|The Gray Fox - Graceful, Beautiful, Interesting and Not A Dog
The central Texas Hill Country is home to many remarkable creatures, but none are more intriguing than the gray fox (Urocyon cinereoargenteus).
Found throughout most of the southern half of North America from southern Canada to northern Venezuela and Colombia, the gray fox is adaptable, usually more wary than fearful, and quite handsome. It may be difficult to appreciate the coloration of this fox until you see her for yourself. With a mostly gray back and reddish sides, she has a white throat with beautiful red markings. To top it off, the middle of the back is usually black and she sports a magnificent, long, bushy tail with a black tip.
Not large, weighing between 8 and 12 pounds, the gray fox is smaller than some well-fed domestic cats and moves quite gracefully... much like a cross between a cat and a dog. She is, however, all fox.
A canid (family Canidae) akin to coyotes, jackals and wolves, the fox is genetically separate and distinct. A dozen million years ago the fox formed a separate genetic group and, possessing a different number of chromosomes, cannot cross-breed with dogs or other canids.
Although foxes belong to the order Carnivora and will eat meat, they are more accurately described as omnivorous. Food sources include fruits, grains and vegetable matter as well as insects, voles, field mice, and shrews. The gray fox dislikes a hullaballoo and, contrary to cartoon portrayals, it is highly unlikely that she will raid a henhouse.
The gray fox is unique in that she can climb trees as deftly as a cat. In fact, the gray fox has been observed denning with young in the hollow of a tree, although many prefer rock crevices, underground burrows, hollow logs and even a good, undisturbed brush pile.
If you have the good fortune to observe one of these foxes during foraging moments at dusk or dawn, you may have an opportunity to watch them adroitly leap and dance between levels of rock or tree stumps. Multi-talented, the gray fox will even swim if she must.
The gray fox is monogamous. Around December in Texas, the female marks the area with a scent indicating she's ready to become a team and breeding continues until March. If you live in the Hill Country, you may hear foxes calling to each other on crisp winter evenings (they seem to prefer clear, cold weather for that activity) a really good reason to live in this area.
Between three and six pups are born in April or May after a gestation period of about 53 days. Born blind and helpless, the kits quickly grow and leave the home nest seeking shelter in rock piles, brush, or in other sites that offer concealment and protection. Momma feeds and grooms them until they can move well, then hunts small game and brings it back to the den for the practice of hunting skills.
The kits reach their adult weight at five to six months and discover Momma is suddenly snarly and mean, chasing them away to find their own territories. Although it seems cruel, this is, of course, nature's way of preserving the next generation through geographical diversity.
Incidentally, the female also snubs the male when the kits are self-sufficient, but the same pair quite often join forces again in December to start a new family.
If you live in a quiet place where there's enough buffer from dense development, or find yourself camping in one of the Texas parks, you may be rewarded sitting quietly within sight of this interesting, entertaining creature. The gray fox may even observe you occasionally, but as long as you make no sudden, threatening moves or noise and remain at a safe distance, she will often congenially continue her busy search for food. The experience is worth any patience you can muster.
Article © 2010