Thursday, December 26, 2013

Red Fox

     Vulpes vulpes fulva, the Red Fox, is the most widespread carnivorous mammal on earth, with 45 subspecies being found throughout. It is found naturally or has been introduced to many parts of the world, being invasive in some places it was introduced into such as Australia and some islands. Our own version has its own interesting history, not being originally native to the mid-Atlantic. Rather, it is a combination of the introduced English Red Fox and North American red foxes that colonized this part of the country after it was altered by farming to make it more suitable for them.
     Fox hunting has always had an important place in the Commonwealth of Virginia, as it has in many former British colonies, with many of our forefathers being quite fond of chasing foxes. In fact, our own Father of the Country, George Washington, is considered the father of the American Foxhound, a breed he helped develop. The American Foxhound is the Virginia State Dog, and Washington experimented with improvements in breeding this dog due to his great love for the chase, Mount Vernon being the site for regular hunts both before and after the revolution.
     Apparently our own native Grey Fox, due to its preference for deeper woods and its tendency to quickly climb a tree to escape trouble, was considered not as suitable for fox chases. English Red Foxes were introduced instead, and when the habitat changed enough for the red foxes from other parts of North America to colonize, our own red fox was born.
     Red foxes are very adaptable, being able to feed not only on the rodents they prefer, but just as easily feeding on fruits, insects, many other small animals, carrion, and sometimes finding other clever ways to obtain food. The ones around suburban neighborhoods and restaurants for example often know when trash day is, regularly checking out what is being discarded and checking to see if any rats or mice are around at the same time. They very rarely (if ever) bother pets, adult cats or dogs being too dangerous to mess with.
     Red foxes almost never live in burrows or dens outside of the breeding season, rather sleeping above ground, with their thick fur coats providing ample warmth and the tail a blanket and scarf for cold noses. They will dive into groundhog holes or other cover to escape predators readily however. Foxes are very susceptible to sarcoptic mange, the mites causing loss of fur and being a primary control on their numbers around here. This sometimes results in my receiving reports of unusual animal sightings, such as of coyotes and even chupacabras, when infected foxes surprise someone on an evening stroll. They can look very different once their fur starts to fall off and especially if they start to bite at their infected parts.
     Red foxes are very inquisitive creatures, investigating anything new in their neighborhoods and using their superb senses of hearing and smell to find food even when it is buried under snow. The one in the photos was checking out my deer hunting set-up when I snapped these pictures. I took advantage of it stopping to smell the the fake doe scent I had placed on the tree trunks, allowing me the time to get my camera and snap some quick shots before the sound alarmed him enough to run away. Its distinctive black legs and feet are visible, but not the white-tip on the tail they are also known for, regardless of the various color forms they can be.

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