December 22, 2014

Curious Gray

Also called the swamp fox because of its ability to swim and climb trees, the gray fox (Urocyon cinereoargenteus) is curious, wary and sly. Often living near human habitation, gray foxes are nocturnal and thus seldom seen. More commonly, they live in or near woodlands, making dens in fallen trees, culverts, gopher tortoise burrows, under sheds and trailers and the like.

Aesop was right. They love grapes, but like other small predators, these fellows survive on small mammals and also partake of reptiles, insects, birds and eggs, fruit and even cat food left outside.

Gray foxes are canids-carnivorous members of the same family that includes wolves, coyotes and dogs. They're the only American canid with true climbing ability. They don't so much hug the tree as scramble from toehold to toehold to find a horizontal resting or foraging place-easy on the ledges made by strangler figs entwined around big cypress.

Females give birth to litters of two to seven in the spring, and from about a month later until the young leave at six months of age, they might be seen foraging together, joined outside the den by the male.

Look for gray foxes in your neighborhood. Paw prints are much like a domestic cat's but with the non-retractable claws showing in soft earth. There is a distinct, pungent odor near their dens and other places; they urinate and defecate to mark territory. Or listen at night, for growls and sharp yaps that don't sound like a dog or raccoon. Watch, listen, but don't interfere.