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  The Mammals of Texas - Online Edition

Common Gray Fox
Order Carnivora : Family Canidae : Urocyon cinereoargenteus (Schreber)

Common Gray Fox (Urocyon cinereoargenteus).  Photo courtesy of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.Description. A medium-sized fox with grayish upperparts, reddish brown legs, tawny sides, and whitish throat, cheeks and mid-line of belly; sides of muzzle and lower jaw with distinct blackish patch; tail with distinct blackish stripe on upperside and black tip (no white on end of tail as in the red fox); tail roughly triangular, not round, in cross section; skull with distinct lyrate temporal ridges, which meet only at hind part of skull. Dental formula as in the red fox. External measurements average: total length, 970 mm; tail, 347 mm; hind foot, 143 mm. Weight, ordinarily 3-5 kg, occasionally as much as 9 kg.

Species distribution mapDistribution in Texas. Statewide.

Habits. The gray fox is essentially an inhabitant of wooded areas, particularly mixed hardwood forests. It is common throughout the wooded sections east of the shortgrass plains and in the pinyon-juniper community above the low lying deserts.

This fox is adept at climbing trees, particularly if they are leaning or have branches within 3 m of the ground, and it is not unusual for it to use this escape device when pursued by hounds. Contrary to common belief, gray foxes are not strictly animals of the night, but they are much more active then. They have been observed on many occasions in the daytime under conditions that suggested they were foraging. When so encountered, they often move to one side behind a protecting screen of vegetation and wait for the intruder to pass.

Gray foxes usually den in crevices in the rocks, in underground burrows, under rocks, in hollow logs, or in hollow trees. In eastern Texas, one was found denning about 10 m above the ground in a large hollow oak. In central Texas, a den was found in a hollow live oak with the entrance about 1 m above the ground. Two unusual den sites which have been documented include a pile of wood and a field of sorghum into which a fox had "tunneled."

The gray fox is omnivorous; the food varies with season and availability. Based upon the stomach contents of 42 foxes from Texas, the winter food consisted chiefly of small mammals (cottontails, cotton rats, pocket gophers, pocket mice), 56%; followed by insects, largely grasshoppers, 23%; and birds (doves, quail, sparrows, blackbirds, towhees), 21%. In the spring the diet was but slightly changed — small mammals, 68%; insects, 25%; small birds, 17%. In late summer and fall, persimmons and acorns led with 30%; insects, 26%; small mammals, 16%; birds, 14%; crayfish, 14%. In these 42 stomachs, chicken and quail occurred once each, and mourning doves twice. Consequently, as judged from these analyses, the usual food habits of the gray fox do not conflict much with man’s economy.

In Texas, the breeding season begins in December and continues on into March. Most females captured in March and April are gravid. The three to six pups are born in April or May after a gestation period of about 53 days. At first they are blind and helpless, but they grow rapidly and soon leave the home nest, possibly because of the heavy infestation of fleas characteristic of such nests. Then they seek shelter in rock piles, under rocks, in piles of brush, or in other sites that offer concealment and protection.

Of some interest is the possible relationship between gray foxes and coyotes. In sections of Texas where coyotes formerly were numerous, the gray fox was scarce; now, after elimination of the coyote, the gray fox has become abundant. Perhaps the coyote tends to hold this fox in check under conditions where they both occupy the same area.

Gray foxes are thought to live six to 10 years in the wild. Major factors causing mortality include predation, parasites, diseases, and man. The gray fox is among the most important of Texas’ fur-bearing animals.

Photo courtesy of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.