We’ve had a lot of red fox (Vulpes vulpes) sightings over the last couple months. There appears to be at least 2 or 3 that have dens on our property, and they are not shy about running around during the daytime.
It didn’t take long for people to take notice and even begin naming then. As an ecologist trained in the Western-scientific tradition, I try to keep some professional/emotional distance from the creatures around here, but… with a fox I have to admit that’s difficult! They are such interesting and curious creatures.
It appears that one has a serious case of sarcoptic mange, caused by a parasitic mites that causes a lot of itching in the host (which could also be a dog or other mammal). A lot of it’s fur is missing from its hind end.
Sarah from our communications department snagged some great photos when Moonie was down by the labyrinth, cleaning up a dead racoon. Thanks Moonie!
I was happy to see the “Grow Zone” signs (also designed by Sarah) in the background. We stopped mowing up to the edge of the lake and planted native grasses and wildflowers. Even this narrow strip of habitat provides space for grasshoppers and small mammals, which make up the bulk of the red fox’s prey.
I should note that the Gray Fox (Urocyon cinereoargenteus) is also known to be in this region, although it appears to be much less common. (You can find these observations logged on iNaturalist in neighboring counties, sometimes with trail cam photos). They are more common in the heavily forested southern areas of the state. Gray foxes can even climb trees (while Red Fox cannot).
There appears to be some debate about the origin of the Red Fox in the Midwest and Eastern U.S. The Indiana DNR Red Fox page still states, “The red fox (Vulpes vulpes) is likely not native to Indiana.”
I came across this paper published in 2012 that ran genetic analysis on red fox populations from across the continent, and concluded that there is essentially no European genes in N. American populations:
Red foxes were historically absent from much of the East Coast at the time of European settlement and did not become common until the mid-1800s. Some early naturalists described an apparent southward expansion of native foxes that coincided with anthropogenic habitat changes in the region. Alternatively, red foxes introduced from Europe during Colonial times may have become established in the east and subsequently expanded their range westward
We found no Eurasian haplotypes in North America, but found native haplotypes in recently established populations in the southeastern United States and in parts of the western United States. Red foxes from the southeastern United States were closely related to native populations in eastern Canada and the northeastern United States, suggesting that they originated from natural range expansions, not from translocation of European lineages, as was widely believed prior to this study…
Although European red foxes translocated to the eastern United States during Colonial times may have contributed genetically to extant populations in that region, our findings suggest that most of the matrilineal ancestry of eastern red foxes originated in North America.
I talked with a local hunter who is a keen observer of ecological trends in the area. Anecdotally, he thinks red foxes have declined with the boom in coyote populations. They fill a somewhat similar niche, so it makes sense that they would compete for space. Even so, we’ve had no shortage of fox dens around campus. They prefer open country, farms, and fields.
According to Bruce Plowman, a wildlife research biologist with the Indiana Department of Natural Resources: “There has been a suppression of the red fox as coyotes have moved into these parts since the late 1970s and 1980s… Coyotes view the red fox as a competitor and will defend their territory and their food resources, killing and even eating them. We will see fluctuations of red fox numbers from year to year.”
I’ll end with a shot of boxing foxes our wildlife cam captured in 2017 (highlighted in this post).