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Zoo-Ology: Gray foxes like to climb trees

June 26, 2011 at 1:26 a.m.

The gray fox is most active at night or during dawn/dusk hours.  It usually hunts alone, eating small mammals, birds, insects, eggs, fruit, nuts and berries.

By Judie Farnsworth

Look - up in the tree! It's a bird! It's a cat! It's - a fox?

Strange as it seems, the gray fox is quite at home in trees.

This handsome fox has silver-gray fur on its back and black markings on its tail and head. Once the most common fox in the east, loss of wooded habitat has caused its decline and the red fox is now dominant.

The gray fox is dominant in the Pacific states. It's most active at night (nocturnal) or dawn/dusk hours (crepuscular). It usually hunts alone, eating small mammals, birds, insects, eggs, fruit, nuts and berries.

The ability to climb vertically up trees is unique to the gray fox. The Asian raccoon dog is the only other canid (dog) with this ability. Strong, hooked claws are used to scramble up trees for food, to escape a predator or just watch the world go by. There may be an occasional nap in a penthouse hawk or owl nest.

The descent may be with jumps from branch to branch, head first or backing down like a cat.

The gray fox is thought to mate for life. The female (vixen) dens beneath buildings, in caves, hollow trees, stumps or may enlarge the burrow of another animal, like a woodchuck.

Three to seven pups are born in April or May.

The male brings food for the family during the first 10 weeks, as the pups grow, learn to venture out and are weaned. A group of foxes is called a skulk.

Dens can be fairly simple, or quite an architectural feat. There may be multiple exits and side chambers. The chambers are for storing food and providing fresh areas for the young, whose sanitation habits are pretty much nonexistent when they're tiny.

Dens of 75 feet have been found. It's rare, but this fox has been known to raise a family 20 or more feet above the ground . in a hollow tree. The family stays together until the fall.

Three wonderful gray fox pups were born at The Texas Zoo on April 9. Two males, Hunter and Remy, and a foxy little lady named Trixie are waiting for you to visit. Victoria, the mother, has been a protective and good mom, but we think she's ready to loosen the apron strings a bit. The pups are in the outdoor exhibit area, with Victoria, for you to enjoy as they grow.

Judie Farnsworth is a long-time volunteer at the Texas Zoo specializing in educational programs.



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