 feet tall and are 3 feet long. 

These foxes prefer woodland or forest near an open area like an agricultural field or prairie. This habitat makes for the perfect rodent and rabbit hunting ground. Red foxes eat mostly meat in the form of small mammals. However, they do include fruit, berries, insects, and plants in their diet, depending on what is available. Red foxes are also smart and know that humans have food in their garbage cans. Farmers sometimes report seeing them eating food left out for livestock. 

Their mating season is in the winter. The female builds a den and has between one and a dozen babies. The kits are born brown, and their fur doesn’t turn red until they are over one month old. Both the mother and father take care of the offspring for the first year of their lives. 

The red fox population across the globe is 357,000 and hasn’t changed very much in the last decade. The International Union for Conservation of Nature says they are stable. 

Cute Red Fox
Red foxes prefer woodland or forest near an open area like an agricultural field or prairie.

©Ondrej Prosicky/Shutterstock.com

The Gray Fox (Urocyon cinereoargenteus)

The gray fox (the word cinereoargenteus means silver or ashenis another lovely member of the Canidae family that inhabits North and Central America. It once had prolific numbers, but they are dwindling due to human habitation and deforestation. 

The gray fox has silvery gray fur, a black stripe down its tail, and a pointy snout. They measure a maximum of 44 inches long and 15 pounds. The gray fox is easy to tell apart from the red fox because it does not have black feet. However, it does have a black-tipped tail. Many gray foxes also have a bandit mask of black fur across their eyes. 

Scientists believe the gray fox has been in North America since 3.6 million years ago, during the mid-Pliocene era. It is a close genetic relative to the raccoon dog (Nyctereutes procyonoides) and the bat-eared fox (Otocyon megalotis). 

Gray foxes are the only canid with ranges throughout both North and South America. You can find a gray fox everywhere in the southern half of North America. They prefer wooded, rocky regions and bluffs and range from southern Canada to Venezuela and Columbia. However, they do not inhabit the northwest mountainous areas of the United States.

These foxes are sometimes called tree foxes because they can climb and even sleep in trees. Gray foxes make their dens in any available hollow stump, tree, or cavity that they can find and prefer to sleep during the day and hunt after dark. In recent decades, as the coyote population has increased, gray foxes have moved closer and closer to human development to escape the threat of being hunted by a coyote. They do most of their hunting along the edges of woodlands, forests, and other tree lines. 

Gray foxes eat primarily small mammals like voles, shrews, and birds. Their choice of a meal depends on what is available. In certain areas, gray foxes rely heavily on rodents for protein. They also eat jackrabbits, fruit, vegetable matter, nuts, and insects. Gray foxes are smart about storing food and creating piles of nuts and seeds in their dens or underground holes. They mark the location of the cache with their scent glands so they can find it again. 

Breeding season is in the late winter or very early spring. They are pregnant for 53 days and have between one and seven kits at once. The average litter size is four. The family remains together until the kits fully develop and can branch out independently. Gray foxes live for between six and 10 years in the wild. 

Surprisingly little population data is available for the gray fox, although they are not a threatened species.

Gray Fox standing in tall grass
Scientists think the gray fox has been in North America since 3.6 million years ago, during the mid-Pliocene era.

©Hayley Crews/Shutterstock.com

The Arctic Fox (Vulpes lagopus)

The arctic fox is also called the white fox, snow fox, and polar fox because of its beautiful white fur. As the name suggests, it is native to Arctic regions and is well suited to living in the cold. You can find Arctic foxes residing from coastal areas of Alaska to the eastern border of Canada. Its fur is thick, and the white color is excellent camouflage against the snow and ice. 

Arctic foxes are between 22-27 inches long and have more of a round shape than other foxes to minimize the loss of body heat. They weigh between 7 and 20 pounds. They have several adaptations to help them survive in the cold:

  • They can regulate their metabolism to conserve fat.
  • These foxes increase their fur thickness by 140 percent in the winter.
  • They can increase their body temperature using heat exchange with the blood in their legs and consistently keep their feet from freezing.

