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Vulpinology 101 Part 4 – The Red Fox

red fox

Vulpinology 101 Part 4 – The Red Fox

(Photo credit !!!)

The Red Fox (Vulpes vulpes)

The Red Fox is the most common type of fox in the world and that’s a credit to its amazing ability to adapt to its environment. They can make their home just about anywhere, including in urban areas.  It is native to North America, northern Africa, part of the Middle East, most of Europe and Asia and it was introduced by European settlers to Australia.

This fox varies in size, ranging from the size of a large house cat to the size of a small dog. Red foxes can come in a variety of colors, such as silver, black, tawny, orange, platinum and a countless others.  Regardless of their fur color, red foxes will always have a white tip on their tail, called a flag.  Fur variations are often the result of genetic mutations and sometimes purposeful cross breeding, and we’ll explore this further in Vulpinology Part 7.

Red foxes are monogamous and both parents will raise their litter of kits. They teach them a variety of skills before the young are old enough to go out on their own.  Litter sizes range from two to twelve kits.  Red foxes are typically nocturnal animals, hunting from dusk to dawn but, like many other species of fox, they will become active during the day when they have a litter of kits to feed.

These foxes have a variety of vocalizations and sounds, as I’m sure many of you have guessed since the emergence of the song, “What Does the Fox Say?” These range from trill barks, screams, chirps, whines and gekkering.  They all have specific meanings, ranging from greetings, danger alarms, mating calls, to aggressive “back offs” during courting season and territory protection.

Like all foxes, the red fox is an omnivore, eating a variety of plants and animals. Mice, rabbits, voles, snakes, shrews, fish, insects, birds, squirrels, waterfowl, berries, small larvae-filled beehives, roots and nuts make up its diet.  The fox is a keen hunter, making excellent use of its senses, especially when its prey is lurking under thick snow in the winter.  Its signature hunting move is a leaping pounce, sometimes referred to as a mousing pounce, landing head first into the snow.  Recent studies suggest that, especially in the winter, the red fox taps into the Earth’s magnetic field, using it as a targeting system, by which the fox waits for the sounds of its prey to reach the same point where it feels the tilt in the axis of the magnetic field, and then leaps in a northeasterly direction.  While this is still being studied, it’s currently the strongest theory as to why foes pounce in this one particular direction with nearly a 73% success rate in catching prey versus their success rate when pouncing from any other direction (read more on this exciting theory here!)  The more studying that’s being done on this theory, the sooner we hope to have an easier way to explain how this might work.

Needless to say, red foxes are fascinating. Stay tuned for more fox facts on our next episode of Vulpinology 101.

Stay wild!

 

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Vulpinology 101 Part 3 – The Kit Fox

kit fox 1

The Kit Fox (Vulpes macrotis)

(Photo from FoxesWorlds )

The Kit Fox lives in the drier regions of the southwestern United States and Mexico. It has a slender shaped body, a larger head and larger ears.  Believe it or not, its big ears help keep this fox cool in the hot sun by allowing blood vessels to vent heat through the thin skin.  The fennec fox of Africa has this exact same attribute for the exact same reason.

With a sleek coat of tawny, brown/gray fur and a black tipped tail, this little fox feats on a wide variety of rodents, ranging from kangaroo rats, snakes, rabbits/jack rabbits, birds, mice, voles, and various insects. And, keeping true to the omnivorous nature of all foxes they will also eat a variety of fruits and plants, even going after tomatoes.

The kit fox breeding pairs will often consist of the same two foxes for many years but it’s not uncommon for them to choose a new mate before the start of a new breeding season. Their young are born in the spring and their litter size can range between four and fourteen kits!

An interesting subspecies of this fox is the San Joaquin Kit Fox, living only within the valley area of the same name. They were added to the endangered species list in 1967 and their population is still in trouble despite recovery efforts.  The two big factors are a loss of habitat and competing for said habitat and food with invasive red foxes.  Thirdly, due to the extermination of gray wolves that once lived in the area, coyote populations have exploded and sadly, this little fox is on the coyote’s menu.

Stay tuned to the blog for our next episode of Vulpinology 101!

And stay wild!

Posted in animal facts, animal mascots, animals, arctic foxes, arctic wildlife, biodiversity, Carnivore, ecology, educational mascots, environment, foxes, Mammals, nature, nature conservation, Omnivore, Predator, Prey, talking mascots, Uncategorized, vuplines, wildlife, wildlife education, wolves

Vulpinology 101 Part 2 – The Arctic Fox

arctic fox

The Arctic Fox (Vulpes lagopus)

(Photo from the WWF)

The arctic fox lives only in the northern most parts of the northern hemisphere. This area includes Canada, Greenland, Iceland, Scandinavia and Russia.  That being said, this fox does share some of its habitat range with the red fox, mainly in its southernmost regions.  The body shape of this fox is rounder than most other foxes which helps to store body heat, which can help keep it warm in some of the coldest weather imaginable. Pair that along with its thick coat of fur and an increase in the amount of body fat by around 50% to insulate them, and you have a warm, happy fox!

Speaking of fur, this clever fox changes its coats to match the season. Like most of the arctic animals, it has a brownish coat during the summer.  And when winter comes, it grows a long, thick coat of white fur that even covers the undersides of its paws.  These are some extraordinary adaptations!

Arctic foxes, like most foxes, are omnivores, meaning they eat both plants and animals. Lemmings, mice, fish, various birds/seabirds, small seals, and snowshoe hares make up the bulk of its meat diet.  However, this clever fox will often follow polar bears (from a safe distance, of course) and wait for them to finish a meal before gobbling up the leftovers.  This scavenger technique comes in handy when food isn’t as available.  In the spring and summer, there is a variety of plant life the arctic fox can harvest for its meals which include various berries and roots, amongst other things.

Being one of the smaller animals of the arctic, the fox can become the prey of polar bears, arctic wolves, and lynxes. Sometimes the winter coat can help the fox blend in with the snow to avoid being seen but otherwise, it must rely on its cunning and speed to keep itself from being caught.

Both the male and female fox will mate for life and raise their kits together. While the average litter of kits is between five and eight, they can have as much as 25 kits, which is the most possible of any species of fox.  Arctic fox kits are usually born in May, and while that might be when things start to get warm down here in the US, it is still quite cold in the arctic.  It can be challenging for young kits to stay warm and sadly, some may perish.

Unlike the dens of most other foxes, which are small single, double or triple roomed underground spaces, the arctic fox makes complex dens with many tunnels and room. These can cover quite a bit of space, sometimes up to 1200 square yards.  That’s huge!

Stay tuned for our next exciting episode of Vulpinology 101!

Stay wild!