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The Catlike Canine

05/15/2020 3:14 PM | Billy Drakeford (Administrator)

Everybody likes a success story and the Red Fox certainly is, with the largest geographical range of any carnivore.  I see gray foxes much more here, so it is always special when I see a red fox.  The last one I saw at was near Oak Rock Trail and its reddish orange coat, black ears and its white tipped tail was beyond gorgeous.  I stood there for a good five minutes having a stare down with him like Clint Eastwood at the end of the Good, the Bad and the Ugly, wondering how such a brightly garbed animal can be so successful.  It would be like a ninja wearing a pumpkin suit and remaining stealthy and unseen.

The red fox, though clearly belonging in the canine(dog) family, has many feline(cat) characteristics.  Red foxes have long cat like vibrissae(whiskers), similar long thin knife-like canine(the longer front pair)teeth, and do not shake prey to death like other members of the dog family.  Like the cats, they exert continuous pressure with their canine teeth until the prey’s central nervous system is overwhelmed.  They also have feline like claws which can partially retract and similar cat like balance.  The eye of the fox has a catlike vertical slit as well.

Red foxes look heavier than they are, weighing between 6 and 12 pounds in the south and about 40 inches long.  They have 42 teeth, keen vision, exquisite hearing and sense of smell.  One legend about its hearing is that they can hear a wristwatch tick from 100 yards.  They are first class sprinters and have been recorded at 45 miles per hour, which is fast enough for adult foxes to outrun or out maneuver coyotes, dogs, or wolves.   

Umstead red foxes here breed in late fall and early winter, with their gestation/term of pregnancy being 52 to 53 days.  Between the bathroom and the Big Lake parking lot, red foxes have used a den hole there for years but skipping the last two years.  Ranger Nick had a great picture of some pups here gnawing on a deer leg outside the den hole, not 5 feet off a social trail.  The fact that he did not share this information with me until months later is still a bone of contention between us.  I attributed this grotesque selfishness to his youth and hope he will gain more of the sharing spirit later in life. 

Many authorities have noticed red foxes are denning closer and closer to humans when coyotes are present.  Coyotes, of course, will kill any fox they can catch being about 1/3 bigger and viewing foxes as competition.  Coyotes, however, are on the losing end of the stick with wolves in the same way.  The smaller canine must adapt, move or die.  It is the canine way. 

One historical story is that early highbrow colonists imported red foxes to hunt in the colonies due to hunts of grey foxes that ended rather quickly with the grey foxes climbing trees.  This led to the myth that there were no red foxes in America, which was not true.  Red foxes that were up north, started to move south with the forest opening, which matches their preference of woods and open areas.  Recent tests of red foxes show no European genetic markers.   

If you are interested in learning more about foxes, J. David Henry has an excellent book called How to Spot a Fox.  Enjoy the next video of a red fox scream and pay attention to how fast it turns at about second nine.  I have heard this sound at night here at Umstead.  The fox here looks like it just wanted to play.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zBpZTo1dlPM

Know more to see more,

Ranger Billy


The Umstead Coalition

We are dedicated to preserving the natural integrity of William B. Umstead State Park and the Richland Creek Corridor.