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Answers to Go with Susan Smith

Sunday, October 6, 2019

Q. I occasionally see a fox in my neighborhood. Late in the summer, I saw a young fox running to join two adult foxes. Do male foxes help raise their young?

A . Let’s turn to Ilo Hiller’s 1990 book, “Introducing Mammals to Young Naturalists.” Hiller’s text is also available on the Texas Parks Wildlife website.

Let’s start at the beginning of the fox family life cycle. Hiller writes, “The breeding season for the red fox in Texas begins early in the year, and the shrill squalls of the female (vixen) bring answering barks from any nearby males. If more than one male responds to her call, they compete for her attention. The winner of the resulting fight gets her.

“The pair then must find a suitable den and get it ready for the young that will be born about 51 days after mating takes place. Usually the den is an underground burrow, a crevice in a rocky outcrop, or a cavity under some boulders. Occasionally the pair will take over the burrow of some other animal, such as a badger, and remodel it to suit themselves.

“Litters may vary from four to 15, but the most common size is five or six. The pups, which look like kittens, are dark brown or black and have a white tip on their tails.

“Their eyes open in nine days, but for at least a month they remain inside the den, where the female gives them constant attention. Since she must remain with them for the first few weeks, the male brings food to her and stands guard over the den. If danger approaches, he warns the family with a bark and then tries to lure the intruder away.

“When the pups grow older they are fed at the mouth of the den, venturing outside to wrestle and fight with their littermates over the food. But whether they are fighting over food or just rolling and tumbling together in play, they are amazingly quiet. The only sound may be a small squeak of protest when one of them gets too rough.

“During the next four months the young spend most of their time outside the den being taught how to find, stalk, and catch live prey. They also are taught to eat grapes, berries and other fallen fruit.

“In the fall the family separates, and the adult-size young must find a place to live. This can be a very difficult experience since other foxes will not allow the young intruders into their territories. During their search, the young may fall victim to predators, automobiles or humans. Only the resourceful ones survive to take their place in our state's complex wildlife community.”

The red fox is not native to Texas. Hiller writes, “Had it not been for some early pioneers and their packs of well-trained hunting hounds, the red fox might never have found its way to Texas.

“The red fox was imported to provide sport and training for fox-hounds. The red fox's strong, streamlined body is perfect for running, and it seems to enjoy a good chase. It is capable of sudden bursts of speed that have been clocked up to 45 miles per hour, and it can run in front of a pack of baying foxhounds all night.

“The entire red fox population of Central Texas probably descended from 40 foxes released between 1890 and 1895 near Waco. Offspring from these, plus an additional 60 imports, soon spread into the surrounding counties. Releases in other parts of the state further increased the red fox's range. Now it can be found in the eastern, north-central and Trans-Pecos areas of the state. Highest populations occur in north-central Texas.”

San Marcos Record

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