March 15, 2022

I received a text from Melissa today that while she was working in her kitchen office about a red fox that had run across the back of our property.  The two dogs who Eddie was in conversation with over the last weeks have also made a habit of running to the back of their yard and barking at nothing.  The division between our yard and the church property behind us has a thick (10 feet/3 meter) line of trees that separates us.  While it has always seemed the dogs were barking aimlessly, I wonder if instead they had seen (sensed?) the fox and that was what had set them off.  While the fox was beautiful to see, it quickly passed through the yard, across the open field, and was gone in a matter of seconds.

When I looked online, I found the red fox (Vulpes vulpes) is the largest of the true foxes and one of the most widely distributed members of the order Carnivora.  The fox is found across the Northern Hemisphere including most of North America, Europe, and Asia, plus parts of North Africa.  Apart from its large size, the red fox is distinguished from other fox species by its ability to adapt quickly to new environments.  Despite its name, the species often produces individuals with a variety of other colorings.  Forty-five subspecies are currently recognized, which are divided into the large northern foxes and the small southern grey desert foxes of Asia and North Africa.  Red foxes are usually together in pairs or small groups consisting of families.  The young of the mated pair remain with their parents to assist in caring for new kits.  The fox primarily feeds on small rodents, though it may target rabbits, squirrels, game birds, reptiles, invertebrates, and young ungulates (hoofed mammals).  The fox is vulnerable from larger predators, including wolves, coyotes, eagles, and large cat species.

This fox species has a long history of association with humans, having been extensively hunted as a pest and furbearer for centuries, as well as being represented in folklore and mythology. Because of its widespread distribution and large population, the red fox is one of the most important furbearing animals harvested for the fur trade.  Since it is too small to pose a threat to humans, it has benefited from the presence of human habitation.  The fox has successfully occupied many suburban and urban areas.  Domestication of the red fox is also underway in Russia and has resulted in the domesticated red fox.  While the fox seen by Melissa was not domesticated, it had been urbanized.

THOUGHTS:  The range of the red fox has continued to increase alongside human expansion.  The foxes were established in Australia through successive introductions in 1830’s and 1840’s by British settlers who wanted to foster the traditional English fox hunt.  The species is an apex predator on the mainland but is less common in areas where the dingo is prevalent.  Still, the red fox has been implicated in the extinction or decline of several native Australian species.  The spread of red foxes across the southern part of the continent coincides with the spread of rabbits (another invasive) in Australia and corresponds with declines in the distribution of several medium-sized ground-dwelling mammals.  The red fox is included on the list of the “world’s 100 worst invasive species”.  Hardly a desirable list to be noted on.  Once more, one person’s sport is another’s bane.  Follow the science.  Change is coming and it starts with you.

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