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Animal School Fall Roundup

Housekeeping!

Hey, everyone, and welcome back to the Animal School blog. We have been busy behind the scenes, getting ready to transfer apartments, so Animal School has taken the back burner for a few weeks. Fortunately, we’re almost moved, so our creature features are back in action, and my pun game is back on point.

First off, we had a marvelous time at the 7th Annual Harvest Moon Festival in Walworth yesterday. Swift the Fox was out, teaching skulks of kits — or groups of kids — about gekkering and other lupine and canine noises. We also crafted a display of fox faces that shows people the different species of foxes around North America, as well as an info sheet that highlights details about those species. We had so many enthusiastic art students at our coloring station! It was truly a great time, and we look forward to returning next year.

In case you missed the event and would like share our handouts with your kids or students, we have:

Fox Face_Coloring Handout

Fox Facts

Swift Gekkering

And don’t forget our Vulpinology series on YouTube! Down the line, we do want to get better recording equipment and mics, but we are working with what we have for now.

Other good news: Fun Animal Facts return today! This week’s theme will be Girls Versus Boys, in which we explore the similarities and differences among species in the Animal Kingdom. Next week will be Close, But No Babar (a pun of “close, but no cigar,” with an homage to the cartoon elephant). In there, we will look at animals that have several overlapping features but are not the same. Think cheetahs and leopards, buffaloes and bison, snakes and legless lizards, etc.

Now, on the flip side, we’re going to have to take a hiatus from Turtles Around Town. Scouting out areas and driving around for a new picture every week has taken too much time and money. We considered Photoshopping the turtles into pictures, but we wanted to keep the shots authentic. We may continue with the feature sporadically, but, for now, the upkeep is too great for us to handle.

However, that doesn’t mean we’re calling our operation quits! Quite the opposite. We have a vulture character, Stinky, in the works, and Nick recently acquired a buffalo mask, so our family of furballs is growing! A horse costume and skunk costume are also on deck. Stay connected with us to see the work we’re doing. We’re on WordPress, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and YouTube.

In the meantime, remember that both the Wildlife Educators Coalition and our Animal School program are available for events and programs around Western New York throughout the year. School visits, library programs, community center activities, bookstore readings, scout meetings, birthday parties, senior center enrichment activities — you name it, and we can craft a customized program for your group! WEC has the live animals for demonstrations, and Animal School has the talking animal characters (mascots and puppets). You can also have both the live animals and mascots show up to your event. We offer a sliding price scale, so no one gets denied our unique, hands-on educational experience because of his or his income or location. We are always eager to work with other groups, so join in on our animal antics, already!

For more information about booking us, contact Nick Hadad at nhadad12@yahoo.com for Animal School and Karin Fires at karinfires@gmail.com for the Wildlife Educators Coalition (our parent group with the live animals).

We’ll see you all soon!

 

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Vulpinology 101 Part 8 – The Channel Island Foxes In Depth

As Swift mentioned, we did have plans on doing six videos for the Channel Island Fox species but after a lot of research, we decided to just do one and focus on two very important details.

As we posted back in Part 6, these six species are the descendants of the gray fox, getting a unique chance to evolve perfectly to fit in their island habitats. Each island fox is notably smaller than nearly all of the other mainland foxes, perhaps coming closest to the swift fox by comparison, but weighing between two and six pounds.

For centuries, the various island foxes shared their home with bald eagles and the ecosystem was perfectly balanced. However, as bald eagle populations dwindled due to DDT poisoning, these birds soon vanished from the islands, eventually being replaced by golden eagles.  Being a non-native predator to these islands, the golden eagles preyed upon these small foxes, which caused their populations to crash.

The largest decline took place in the mid-1990s, causing each species to end up on the critically endangered species list. In fact, things became so bad that at one point, San Miguel Island only had fifteen individual foxes left.  Drastic measure had to be taken.

A massive recovery project was launched. Captive breeding and release initiatives for these foxes were seeing major success along with the humane removal and relocating of the invasive golden eagles (and some reintroduction of the once native bald eagles).  Today, these six fox species have made an amazing come back and are now only listed as “of mild concern” on the species list.  It’s incredible how quickly these programs worked in saving these foxes.

And it’s a good thing too, for as Swift pointed out in the video, each of these fox species are keystone species. A keystone species is an animal that is so important to its ecosystem and food web that if it were ever removed, the local environment and even the physical landscape itself can be devastated.  In this case, deer mice populations had begun to rise and plant life was being lost at an alarming rate.  If things had continued along that way, the mice would have destroyed the local vegetation, which in turn would have led to massive erosion problems and a loss of food for other local herbivores.

This type of keystone species loss has already been seen in Yellowstone with the loss of the wolves. Everything in the park was negatively impacted but it took scientists and biologists a long time to put the puzzle pieces together.  Between an explosion in elk populations (which lead to a loss in tree and other plant life) and in the coyote population (which lead to a loss in smaller animals as prey items), the park’s ecosystem was falling apart.  Even the riverbanks and mountains were suffering terrible erosion problems as a result.  And it all changed with the reintroduction of the wolves.  Everything balanced out properly: populations of the animals returned to normal, the plant life returned and even the riverbanks began to take their old shape again.

It really is amazing how these animals, especially these tiny foxes, can be so hugely important.

Stay wild!

