Mammal Monday — Fantastic Fox

Sneaky or sly are words that often come to mind for a fox because of famous characters such as Roald Dahl’s Mr. Fox or Reynard from the children’s animal tale. However, these crafty critters are much more fantastic than we make them out to be.

© Don Mathews | #inthewildhood

Texas has four species of fox — the red, gray, kit and swift fox. Red foxes are not native to Texas but were imported from England for sport and training for foxhounds. They are the largest foxes in Texas and are found in woodland areas of eastern and central Texas. People often misidentify red foxes and gray foxes because of their similar appearances. However, gray foxes have a shorter and more muscular build. Gray foxes are the most common fox in Texas and are found statewide. They are one of the few members of the canine family that can climb trees.

Likewise, kit and swift foxes share similar appearances and were even previously believed to be the same species. However, most scientists now believe they are separate but still closely related. The kit fox is the smallest fox in America and is found in West Texas deserts, while the swift fox occurs only in the Panhandle.

Though foxes are closely related to dogs, they share many behaviors with cats — their stalking hunting style, their sensitive whiskers and their use of the tail for balance.

© Alice Robinson | #inthewildhood

Foxes are fascinating mammals (they can make 20 to 40 sounds to communicate), but they get a bad reputation because many people see them as a threat. Foxes aren’t dangerous to humans unless they have rabies, which is rare, or are captured or handled. They mostly resort to fleeing the situation rather than fighting. Rabies in foxes has been largely eliminated in Texas thanks to a Texas Department of State Health Services program that aerially distributes an oral rabies vaccine in pellet form that’s eaten by foxes.

Many people fear foxes will eat pets, which are not the first prey on their minds. Foxes mainly dine on rodents, rabbits and other small animals, along with the occasional chicken. People also think that foxes kill for fun, which arises from their style of surplus killing. Given the opportunity, foxes may kill surplus food and store or bury their excess dinner for later. Foxes are trying to survive in the same way any other animal would.

© Steve Strasevicz | #inthewildhood

If you start to recognize foxes for their intelligence and beauty, you can see they are quite fantastic after all.

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