Gray Fox

Urocyon cinereoargenteus ocythous Bangs



Photo courtesy of Dave Schaffer,
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Images Library

Description:   The gray fox is less closely related to the other species of foxes found in Kansas, but shares the same general body shape. It can be distinguished from other members of its family by: 1) relatively long slim legs and light build, 2) long, triangular ears, 3) very narrow, pointed muzzle, 4) short, coarse fur, 5) white or yellow-orange underparts which turn to rufous along the inside of the legs and sides of the body, 6) white chin and throat, 7) cheeks and face which are a mixture of black and white fur, creating a grizzled appearance, 8) reddish-orange patch of fur which runs from halfway up the ears down the side of the neck to the throat, 9) black and white upperparts, creating a salt-and-pepper coloration, with a dark middorsal stripe, and 10) gray tail with a dorsal crest of long, stiff black bur.

Size:   Adults may attain the following dimensions: total length 889-1080 mm; tail 336-392 mm; hind foot 132-140 mm; ear 66-78 mm; eight 2.2-3.4 kilograms.

Range and Habitat:   The gray fox reaches its greatest abundance in the woodlands of the eastern third of the state. It prefers shrublands and brushy woodlands in hilly or broken terrain. It also seems to utilize habitat edges along hedge rows and woodlands.

Reproduction:   The gray fox breeds in February and March. Subsequently the female prepares a den, usually on the surface rather than underground, lined with grass, leaves, or shredded bark. Following a gestation period of 53 days (range 51 to 63), one to eight (average four to five) young are born. The young remain in the den four to six weeks, and are weaned by six weeks. After this time they leave the den and begin to forage with their parents. The pups leave the den at about 10 weeks of age, but remain in the home range of the parents until late winter. After this time they disperse and establish their own ranges. Nearly all gray foxes breed during their first year.

Habits:   Gray foxes are primarily nocturnal and crepuscular in their daily activities. However, occasional individuals have been reported active throughout all hours of the day. The social unit seems to consist of the adult male, female and their young. Dens are commonly built near water, beneath rock piles, rock outcrops, brush piles, abandoned buildings, in hollow trees, and, less frequently, below ground. Underground burrows are usually found in loose, well-drained soils, and may be prepared by either the gray fox or other animals. Tree dens have been found as high as three meters above the ground.

  Gray foxes occupy home ranges of 0.13-7.7 square kilometers, with an average of about four to six square kilometers. Population densities vary from less than one up to fourteen foxes per square kilometer, but average one to two per square kilometer.

  Gray foxes are unique among the family Canidae in Kansas in being adept climbers. They frequently run up sloping tree trunks, but can climb vertical ones as well. This climbing is accomplished by wrapping the forelimbs around the trunk while pushing with the hind feet, or by using the claws, much like a cat. Gray foxes may climb trees to reach dens, as an escape from ground predators, or while searching for food.

Food:   Gray foxes are opportunistic feeders, and their diets shift seasonally and geographically with the relative abundance of foods. Known food items of this mammal include cottontail rabbits, boles, deer mice, cotton rats, pocket gophers, ground squirrels, tree squirrels, apples, grapes, persimmons, acorns, peanuts, hickory nuts, and corn. Domestic animals may be eaten as carrion, but predation is rare.

Remarks:   Little is known of the gray fox in Kansas, and its current status is unclear. It appears to be less common than the red fox. The gray fox may live fifteen years in captivity, but seldom lives longer than six years in the wild.

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