These adaptations are pretty impressive, considering they are standing on an ice cube much of the time. 

The Arctic fox has great hearing and can sense lemmings burrowing under the snow and ice. They also have a great sense of smell. They can sniff out lemmings under 30 inches of snow and smell a carcass from 24 miles away! 

Arctic foxes eat mostly meat because that is the only option in the frozen tundra. They are especially fond of lemmings, rodents, rabbits, and birds. However, they will also scavenge food left behind by a wolf or polar bear. They are good food hoarders and will store as much food for winter as they can. One of their favorite foods to keep in reserve is goose eggs. 

Arctic foxes dig complex dens made of tunnel systems. Their den system, which many different generations of the same family will occupy, can cover as much as 11,000 square feet. These tunnels are great for escaping predators, and this is also where they mate and raise their pups. Breeding season is in late spring, and the female is pregnant for 52 days. They have large litters of up to 25 kits. Both the mother and father care for the young for the first year.  

The global population of Arctic fox is approximately 300,000 and fluctuates according to how many lemmings there are to eat. According to IUCN, they are stable and not a threatened species.

Types of Wild Dogs
The Arctic Fox has a keen sense of smell and can detect lemmings in their nests under the snow.


The Kit Fox (Vulpes macrotis)

The kit fox likes warm weather and inhabits the arid regions of the southwest United States and Mexico. The northern edge of their territory is in eastern Oregon, and the east border is southern Colorado. They live in the states of Nevada, Utah, California, Arizona, Texas, and New Mexico. 

They are small members of the Canidae family, coming in at only 3 to 6 pounds and 17-21 inches long. The biggest part about a kit fox is its ears, which are 4 inches long and help dissipate heat. Their coats are yellowish gray, with each hair being several colors, giving them a brindled appearance. Kit foxes have long hair on the bottom of their feet to protect them from the hot sand. They have a bushy gray tail that is black at the tip. Additionally, it has unique black patches of fur around its nose.

Kit foxes are mostly nocturnal, sleeping during the hottest part of the day and hunting in the cool of the evening. They are among the few foxes that prefer to live in small groups rather than alone. These animals are primarily carnivores, eating rats, insects, birds, reptiles, and fish. They also eat tomatoes, cactus fruit, and food discarded by humans. 

Kit foxes dig their own dens or use cavities abandoned by badgers or prairie dogs. They like to have more than one den across their hunting range. In fact, some have up to 11 shelters

Mating season starts in December, and gestation lasts for 56 days. Kits are born in February, and there are usually four or five born at once. Both parents raise and feed the young. Kit foxes form a monogamous pair that remains together throughout the year. Kit foxes live for 10 to 12 years in the wild. 

At last count, there were 7,000 kit foxes remaining in the wild, and their numbers continue to decrease due to habitat loss, fragmentation, and degradation.

baby fennec fox kits
Kit foxes are small members of the Canidae family, with huge ears.


Incredible Facts About Foxes in North America

  • Foxes can jump 15 feet!
  • A fox’s tail is one-third the length of its body.
  • Arctic foxes can have up to 25 babies at once.
  • The red fox inhabits every state in the US, including Alaska. It has adapted to living in forests, farm fields, and mountains.
  • Foxes can run up to 30 miles per hour for several miles.
  • A species of fox called the Swift Fox (Vulpes velox) was nearly extinct from North America in the 1930s but is making a comeback. It lives in short-grass prairie lands in several US states.
  • Gray foxes like to nap in trees.
  • Red foxes have acute hearing that can pick up low-frequency sounds of rodents digging under the ground! 
  • Foxes are crucial to the ecosystem because they keep the rodent population down. 
  • Foxes can make over 40 different sounds. One of them sounds like a woman screaming for help. 
  • Foxes are curious and playful creatures. They will even play with children’s toys and balls. 


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About the Author

I am a freelance writer with 22 years of experience. I live in the Pacific Northwest and am surrounded by nature. When I go for my daily runs I often see herds of elk, deer, and bald eagles. I am owned by two dogs who take me on hikes in the mountains where we see coyotes, black bears, and wild turkeys.

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