Did I just see a fox in a tree?

gray small fox

Did I just see a fox in a tree?

Thinking upon the coming summer camp season, a favorite game among our youngest campers is What Time Is It, Mr. Fox?  The image of Mr. Fox that comes to most minds is the Red Fox found in our Southwestern Ohio forest habitats.  Most people believe these are our only local fox, but that is not the case. The Red Fox was introduced into North America by British settlers in the 1700s and has since encroached into the territory of our native fox species, the Gray Fox.

The Gray Fox is shorter and stockier than its fancy British cousin, but it is well suited for the habitat in which is lives: wooded areas and open brushlands.  Its adaptations that have allowed this species to succeed here are excellent camouflage – gray, white, tan with a black stripe along its back ending in a black tipped tail; curved claws allowing it to climb trees; and an omnivorous diet allowing for a variety of available foods in all seasons.

The two fox species have many similarities but are different in several ways. Aside from their physical size difference, they are easy to tell about as the Red Fox tail has a white tip while the Gray Fox has a black stripe. The Gray Fox has shorter legs that it can use to climb trees and vertical surfaces.  One more difference, the Red Fox face is much more canine in appearance while the Gray Fox face is more feline.

Unfortunately, habitat loss has led to a decline in the Gray Fox population. Consider yourself lucky if you spot one of these foxes, they are usually nocturnal or crepuscular (out at dawn and dusk), and very wary of people.

Take some time to look up information about our local native fox and hopefully you will become a fan of these important members of our ecosystem.

By Lara Wardlow, Naturalist LaBoiteaux Woods Nature Center, Cincinnati Parks