The Beautiful Fox

by Lisa Wolling, Executive Director

Although they may not be seen often, we do have two species of fox in our area of Texas. Depending on their coloration, the two species can look very similar to each other, but there are some distinct differences between them.

Our native species is the Gray Fox. As the name implies, this species of fox is mostly gray in coloration with some red shading on the neck and legs. What easily sets them apart from a gray-phase red fox (more about that later) is the tail. Gray Foxes always have a black tip on the end of their tails. The Gray Fox is also called a tree fox as it is the only member of the wild canine family (foxes, coyotes, and wolves) that can climb trees. They use their front legs to grip the tree and the hind legs to push upwards. Trees can not only provide a safe hiding spot for the fox, but they also provide access to food items such as birds, eggs, or fruits. Even very young fox pups are capable of climbing trees. Gray Foxes are often considered the most “cat-like” of all North American wild canines. The young hiss and spit like kittens and adults can make short mewing cries and high-pitched screams. If they feel threatened, they can also stand with back arched and fur erect.

Gray Foxes are quite small, weighing only 7 to 12 pounds. Their body length is 21-45”, and their long tail is generally from 11-16”. At the shoulder, they are only about 14” high. They range throughout Texas, preferring open woodlands, rocky areas or canyon areas, or desert. They are considered omnivores, meaning they will eat just about anything, but most commonly they feed on rodents, birds, eggs, reptiles, insects, rabbits, crayfish, fruits, and berries.

In Texas, the breeding season for Gray Foxes is December through March. Three to six pups are born in April or May after a gestation period of about 53 days. At birth, the pups are blind and helpless. The mother fox stays in the den with her pups for up to a month after giving birth. The male brings food to her and stands guard over the den. If danger approaches, he warns the family with a bark and then tries to lure the intruder away. Fox families separate in the Fall, and the adult-size young must then find a new place to live. This can be a very difficult since other foxes will not allow the young intruders into their territories. Gray foxes are thought to live six to ten years in the wild. Major factors causing mortality include predation (mountain lions; coyotes, domestic dogs, and eagles), being struck by vehicles, parasites, diseases, and man.

The second species of fox we have in Texas is the Red Fox, which is an introduced species, which was originally imported to provide sport and training for fox-hounds. The entire red fox population of Central Texas probably descended from forty foxes released between 1890 and 1895 near Waco. Their offspring, along with an additional sixty imports, soon spread into the surrounding counties. Releases in other parts of the state further increased range of the Red Fox, and they are now found throughout much of the state. Similar to Gray Fox, Red Foxes, although members of the canine family, do have many cat-like features and behaviors. Canid eyes normally have round pupils, but the red fox has elliptical (vertical-slit) pupils like those of a cat. It possesses sensitive face whiskers that are proportionately longer than those of other canids, and its feet are more catlike, having flexible paws have small toe and foot pads as well as partially retractable front claws. Red Foxes, as the name implies, are typically rusty red in coloration; however, they can also be black or silver gray. To positively identify a fox as a “Red Fox”, look at the end of the tail; all Red Foxes, regardless of their coloration, will have a white tip at the end of their tails. They also have black legs and ear tips. They are similar in size to the Gray Fox.

The breeding season for the Red Fox in Texas begins early in the year. The pair then must find a suitable den, usually an underground burrow, a crevice in a rocky outcrop, or a cavity under some large rocks. Occasionally they will take over the burrow of some other animal and remodel it. The pups are born about fifty-one days after mating takes place. Litters may vary from four to fifteen, but the most common size is five or six. The pups’ eyes open in nine days, but they remain in the den with the female for at least a month. As with the Gray Fox, the male brings food to the den and guards it. After about a month, the pups are fed at the entrance of the den, and then over next few months they spend most of their time outside the den being taught how to find, stalk, and catch live prey. They also are taught to eat grapes, berries, and other fallen fruit.

To learn more about what we do and view pictures of many of the animals we assist, please visit our Facebook page at www.facebook.com/SavingTexasWildlife. Our educational visitor’s center is open the second Saturday of each month from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., located at 29816 Dobbin Hufsmith Road, Magnolia, Texas, so the next open house date will be Saturday, May 11. Come on out and visit us, learn a little more about local wildlife, do some fun activities and a craft, and meet some of our non-releasable wildlife educational animals. We also host birthday parties, spring-break and summer camps, and educational presentations. This year there will be four sessions of summer camp (two in June and two in July), and registration is open now at www.ftwl.org. For more information about events, birthday parties, camps, or educational presentations for scouts, schools, or other groups, please visit our website or email ftwl.education@gmail.com. There are many other ways you can help support our efforts, too. Details can be found at www.ftlw.org, and then click on “How to Help”.