Lee Richardson Zoo

Swift Fox

Order Carnivora - felines, canines, bears, raccoons, mustelids,  etc.

Family Canidae - Wolves, foxes, and dogs

Scientific Name: Vulpes velox


DescriptionThe smallest member of the dog family found in Kansas, the black tip of the tail most easily distinguishes this cat-sized fox from coyotes or red foxes.  Pelage is golden brown with pale buff or yellow fur on throat and belly.  Fur on the back is brown-gray and the yellow muzzle has black patches on the sides.  Total length (including tail) is less than 3 feet.


Home Range:  Central North America from Alberta
and Saskatchewan in Canada south to parts of Texas.


Habitat Type:  Short grass prairie, usually in areas of well- drained, sandy soil.


Reproduction:  Breeding takes place in late December to early January.  Gestation is approximately 50 days after which 3-6 sparsely furred pups (or kits) are born with eyes and ears closed.  Their eyes open in 10-15 days and they are weaned in about 45 days.  Kits are born in a grass-lined burrow where they remain most of the spring.  In early June, kits emerge to hunt with their parents, and by mid-July they are fully grown; however, they remain with their parents until August or September.  Swift foxes can breed in their first year.  Though family units normally consist of parents and their current year’s offspring, adult males occasionally live with more than one adult female.  Swift fox are thought to mate for life, but this is not proven.


Diet in the Wild:  Rabbits, hares, rodents, and insects.


Diet in the Zoo:  Dry dog food, processed carnivore diet (Nebraska brand).


General Information:  Aptly named, the swift fox relies on its speed to capture prey.  Unlike other canids, this fox uses its den year-round.   Dens may have as many as nine entrances.  Swift foxes may dig their own dens or they may enlarge and use the dens of other animals, such as prairie dogs.  Pairs of swift foxes sometimes den near each other in a loose-knit community.  Bird-like vocalizations help them communicate and may aid in driving away coyotes, their main predator.  Because they prefer unaltered prairie to agricultural or man-altered habitat, swift fox are rarely found in the vicinity of the more urbanized red fox.


Swift fox were extirpated from Kansas in the late 1800s, but gradually began to re-appear in the 1960s, probably due to land conservation plans.  The decline of the swift fox is largely due to the conversion of short-grass prairie into agricultural fields.  However, they have also suffered from poison traps intended for coyotes and wolves.  Though stable in Kansas, they probably only occupy 10% of their historic range.   A swift fox conservation team monitors their status closely, but they are not currently listed as threatened or endangered.  The northern subspecies (in Canada) is protected under CITES I.


Predators:  Coyotes, large hawks and owls.



Mammals in Kansas.  James W. Bee et al. 1981. University of Kansas Press. Lawrence, Kansas. Pp. 172-173.


Walkers Mammals of the World Volume I. Sixth Edition. Ronald M. Nowak. 1999. Johns Hopkins University Press. Baltimore, Maryland.  Pp. 640-641.