One of the chief means of fox communication is through the scent marking of these ranges.
Scent plays a major role, both in locating food and in social interactions between foxes. In scent marking, the fox patrols the boundary areas of it’s territory and leaves various markers that serve notice of it’s presence to other foxes. Feces are usually deposited in highly visible places and urine is then sprayed around the area. The droppings may also be sprayed with a bacteria rich fluid from the animals anal sacs. In addition to leaving droppings, a fox frequently urinates on prominent land marks such as stumps, fence posts, and rocks to further announce it’s presence. These marks are normally refreshed every few days.
Marking behaviour varies among foxes based on environmental conditions, location within the range, and the personality of the individual animal. A fox is less likely to mark areas in it’s range that are unproductive hunting grounds and will tolerate the intrusion of others in these places to some extent. On the other hand, highly productive hunting grounds may be heavily marked and defended. In an area where fox population is sparse and food is abundant, some animals tend not to leave marks for most of the year.
Nevertheless, all foxes will scent mark during the breeding season, and their presence can be determined by the strong, skunky smell their urine takes on at these times.
Scent marking helps a fox keep track of where it has been and lets it tell others of its sex, status, and individual identity. It also reduces the need for conflict among foxes. Territorial boundaries are generally respected except during food shortages, when mates are scarce, or when young males are dispersing from their parent’s ranges. When a fox does find it’s territory has been invaded, the results may vary. Members of the opposite sex tend to be more tolerant of one another, and disputes between neighbours are usually ritualized contests, without any real attempt to hurt one another. However, when a stranger of the same sex is encountered, fighting can be quite uninhibited. Young males leaving home for the first time frequently encounter frightening confrontations when they stumble onto an angry fox’s home territory.
Shortly after the last season’s cubs have dispersed, the males begin producing sperm. By October or November there is a notable rise in the aggressiveness of the male animals. Scent marking of the home territory’s boundaries increases in both frequency and intensity; by the beginning of the mating season these marks will have taken on a strong, musky, skunk-like odour. This scent will tell members of both sexes that there are interested parties in the area. It is at this time, when the males are vying for a chance to reproduce, that conflict amongst adult foxes is at it’s highest and fighting may sometimes result in serious injuries. By the end of these contests, the victor will have won the right to mate with any vixens in his range.
A male fox and it’s potential mate will occasionally encounter one another in their territories. Earlier in the season they will take notice of one another but with only limited interest. As time goes on, they will spend increasingly longer amounts of time with one another, and their normally solitary footprints become paired tracks in the snow. They engage in affectionate play, spend time in close contact with each other, and generally get to know more about their mates. Hunting is still conducted as a solitary activity, but even then the fox and vixen will maintain vocal communication between themselves over their range. Red foxes are typically monogamous inasmuch as that they very rarely have more than one mate per season. They are also well known for the same breeding pairs remaining together for several years, especially in areas where the fox population is sparse.
The relationship eventually culminates in a mating between the pair in January or February. The breeding occurs at a time such that the kits will be born as early as possible once the mild spring weather has arrived. In southern climates the mating can occur as early as December to take advantage of earlier spring’s, while in the north it may be delayed as late as March. Depending on the location, kits could therefore be born anywhere between February and May. The actual mechanism behind this timing appears to be the based on the amount of daylight the vixen is exposed to; as the days decrease and then increase in length with the seasons, her reproductive cycle is effected. Regardless of when they come into heat, the vixens will remain in estrous for only about three days, at which time mating must occur.
Attractants and Lures can be broken down into four main categories.
In theory, attractants and lures will provide a smell that an animal will find attractive.
This being the case, some trappers and hunters believe that an attractant or lure will have an overwhelming and mesmerizing effect on the animal, causing it to cover great distances to investigate the area of the scent location.
In practice, lure is most effective when used at sets made very close to the animal's natural line of travel.
An animal is much more likely to investigate a smell that is close by than one that is far off.
Attractants and Lures are not a substitute for reading animal sign or knowing animal habits.
- Food attractants and lures which appeal to the animals hunger and include ingredients in their diet, and indicate to the animal that there is food here.
- Curiosity attractants and lures which are scents that appeal to an animals curiosity.
- Matrix attractants and lures which have scents and musk from female animals that are in heat that appeal to a specific animals nature.
They tend to make the animal not so suspicious, because they think one of their own kind was in the area.
- Gland attractants and lures, usually made from the glands of animals, which also have the effect of making an amimal think that another of his kind is on his turf.
Gland attractants and lures will also plays on the territorial nature of most furbearing animals.
Most furbearing animals establish a home range which they protect from invaders.
The smell of an animal that is not a member of their group will usually cause an investigation.
This also works both ways, because a trespassing animal will also investigate the smell to determine what other animals are in this range and which ones to avoid.
For an animal to be attracted by an attractant or lure, first it must smell the scent of the atrractant or lure.
That seems like a simple statement, but this is one thing that many trappers and hunters fail to consider when making scent dispenser locations.
The smell of the attractant or lure travels on air currents.
If there is a steady air current or a prevailing wind, an animal traveling on the upwind side of a scent dispenser will not smell the attractant or lure.
Attract and lure quantity and scents also need to be adjusted for temperature conditions.
As temperature lowers, attractants and lures give off less smell, and attractant and lure quantity should generally be increased as temperatures go down.