Friday, May 23, 2003
Friends and Relations: Foxes are members of the dog family, Canidae, which also includes the coyote, the wolf and the domestic dog. Of the four species of fox in North America (red fox, gray fox, kit fox and swift fox) the red fox has the widest distribution. Around here we are likely to see only the gray fox and the red fox.
When and where seen: There are frequent sightings of individual foxes around town, but Gabe and Lois D'Annunzio have been watching an entire fox family from late April into early May · just one street away from Red Fox Drive. First-hand observation from Gabe: "Recently we had the equivalent of front-row center seats at one of nature's typically non-public events. From the comfort of the sun room at the back of our house, we were daily observers of the first weeks of life for six · yes six · fox pups. Our first sighting of them was one of those, "am I seeing what I think I'm seeing" experiences as we sat down to dinner one evening. First one, then two, four, six, and finally momma emerged from their den. The pups seemed quite fearless as they romped and played with each other. At first momma fox appeared to be keeping a close eye on the playground. But she soon disappeared, only to reappear at the opposite side of the yard, stretching her lean body on a large rock, taking in its store of the sun's heat. We watched the pups' remarkably rapid physical development appearing to nearly double in size in a week. We saw them evolve from playful pups to hunters in training, as each day they ventured further from the safety of their den. Being able to be such close observers of this new beginning of life helped ease the deep sense of loss Lois and I have felt after the recent death of our 20-year-old-cat, Mr. Squeaky."
Description: We grow up with stories and pictures of foxes and are familiar with the reddish fur and bushy tail but the red fox is not always red. It can be all black, or have a dark cross of fur on the shoulders, or be black with white-tipped guard hairs giving a silver appearance, or various intermediary phases of these color variations. The tell-tail (!) sign is the white-tipped tail. The gray fox has a black-tipped tail. Red foxes are quite small animals ·adults weigh between 10 and 15 pounds and are a yard long including tail.
Dens: The red fox sleeps in the open even in the winter. The den is for breeding. It may dig its own den but is more likely to take over an abandoned woodchuck burrow and enlarge part of it into a chamber. The den is often in a bank, is at least four feet underground and has a complex system of tunnels and several entrances. The den at Lois and Gabe's matches this profile and what's more · the woodchuck has reclaimed it.
Life cycle: The pups are born in March and April. A typical litter has four to five pups. Three weeks after birth the pups are walking; by four to five weeks they can be seen around the den entrance playing with bits of skins, bones and feathers; by two to three months they are weaned and by six months are fully grown. By fall, the pups are able to fend for themselves and the family unit breaks up.
References: Donald and Lillian Stokes, Stokes Nature Guide to Animal Tracking and Behavior; Alfred J. Godin, Wild Mammals of New England.
Submissions for the Biodiversity Corner are encouraged from everyone. Send a photo, a note about a sighting, or the whole column to Kay Fairweather at 392 School Street, Carlisle MA 01741 or to email@example.com.
© 2003 The Carlisle Mosquito