As late winter snow flurries coat the Arb in white, signs of silent mammals can be found in prints and hints of gray and red fur. Recently, joggers, skiers, and hikers have spotted Grey Foxes (Urocyon cineroargenteus) and Red Foxes (Vulpes vulpes) in the Arb at increasing rates.
Recent sightings may be due to increased activity during mating season. Grey foxes peak mating season is during February and Red Foxes peak mating season is from February to March. Additionally, unseasonably warm temperatures may have increased prey availability. The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources found Grey Fox territory is expanding northward, likely due to increasing populations of Cottontail Rabbits (Sylvilagus floridanus). Finally, local naturalist Myles Bakke hypothesizes that foxes venturing close into Northfield are defending themselves from predatory Coyotes (Canis latrans). Coyotes hunt Red and Grey Foxes and their population has been expanding southward.
Both species are native to southern Minnesota and are found in many of the habitats within the Cowling Arboretum. Gray Foxes frequent wooded habitats, as they climb trees in order to hide from predators and occasionally hunt. Their prey includes cottontail rabbits, small birds and insects. Red Foxes are quick predators that will catch and eat rats, rabbits, birds, snakes, fish and more. They live and hunt in diverse habitats from forests to prairies with ranges that cover up to two square miles. Red Foxes are most active at twilight, so look for the quick swish of a Fox Tail while enjoying a pink glowing sunset.
-Sophia Takemi Kawamoto ’18, for the Cole Student Naturalists
Photo credits: Wildlife Science Center