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Three week old kits
When winter loosens its frosty grip foxes stir to life.

The mother fox, a vixen, knows when the time is right. In the warmer parts of the world, young are born in February, but may come as late as April in northern regions. She and her mate, a dog fox, prepare for the arrivals near the safety of their den.

After nurturing them in her womb for seven to eight weeks, the relieved mother licks and nurses between 2 and 5 tiny mewling kits, although she may have up to 10. She remains wrapped around the 4 ounce kits for at least two days while her mate brings food during this important time.

In their second week the small foxes begin opening their eyes, which start off blue and gradually develop into amber. At week 3 the kits are exploring the inside of their den, sleeping and nursing steadily.


Mother with young outside den
Once a month has passed the vixen introduces her young to the outside world, letting their natural curiousity blossom. The kits eagerily smell, taste, and use their mouths to explore their environment. If one should venture too far or become afraid, a cry for rescue brings mother.

Each day they learn a little bit more, a mix of play and practice discovering how to best crouch, jump, and surprise an unsuspecting sibling. Large insects, such as beatles and crickets, become the staple of a kits pouncing exercise.

Click here for video of kits at play (QuickTime, 5 Mb)

As the sixth week approaches the vixen begins to wean them from milk to solid foods. Each time she or her mate brings food back to the den, a "wuk wuk wuk" tells the kits it's time to eat. Since the "alpha kit" gets fed first, playful rivalry quickly develops.

Cub Squabble

It may take up to 10 days of biting, chasing and squabbling to figure out who's boss. The winner will not only get to eat first but may get a larger portion. The vixen will still carry food from one kit to another to ensure survival, but the challenge nurtures them.

Throughout the summer the kits enjoy supervised field trips with at least one parent. They practice important social behavior like urine marking, learn the size of their family territory, and where to find water. The trips also help further develop scavenging skills, which are just as important as hunting to a fox.



A Peaceful Time

 

When fully grown, each young fox weighs over 5 kilograms (11 lbs.) and may grow up to twice that, standing just over 30 centimeters (12 in.) high at the shoulder. They now eat over 200 grams (7 oz.) of food a day, including berries, mice, insects, reptiles and carrion. The end of summer is a peaceful time.

As autumn arrives each kit may spend days away from the others. This is known as the dispersal time. The parents bring less food, and the boys in the litter are encouraged to seek out new territory. By the end of fall, most of the kits will have started new lives on their own, the most dangerous period since their early weeks.