It’s not the best photo/video ever, but we were super excited to encounter this critter in the front yard a few nights ago. I grew up in Texas and don’t think I’ve ever seen one before. It’s a gray fox (aka Urocyon cinereoargenteus).
My favorite part of wildlife spotting is the inevitable deep research dive I’m inspired to take to learn everything I can about the animal in question. In this case, I uncovered a few interesting facts.
- The gray fox is omnivorous — I think we’re seeing it munch down some acorns in the video. Besides such things, it also eats small animals like mice, rats, lizards, frogs, etc.
- It isn’t a “true fox” — which means it isn’t genetically related to the more commonly-thought-of red fox, which lives in the East of the U.S.
- In fact, it’s a very old species, with fossil evidence found in Arizona from the mid-Pliocene (3.6 million years ago), where this early dog-like creature apparently wandered around with its mammal contemporaries. According to Wikipedia, these included “the giant sloth, the elephant-like Cuvieronius, the large-headed llama, and the early small horses of Nannippus and Equus.” Wow. The gray fox is the oldest living canid in the world. It’s referred to as “basal,” a phylogenetic term meaning it’s toward the base of the genetic evolution tree.
- And speaking of trees, the gray fox is the only canid species that can climb trees, thanks to its semi-retractable claws — also a canid anomaly.
All this to say that I’m very proud to be assisting to provide this fascinating animal with a habitat.