Curious Nature: The whole kit and caboodle
February 17, 2013
If I mentioned February, the color red and romance, most people would think of Valentine’s Day. It’s true that this is the time for sweeping one’s sweetie off their two feet, but that doesn’t only apply to bipedal Homo sapiens. For the red fox, Vulpes vulpes, it could mean sweeping a vixen off all four rust-colored paws.
As you and your loved one took a romantic star-light stroll this Valentine’s Day, you may have heard the high yips, howls, whines and fighting vocalizations of local foxes swooning and tussling for their mates. Although mating season for foxes is short, February is the time to see and hear them pine. Throughout these fast few weeks, females are in estrous for only three days, and during this time, you may see males following their ladies closely. In regular populations, foxes will find a mate and pair for life, but in instances where there are a lot of individuals in a small area, they have been found to be more promiscuous. Romance may be cut short, though. As fox and human populations continue to overlap, a wild fox’s lifespan may only be up to 2 years old. In good conditions, they have been known to live for 14 years.
Once a pair mates, although attentive to each other, they aren’t very choosey about finding a den. They find other animals’ burrows or dig their own, find a bramble of brush or hollow logs or slink under porches or abandoned structures. Just less than two months later, toward the end of winter, the female gives birth to four to 10 cubs. She stays with them through the spring while the male runs back and forth, hunting for his mate and kits.
As kits grow and become more independent throughout the year, the family abandons the den but stays in their territory of about 150-1,500 acres.
Although foxes hunt alone and are labeled solitary animals, they can travel and stay as family packs until kits are a year old, at which time they stray and find their own Valentine.
In Eagle Valley, we have the red fox, although you may see it in any color from gray to black to blond to yellow to brown. You can always tell a red fox by its white-tipped tail though, no matter what its color phase. You may be lucky enough to see the smaller, more elusive gray fox in the area as well, which you can tell by their black-topped and tipped tail and shorter legs. Flanked on either side of the state, you may also find the very small and gray kit fox (west) and swift fox (east), both of which can be identified by their prominent black-tipped tails.
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All of these species are omnivorous, eating small mammals, carrion, berries, insects, birds and lizards, but they will take advantage of trash if available to them. Avoid negative interactions with the local fox populations by remembering to always put trash in critter-proof trash bins and picking up your Valentine’s Day candy wrappers! This not only ensures that foxes stick with their natural diet, but also helps avoid human conflicts. Taking this extra bit of care all year round means that everyone has a chance to celebrate their loved ones, whether they have two feet or four.
Rose Delles is the youth programs coordinator at Walking Mountains.