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Gray Fox

Gray Fox (Urocyon cinereoargenteus) occur throughout most of the southern half of North America from southern Canada to northern Venezuela and Colombia. They do not occur in portions of the mountainous northwestern United States, the Great Plains and eastern Central America.

Gray Fox

Gray Fox

Gray foxes resemble small, gracile dogs with bushy tails. They are distinguished from most other canids by their grizzled upperparts, buff neck and black-tipped tail. The skull can be distinguished from all other North American canids by its widely separated temporal ridges that form a U-shape. Males are slightly larger than females. Gray foxes range from 800 to 1125 mm in length. Their tails measure 275 to 443 mm and their hindfeet measure 100 to 150 mm. They weigh 3.6 to 6.8 kg.

Foods include fruits, arthropods, small mammals, some carrion, reptiles, and a few birds (Trapp and Hallberg 1975). In the Southwest, mammals were present in about 60 percent of stomachs examined, arthropods were found in 55 percent, and plants were found in 40 percent (Turkowski 1969). Studies in the East showed cottontail rabbits to be especially important prey, but rodents may be more important than rabbits over much of the gray fox’s western range.

The gray fox is active throughout the year, and leaves its den at twilight or night to forage, but may hunt during the day, too. The usual manner of travel is by walking or trotting, but when necessary, a gray fox gallops or runs, attaining a top speed of 32.2-45.1 km/h (20-28 mph). Unlike the red fox, this species frequently ascends trees by leaping into branches near the ground, or by shinnying up trunks.

Gray Foxes

Gray Foxes

The back legs power the climb as the front limbs reach upward to grasp the bark. After climbing a tree, a gray fox may leap or hop from one branch to another, eventually descending by backing or running down the trunk head first. Arboreal activities, besides searching for prey, include escaping danger, sunning and entering dens.

Life Cycle: Gray fox breeds and raises one litter annually, beginning the first year of its life. The breeding season for the gray fox ranges from February to March. During this time, it is not uncommon for males to fight aggressively in competition for females. After mating, a male will stay with a female to provide her with food during denning and to assist in caring of the young.

After a gestation period of 53 days, young are born in a litter ranging in size from one to seven pups. The dark brown pups are born blind and are dependent on their parents for survival. They are weaned, or stop suckling, at about six weeks of age.

Gradually they learn how to fend for themselves. At three months, the pups leave the den with their parents and learn to hunt. By four months of age the pups are able to forage on their own. The young remain with the parents until fall, at which time they reach sexual maturity and disperse.

Gray Fox

Gray Fox

Red fox males and females, and sometimes their older offspring, cooperate to care for the pups. Young remain in the den for 4 to 5 weeks, where they are cared for and nursed by their mother. They are nursed for 56 to 70 days and are provided with solid food by their parents and older siblings. The young remain with their parents at least until the fall of the year they were born in and will sometimes remain longer, especially females. Red foxes have been known to live 10 to 12 years in captivity but live on average 3 years in the wild.

Predation: Continued monitoring is conducted to ensure that their population remains healthy and abundant. They are protected from hunting and trapping during the breeding and pup-rearing season, as the hunting season in Vermont is from October to early February.

There are a number of canine diseases and parasitic infections, such as heartworm and distemper that can occur in a population that has grown too large. The harvesting of gray foxes then is not only beneficial to humans, but to the overall fox population as well.

Social Behavior: The gray fox is monogamous, possible maintaining permanent pair bonds although adults are solitary except when breeding and caring for young. Habitat structure and available food are important determinants or home range size and shape. Home range size varies from 75-653 ha (188-1633 acre). Densities are 1.2-2.1 gray foxes per square kilometer (247 acre).

Gray Foxes

Gray Foxes

The gray fox uses vocal, chemical, tactile, and visual signals in social encounters. During the breeding season, individuals give sharp “barks” or “yips.” Chuckles, growls, and squeals are other vocalizations. A musk gland, the largest among North American canids, extends along approximately one half the upper surface of the tail. Products from this gland probably play a role in individual recognition. Gray foxes mark their home ranges with urine and feces which advertise ownership and sexual status. In some social contexts, gray foxes groom each other. Ritualized motor patterns and postures occur in aggressive, submissive, threat, and sexual contexts.

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