Gray Foxes


Gypsum Looks AheadGray foxes (Urocyon cinereoargenteus) are smaller, arboreal (tree-dwelling) cousins of both the red fox and the gray wolf.  They are also native to Indiana, but they are so secretive they are not often spotted by humans, even though they might be living right alongside.

Gray foxes are generally orange on the underside with a distinctive, rich, speckled gray on the top; their beautiful coloration is reflected in their Latin name, cinereoargenteus, which means “ashen silver”.  They weigh between 8-15 pounds (like small house cats), and are from 30-44 in long, including the tail; females are slightly smaller than males.  Gray foxes do not have the black “socks” on their legs and feet that are commonly seen in red foxes; and, while the red fox has slit, cat-like pupils, the gray fox has oval pupils.

The gray fox is rare among canids in its affinity for tree climbing, a trait shared only with the Asian raccoon dog.  (Other canids can climb trees, but they do not generally live in trees, or spend so much time there, as does the gray fox.)  The gray fox is crepuscular (active at dawn and dusk) or in some areas nocturnal.  During the day it dens in hollow trees or stumps or in burrows “borrowed” from other species. Gray fox tree dens may be located up to 30 feet above the ground.  The foxes will bring back the remains of their dinners to the den and the tree may end up festooned with macabre “ornaments”.

Hunter BacklitLike the red fox, the gray fox is an opportunistic, omnivorous and solitary hunter (it does not hunt in packs like wolves).  It is happy to eat meat (rabbits, birds, and fish), insects, and fruit wherever it can find them.

Gray foxes mate in February to early March.  Gestation lasts approximately 53 days, with kits being born in late April to early May in litter sizes from 1 to 7.  Kits grow quickly, and begin hunting with their parents around three months of age.  They remain in their natal group until they reach sexual maturity in late autumn.

The gray fox, and the related Channel Island fox (Urocyon littoralis) are the only currently extant members of the genus Urocyon.  The gray fox was once abundant through the eastern United States; although it is still found there, encroachment by humans has reduced their habitat and allowed red foxes (which are more adaptable) to become more common.  The gray fox is still more common than the red across some parts of the western United States, however.