Gray foxes are relatively successful small carnivores found throughout North America and the top part of South America. They owe their success to a number of physical and behavioral characteristics. Like other mammalian carnivores, including closely related species such as dogs, gray foxes don’t instantly begin life as excellent hunters; they have to learn what to do. This ability to learn and adapt to new situations is probably one of the reasons gray foxes are numerous and widespread.
The subdued gray, white, black and russet colors of gray foxes means they blend in to their woodland habitat. The mixture of colors also breaks up the animals’ outline. These colors and markings make the animals inconspicuous to both predators and prey. They are adapted for an omnivorous diet, eating both plant and animal material, meaning they are not dependent on a single food source. They mostly eat smaller mammals such as rabbits and rodents, but are not adverse to fruit, carrion and invertebrates. Gray foxes can usually find something to eat even when resources are scarce.
Both parents play their part in preparing the fox pups for adult life. The fathers provide most of the solid food when the pups are weaned and help the pups learn how to hunt by practicing stalking and pouncing. Both parents protect the juvenile foxes from predators. Sharing the tasks of pup-raising means the females have less of a struggle, ensuring the pups survive.
Aside from raising their young, gray foxes are primarily solitary animals. However they need to communicate with each other, to establish territories and to find mates. They communicate with sound, by barking, scent and body language.
The gray fox is apparently the only canid -- member of the dog family -- that can climb trees. This is a useful adaptation for the species. Gray foxes are small enough to be a prey animal for larger canids, such as coyotes and wolves. Being able to climb trees when the larger predators cannot increases survival rates. The skill also allows them to pursue arboreal prey animals such as squirrels. Gray foxes have also learned to store food. They dig holes and stash excess food for later.
Unlike red foxes, gray foxes are nervous around humans and rarely enter urban areas. Considering that humans have been and still are a serious threat to nearly all mammalian carnivores, this is a useful characteristic.
About the Author
Judith Willson has been writing since 2009, specializing in environmental and scientific topics. She has written content for school websites and worked for a Glasgow newspaper. Willson has a Master of Arts in English from the University of Aberdeen, Scotland.