THE GRAY FOX

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The gray fox is a handsome, distinctive member of the dog family, Canidae. Although common in Florida, the gray fox often is Inconspicuous due to its secretive habits. It is the only fox that regularly climbs trees to evade predators and to hunt its own prey, giving it the nickname “tree fox.”

The upper side of its body is a salt-and-pepper gray; its nose and sides of its muzzle are black. A black line extends from the corner of its eyes to its neck. The sides of its neck, back and legs, the underside of its tail and the base of its ears are a bright reddish-orange.

This coloration sometimes causes the gray fox to be mistaken for the red fox, but it lacks the black feet and white tall tip of that animal. Tracks also show proportionally larger toe pads and smaller overall foot size than those of the red fox.

A black stripe runs along the midline of the gray fox's bushy tail, which measures 11 to 16 Inches (28 to 41 centimeters). It stands 15 Inches (38 centimeters) at the shoulder, has a body length of 21 to 30 inches (53 to 76 centimeters) and weighs 7 to 13 pounds (15 to 29 kilograms).

HABITAT AND FOOD

The gray fox ranges from Canada to Panama and is found in almost all types of habitats except closed-canopy tropical forests. In Florida, it occurs statewide except for the Keys. Preferred habitat is dense cover in thickets,forests or swamps.

Its diet consists of small mammals, insects, fruits, acorns, birds and eggs. Due to its climbing expertise, arboreal creatures such as squirrels, are more important to the gray fox's diet than to those of other wild canids.

The gray fox climbs in a scrambling motion, grasping the tree trunk with its forepaws end forcing itself higher with the long claws on its hind feet.

REPRODUCTION

The gray fox returns to its den during the day. These sites are located in hollow logs, ground burrows, beneath boulders, and even under buildings in some secluded areas or where the foxes have become acclimated to people. Dens frequently are lined with shredded bark or Ieaves.

Most female gray foxes mate in their first year. Breeding season ranges from late January to March and may be heralded by fierce battles among males. Gestation takes 50 to 55 days, after which females produce 3 to 7 dark-brown, blind pups.

The male stays with his mate and helps care for the young. The pups are weaned at or about 6 weeks. Gradually the pups learn to fend for themselves, first leaving the den area to hunt with their parents when they are about 3 months old.