Jeff Green | Mar 16, 2006
Back toHomeNature Reflections - March 16, 2006
The Clever Fox
by Jean Griffin
In looking at articles about the Red Fox it is obvious that there is a lot of respect for the intelligence and ability of this animal. As well ‘as clever as’ it is also referred to ‘as sly as’, ‘as smart as’, or ‘as cunning as’ which indicate the reputation it has achieved. Though I also found one phrase where something was referred to ‘as dumb as a fox’ - I wonder how much that person knows about these animals. The fox that is the subject of fox hunts in England is the same animal as we have in N.A, and probably the ability it has shown to shake off the hounds has lent much to its being referred to ‘as crazy as a fox’.
The Red Fox does have well-developed senses of sight, smell and hearing, and trappers have learned over the years that only carefully-planned traps which are free of human scent will catch a fox, or the trapper will be ‘outfoxed’. It will live in close proximity to humans while showing cautious curiosity and little fear, though it prefers wild settings where there is both food and cover. Adaptable to a wide range of habitats, it can be found over most of North America , including the tundra where it is in competition with and an enemy of the Arctic Fox.
In its reddish coat this animal is easily recognized, and while red is the usual colour there are several colour phases which may occur in the same litter. The cross fox, for example, has a black/brown cross on the back and shoulders. The silver and black phases are similar; however, the black does not have the silver-tipped guard hairs characteristic of the silver fox. In all colour phases the white tip on the tail will distinguish it from other fox species.
Breeding season is February and March and about 53 days after breeding the mother or ‘vixen’ willgive birthup to ten young, though four is a more usual number. The tiny kits weighing only about four ounces and fully-furred but blind will open their eyes about 8 to 10 days later. About a month later they may venture from the den, and at three months are learning to hunt. Both parents care for the young, and the family unit stays together until the autumn when it breaks up and the young are on their own.
Omnivorous, it may eat muskrats, squirrels, hares, birds, eggs, insects, vegetation, and carrion, though voles seem to be its preferred food. Watch one in an unmowed or snow-covered field as it stalks a vole. Its hearing is excellent and it will listen intently then with a sudden pounce strike at the source of the vole’s rustle - often but not always successful. Its enemies include man, wolves, coyotes, lynx, and maybe bears. The kits have to watch for and take cover from eagles.
An outbreak of rabies may kill all foxes in a wide area, though the dropping of rabies vaccines from planes in our area have made this much less of a problem for the animals, or the people who come in contact with them.