Red Fox is not native, but an English import

Last week's Rockdale Reporter showed a red fox pole sitting on Mrs. Carolyn Jones' property.

We don't see red foxes much, because they are shy creatures. Besides, he looked so cute sitting up there that I had to find out about them.

The surprising fact about red foxes is that they are not native to Texas, or North America. We can thank the English for introducing them to our continent for the express purpose of training hunting hounds. Texas' red fox population can be traced back to 40 foxes brought over in 1895 from England and released near Waco. Along with 60 additional foxes imported later, their offspring have made most of Texas their home. Across the U.S. red foxes have interbred with native species and live everywhere, except the far west and north.

Red foxes have a streamlined body built for speed, and can run up to 45 miles per hour. Their fur is orange-red with a white ruff on the neck and chest. They have black pointy ears, with black legs and feet. They can be upwards to 3 1 .2 feet long and weigh twelve pounds. Their bushy tails are tipped with white. They use them for balance and a blanket in cold weather. Colors can be deceiving, as sometimes they are black or brown, with a dark brown cross on their backs.

The fox, like all canines, learn from experience. They are famous for their intelligence and cunning, rivaling the coyote. Predators are few, and include humans, dogs, bobcats, and wolves. They are also susceptible to rabies.

Foxes don't bark except in warning, but they do howl and whine. And they act like cats. Besides having a vertical pupil like cats, they will stand with an arched back and raised fur when threatened, and can partially retract their front claws. The pups even hiss like kittens.

They hunt like cats. Most canine species usually hunt in packs, out in the open, chasing down prey. Foxes, however, hunt alone and use surprise and ambush to catch their prey. They hunt for excess food, which they store under snow, leaves, or soft dirt. They will change their hunting methods based on the available prey. For example, foxes are naturally nocturnal creatures, but they will come out during the day to hunt.

Their hearing is exceptional. They are attuned to low-frequency sounds, and can hear animals moving underground. They can hear a mouse squeal from 150 feet away.

Foxes live everywhere, including farms, the suburbs, and urban areas. They eat almost anything from fruit and berries to insects, small mammals, poultry, and garbage.

Adult foxes sleep in the open. They will use abandoned dens, but mainly for raising their young.

Red foxes breed early in the year. The breeding pair will find a den, sometimes several dens to use as back-up in case the original den is disturbed. In about six weeks, the female, or vixen, gives birth to five or six puppies, who are born with their eyes closed, and look a lot like kittens. The vixen stays with the puppies for several weeks, relying on the male for food and protection.

Through spring and summer the puppies learn to hunt, and to eat berries and fruit. Come fall they leave the den to find their own territories. Their lifespan is usually 3 to 4 years, especially where they may be hunted and trapped.

In Texas hunters must have a license. If selling the pelts, you must have a trappers license. Foxes are considered a nuisance fur-bearing animal, which means landowners can take them at any time without a license.

El Camino Real Master Naturalists:

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2009-11-05 digital edition

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