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Vulpinology 101 Part 7 – Red Fox Fur Mutations

Red Fox Fur Mutations:

pinky

(Photo Credit)

As we mentioned in Episode 4, red foxes can come in a large variety of colors.  These changes in color happen when the genes responsible for fur colorations get mixed.

At times, these fur colorations can be switched up in nature, so you can spot red foxes in shades of black, silver, brown, gold and other odd colors. Of course, true red foxes will always have a white tip at the end of their tail.

So, what about that pink fox that Swift mentioned in the video? Yes, she is a red fox, too.  Technically, she is a “pink champagne” fox, and the result of humans intentionally cross breeding foxes with different colored fur until they get a desired fur color. Originally, this started over three centuries ago for the fur trade.  People desired exotic colored fur from familiar animals, and this seemed to be a simple, yet time consuming way to do this.  A general knowledge of genetics helped this industry as well.

Over the last three centuries, several dozen fur mutations were created, some of which are still around today and some that have since gone extinct (or rather, breeding that particular fur mutation has been discontinued). So the pink champagne fox, while somewhat rare, can still be found whereas the Radium Fox has been extinct since the 1940s after its inception in the mid-1930s.

In more recent years, now that the fur industry isn’t as popular as it used to be, breeders have turned to domestication. That’s right, some game farms and breeders offer foxes as pets.  I should point out that in several states, this isn’t legal and those that do allow it, you might be required to have a permit or license to own one and you could be subject to state inspections to ensure the animal is being well cared for, so make sure you read up on your state’s legal guidelines before google searching for pet foxes!  I should also point out that foxes aren’t the best pets in the world, but that’s a subject for a later post.

Anyway, for more information about fox fur phases and mutations, check out Living With Foxes’ page on the subject.  They have a ton of info and awesome photos.

Stay wild!

Posted in animal facts, animal mascots, animals, Arts, biodiversity, birds, Carnivore, Channel Island Fox, ecology, education, educational mascots, endangered species, environment, fox subspecies, foxes, gray fox, Mammals, nature, nature conservation, Omnivore, Predator, Prey, storrytelling, talking mascots, Uncategorized, vuplines, wildlife, wildlife education

Vulpinology 101 Part 6 – The Island Foxes Overview

The Channel Island Fox  (Urocyon littoralis)

island fox

(Photo credit)

There are six types of fox that make their home on six of the eight channels islands. Each species has its own island and has adapted and evolved specifically to fit in its ecosystem.  They are similar to the gray fox and it’s believed that the gray fox is this species’ ancestor.  However, these foxes are much smaller than any mainland fox.

Older sources cite that the Channel Island Fox has six species and they are:

  1. Short tailed fox
  2. Island gray fox
  3. Channel islands fox
  4. Channel island gray fox
  5. California channel island fox
  6. Insular fox

Newer sources, including one belonging to the Channel Islands National Park, refer to these foxes by which island they inhabit.  This makes it much easier to identify them.  They are also identified as ONE species, the Channel Islands fox and therefor, each of the six is a subspecies:

  1. Santa Cruz fox (Urocyon littoralis santacruzae)
  2. San Miguel fox (Urocyon littoralis littoralis)
  3. Santa Rosa fox (Urocyon littoralis santarosae)
  4. Santa Catalina fox (Urocyon littoralis catalinae)
  5. San Nicolas Fox (Urocyon littoralis dickey)
  6. San Clemente fox (Urocyon littoralis clementae)

Four of these species underwent catastrophic population declines in the 1990s, with some reaching as low as 15 individual animals (which was specifically the case for the San Miguel fox). The species as a whole was listed as critically endangered and drastic recovery programs were formulated.

Don’t worry, the news gets better for these foxes. We’ll explore this further on Vulpinology 101 Part 8.  There, we’ll cover how the population decline occurred, what was being done to save them, what you can do.

Stay wild!

 

Posted in animal facts, animal mascots, animals, biodiversity, Carnivore, coyotes, ecology, educational mascots, environment, fox subspecies, foxes, gray fox, Mammals, nature, nature conservation, Omnivore, Predator, Prey, red fox, talking mascots, Uncategorized, vuplines, wildlife, wildlife education

Vulpinology 101 Part 5 – The Gray Fox

gray fox

The Gray Fox (Urocyon cinereoargenteus)

(Photo credit )

Gray foxes live mainly between the north eastern and the southern half of the United States, Mexico, Central America and the northernmost areas of South America. That said, there have been sightings as far north as Connecticut.  These foxes come in between seven and fourteen pounds, close to that of red foxes.

A unique feature of these foxes is their ability to climb trees. While red foxes have been known to hop about on low lying branches of trees, gray foxes can reach the higher limbs of the tree and even make their dens in hollow spaces, sometimes up to thirty feet off the ground.

Like many fox species, these foxes will mate between January and March, giving birth to a litter roughly 52 to 54 days later. The breeding pair are typically monogamous and both parents are heavily involved in raising their young.  As aforementioned, dens can be made in hollow trees but they can also be made in dense brush, under buildings, between rock crevices, or beneath tree stumps.

There are sixteen known subspecies of the gray fox, which can be found across the United States, Mexico, Central America and South America. Many of these have very small ranges, at times only in smaller sections of states/regions.

Again, like all fox species, the gray fox is an omnivore and eats anything from rodents, squirrels, rabbits, insects to various fruits and nuts. This fox can be preyed upon by larger animals, like bears, coyotes and wild cats.

Stay tuned for our next episode of Vulpinology 101!

Stay wild!

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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!