The secret life

By | Science & Technology
The red fox displays interesting animal behaviour @credit Eddie Gunn flickr.com creative commons

The red fox may be of the world’s most prolific mammals. They are indigenous across the entire Northern Hemisphere, and have even found their way to Australia. To some people, the fox might be an occasional visitor to their garden. To some they may even be a pet. How much do people really know about their unobserved activities though?

A recent investigation by researchers at the University of Brighton has provided insight into aspects of the fox’s behaviour were previously unknown. The researchers used satellite tracking collars on a sample of foxes in the Sussex area to map their movements. One particular fox, named “Fleet” by the researchers, was of particular interest once he was found to have walked 195 miles across the countryside in a month. During his travels, Fleet strayed as far as 40 miles from his home range, further than any fox in the UK has been recorded to have ventured.

The investigation was lead by Dr Dawn Scott, who noted that “foxes may disperse for lots of different reasons, mainly to find some space to form their own territories,” and that “the movement away from an area where they’re born, to another area is usually due to competition within the group.”

During his expedition, Fleet is believed to have been searching for a new territory. Dr Scott’s team have theorised “which his son has pushed him out and pressure has caused him to leave and try to find somewhere else.”

Foxes, like many predators, may have a tendency to be very territorial. Perhaps the most typical, or the most commonly heard, cry of a fox is the sound a submissive animal makes when it has been approached by a dominant fox. The yawp which a fox is able to emit may be a snippet of their full vocal capacity, which may cover five octaves.

It may be quite commonplace for a younger fox to gain superiority over an mature aged animal and take his territory. In this instance though, the lengths to which the old fox has gone to find a new place are greater than might have been expected. Dr Scott claims that “the previous furthest distance recorded, which was in Wales, was 52km [32 miles]”.

“We know from other studies in Europe and in the United States that foxes are able to travel far… this is the furthest record in this country,” reported Dr Scott. However, the fact that Fleet continued to travel further and further away from his previous territory was considered “ unusual behaviour”.

Records detail Fleet’s early life and suggest he spent most of it as a city based fox. He had even been fed regularly by a member of the public in their garden and had chosen to raise kits (baby foxes) in the area. Based on his decision to venture out in to the countryside during this experiment, Dr Scott had to say: “We know they move between urban and rural environments however transition from this urbanised fox to then going across country for a long distance is far from what we would expect,”

Fleet’s movements are believed to be an indicator which urban populations of foxes may venture out to colonise areas of countryside once the sustainable population within an urban environment has reached a maximum. Dr Scott’s final conclusions about the data was collected during the research were “it helps us understand the divide that people perceive between urban and rural foxes – that actually the populations are connected and they do move between the two”.

How might the changing landscape of the country continue to improve the wildlife currently coexists with humanity?

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