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Thursday, February 11, 2016

Fabulous Foxes

Gray Fox, Urocyon cinereoargenteus

Members of the Canidae family are all dog-like mammals, and in the United States that includes wolves, coyotes, domestic dogs, and true foxes.  They are adapted to running swiftly over open terrain, and typically have long muzzles, upright ears, bushy tails, and teeth that can crack bones. The family is further divided into two tribes, with the wolves, coyotes, and dogs in the Canini tribe, and the true foxes in the Vulpini tribe.  In central Texas, two species of true foxes exist, the native Common Gray Fox (Urocyon cinereoargenteus) and the introduced Red Fox (Vulpes vulpes).  

Gray Fox, Urocyon cinereoargenteus
Most active at night, and sometimes in late afternoon or early morning, the Gray Fox is a medium-sized fox with grayish upperparts, tawny sides, and reddish-brown legs.  It has a whitish throat with a distinct black patch on the sides of its muzzle and lower jaw.  Often confused with the Red Fox, the main distinction is the black tip on the tail and the fact that it is found throughout Texas.  Gray Foxes are adept tree climbers, highly unusual for Canids, and they use their rounded claws to ascend trees much like bears.  Once up in the canopy, they can hunt birds, escape predators, bask in the sun, or jump from branch to branch like a cat.

Also active at night, and frequently at dawn and dusk, the Red Fox is similar in size to the Gray Fox, but differs mainly in its coloring.  While its typical coloration is generally rusty red, this fox can exhibit several other color forms, from black to silvery gray, but it always has a pattern of darker fur along the spine and down across each shoulder blade, forming a cross.  The most distinct difference from the Gray Fox is the bushier tail that ends in a white tip.  The Red Fox is found throughout most but not all of Texas, absent from the far western and southern portions of the state.  Not native to Texas, it was introduced for sport around 1895 in the eastern and central regions. 

Red Fox, Vulpes vulpes

Both species of fox are social animals, and their primary unit consists of a family with an adult male (or Reynard or dog), adult female (or vixen), and the juveniles (or kits, cubs, or pups) that were born that year.  These foxes are thought to mate for life, with breeding beginning in December and extending into February.   They can use a variety of places for denning sites, but most commonly they reuse underground burrows dug by other animals.  Both the male and female care for and feed their young, and their diets consist of small mammals, birds, berries, and occasionally insects.

Foxes are usually seen in mixed woodlands and edges of forests, and while hunting they often use old roads or open trails while traveling the same routes.  Their activity peaks with the activity of their prey, and if you get the chance to watch the cunning way in which they hunt, using their night vision, acute hearing, and high pouncing attacks, you’ll begin to understand why they are called fabulous foxes!