10:14 p.m. - 2005-04-08
Foxes are cute! Last weekend R and I went to the zoo where
Non-fox related discussion about the zoo: Everyone should go. It is fun to see the red-butted monkeys, wolverines, lovely aquarium, etc. The highlight of the day for me was the prairie dogs! First of all, there was this patchy-furred one, lying spread-eagled. We thought it was dead! But no, it arose shakily and turned its black-matted face towards us! And approached the human spectators! All of the cute, furry and healthy-looking prairie dogs were busy, sitting there, digging, or eating baby carrots. Then, all of a sudden, prairie dogs were jumping out, chirping, and jumping back into their holes! And Wendell was jumping up and down clapping her hands!
But if you want to see cute baby farm animals, I'd suggest sticking to the MN State Fair. Although my friend SH recommends the zoo for feeding goaters 25 cent pellets all afternoon long!
Ok, back to foxes. One night this winter, I was driving to R's house, which is near a big soundproof wall next to a major highway. And I swear I saw a red fox (Vulpes vulpes) running along that wall! It seemed to have a different gait than a dog, and a bushy tail.
While foxes are part of the family Canidae, which includes wolves, jackals, dingoes and domestic dogs, they are different than dogs. First, foxes have elliptical irises in their eyes, like cats! And also like felines, their claws are retractable. But only partially. The gray fox is the only member of Canidae that can climb trees!
But are foxes truly Cat-Dogs? It turns out cats and dogs do have a common ancestor, but it's not the fox. We have to go back 40 million years to the Eocene era, where a tree-climbing carnivore named Miacis claims the honor.
The reason foxes resemble cats and dogs is that they fit into a similar ecologic niche in the food chain. Most foxes are nocturnal (the elliptical pupils help collect more light at night), and hunt small mammals (similar to the lynx and bobcat). Foxes also dig burrows, or inhabit existing ones. Like coyotes, foxes will scavenge and break into human refuse (in urban areas).
Foxes are about three feet long (including the tail) and weigh only 10 to 15 lbs. They howl and whine, and occasionally make barking noises. In the wild, they live about five years. A fox can run 30 mph!
Fox love results in babies 50 days later. Two to eight kits are born (fuzzy babies!!!) and the mother feeds them with her milk for about four weeks. Usually birth occurs in one den, and after a few days the parents move them back and forth between several holes. Both parents are active in kit-rearing, bringing the babies mice to eat as they are weaned. Male kits usually venture out on their own a bit earlier than the females, finding their own territory.
Foxes often roam in mating pairs, but occasionally a female will stay around to help with her mother's next batch of kits. Once in a while a larger community of foxes will co-exist. The range of a fox pair varies between two and 20 square miles. This territory is marked with urine and special scent manufactured in twin glands under the tail. Foxes also mark areas they've searched for food. If you ever want to smell this, my Dad keeps fox urine in his trapping shed!
Red and gray foxes are similar, although the latter is smaller and more reclusive. Their names are confusing as red foxes can be silver or black. Both habitate most of Canada, the U.S., Mexico and Central America. A very fuzzy northern cousin is the arctic fox!
Foxes are omnivorous, and eat beetles, worms, rodents, bunnies, and crayfish. In the summer they eat more plant material. To hunt, foxes will occasionally leap up to three feet in the air and pounce on their prey! This will stun or kill the animal outright.
While cute and fuzzy, foxes (unlike cats and dogs) don't make very good pets. They can't be truly domesticated and are impossible to house-train.
Wendell still wants to pet one.