We have all heard the expression “sly as a fox,” “fox in the hen house” and “crazy like a fox.” These phrases apply to a handsome member of the dog family that is found throughout Virginia. In fact there are two members of this canine family that are indigenous, the Red and Gray fox. Red foxes are found in most of North America, Great Britain, Australia and parts of North Africa. Grays range from southern Canada to northern Columbia.
Red foxes are usually rusty red with a white underbelly, black ear tips and legs, and a bushy tail with a white tip. The red tone can vary from dark chestnut to golden.
Gray foxes are peppery gray on top, reddish-brown on the sides and the back of the head. They have a long bushy tail with a black stripe. Gray foxes have long hooked claws that allow them to climb trees to evade predators and hunt for food. They climb in a scrambling motion, grasping the tree trunk with their forepaws and forcing themselves up higher with their claws. Hence the nickname “tree fox.”
Red foxes prefer open habitats and sparsely settled hill areas. They often frequent edges between different types of cover. Gray foxes prefer woodlands, brushy areas, swamplands and mountainous terrain. Both canines have adapted well to suburban environments and have been known to compete with raccoons for pet leftovers. They can be found in almost any developed area that provides some form of vegetative cover.
Foxes are omnivorous, eating both animals and plants. They will prey on rabbits, mice, moles, birds, amphibians and small reptiles. Plant material includes a variety of fruits, vegetables and acorns.
Foxes have had a love/hate relation with humans for hundreds of years. They are featured in a variety of folklore ranging from the wily villain to the underdog that outfoxes humans. They are excellent mousers and help control rodent and rabbit populations. However they are always a serious threat to poultry farmers. They have been hunted for sport, trapped and poisoned; yet have survived the onslaught of civilization. A new threat to foxes has been the expansion of the coyote population into Virginia. Coyotes compete successfully with foxes for food and have been known to attack their young.
The Virginia Living Museum displays both species of foxes on our outdoor trail. These particular animals were orphaned, raised by wildlife rehabbers and were too people friendly to be released back into the wild.
Help pay for the food and care of the red or the gray fox at the Virginia Living Museum by adopting one of them today.