Red Fox the only wild dog we have in Ireland
Published 13/05/2014 | 05:34
Fox cubs are emerging from their dens at this time of year.
Many species of foxes are known worldwide. The Red Fox, an Madra Rua, is the only species found in Ireland and is the only wild dog we have. The species is reported to be common and widespread and to have adapted easily to living in towns and cities.
Many wild dogs live and hunt in packs but the Red Fox lives in a single family unit and hunts alone. It prefers to live over ground lying up in dense cover. However it goes underground for two reasons: first, to escape prolonged periods of bad weather and second, to breed.
The underground fox hole or den is known as an earth. A Fox may dig an earth itself in a sloping bank or it may take the easy way out by taking over and enlarging a Rabbit burrow. It may also move into a Badger sett, even sharing a corner of the sett with a family of Badgers still in residence.
Otherwise an earth can be located in a cavity among rocks, in a dry drain, under a shed or in a disused building. Foxes are territorial and each individual will have a number of earths scattered throughout its territory. In bad weather the Fox will shelter in a chosen earth without much trace of its presence.
During the breeding season an earth will be used by the mother to rear her cubs and its presence is easily detected by the strong foxy smell and the amount of rubbish, partially-eaten and rotting food scattered around its entrance.
Irish foxes produce one litter per year. Four or five cubs is the normal litter size. Cubs are born from as early as late February to as late as the end of April. They are born blind and deaf and with blue eyes and either dark chocolate-brown or black fur. When the cubs are small the vixen stays in the earth with them and the dog fox brings her food.
The vixen may move the cubs from one earth to another carrying them one by one by the scruff of the neck. As they mature the cubs' coat colour changes from dark brown to foxy red and their eye colour changes from blue to amber. By this time of year early-born cubs are emerging from their earths and are beginning to explore the strange but interesting world above ground.