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Foxes

fox
photo courtesy of: fws.gov

 Season 5, Episode 2

From the Northern reaches of the Llano Estacado in Eastern New Mexico to the Big Bend Borderlands of Texas, this is Nature Notes

Four species of fox live in our region. Which ones have you seen -- here is how to tell the difference.

From Marfa Public Radio in conjunction with the Sibley Nature Center in Midland, Texas, this is Nature Notes. Hello, I’m Dallas Baxter

In the upcoming months (especially January and February) in the Chihuahuan Desert and Llano Estacado, the eerie sounds you’ll hear in the early mornings, are foxes competing for mates. Caterwauling and screaming are fit words to describe their vocalizations. Foxes are normally nocturnal animals, staying in their dens or sleeping places during the day, leaving late in the evening and returning early in the morning. During the breeding season, though, males may travel during the daytime looking for mates, and females sometimes hunt late into the morning searching for food for their young.

Foxes are solitary hunters. Roaming widely and picking up food where it can be found. Their food consists of almost anything they can catch - animals, birds, bugs, frogs, toads, carrion, and refuse left by humans. They eat some fruit and vegetables, too. Where natural prey is scarce, the larger foxes (Red Fox and Gray Fox) take chickens, ducks, lambs, or any other domestic animal they can catch. This habit has given the Red Fox, which is the fox most often found near humans, a bad reputation.

For centuries, fox fur, especially of Red Foxes, has been used for clothing. Between 1900 and 1920 foxes were farmed for their pelts , creating multi-million dollar businesses.

The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department classifies the foxes of Texas into two genera and four species; Gray Fox (Urocyon cine-reo-argenteus), Red Fox (Vulpes vulpes), Swift Fox (Vulpes velox) and Kit Fox (Vulpes macrotis).

Midland County is one of the few places in the world where these four species of fox have been found.

Gray Fox were widespread throughout wooded areas from New England south along the Atlantic Coast and across the central and southern part of North America before Europeans arrived. Gray Fox usually weigh from seven to twelve pounds and stand 15 inches high at the shoulder. They look larger because of their fur, which is long but less valuable than that of the Red Fox. They are the only canid able to climb trees and are often spotted on top of houses, and even on top of telephone poles!

 

The color of Red and Gray Fox varies greatly from one animal to another. Red Fox always have white-tipped tails and Gray Fox have black-tipped tails. Red and Gray Foxes are the same size.

The Red Fox were originally restricted in North America to areas north of the range of Gray Fox. About 1660, Englishmen imported Red Fox to the Deep South from England so they could hunt them. Farming and timbering removed the great forests, thus providing open areas into which Red Fox moved. Red Fox are the ones most often seen by humans and therefore are the ones around which so many fox myths and stories are built.

The Swift Fox and the Kit Fox are small animals about the size of house cats. The Swift Fox weighs from three to six pounds, while the Kit Fox is slight larger, five to seven pounds. The Kit Fox is distinguished by its large ears which are about 1/3 larger than those of the Swift Fox. Both have black-tipped tails. Both species of fox are less cunning or suspicious than Red or Gray Fox and are easily trapped and poisoned. The Swift Fox was almost exterminated by the poisoning programs used to eradicate coyotes and wolves from the Great Plains. The Swift Fox lives on carrion, and poison was always hidden in carrion, thus, its population is much diminished.

Nature Notes is sponsored by the Dixon-Water Foundation and is produced by KRTS, Marfa Public Radio, in cooperation with the Sibley Nature Center in Midland, Texas. This episode of Nature Notes was produced by Burr Williams.  Join his Facebook page and visit sibleynaturecenter.org.