The kit fox, Vulpes macrotis, is native to the Chihuahuan Desert. It is a nocturnal animal and spends much of the day napping in the cool of its den. The range goes north along the western coast from Baja California, moving inland to follow the arid climate all the way up to the California – Oregon border, east as far as southwestern Colorado and south into Central Mexico.
The kit fox is the smallest fox, standing 12 inches at the shoulder and 20 inches long, with a tail of about 14 inches. It weighs three to six pounds. The gray fur with a bit of reddish on the belly and a black tip on the tail makes it easy for them to camouflage themselves in the grasses and brush of the desert environment. One noticeable thing is their ears. Kit foxes may be the smallest fox, but they have the biggest ears. Their ears, which have lots of blood vessels, help cool them in the desert heat.
Next time you get a chance to sit quietly, look out over some open desert just before sunset and watch for the movement of Mr. and Mrs. Fox and their kits. At first you may think their waving tail is just some grasses blowing in the breeze. The give-away is that little black flag of fur at the end of the tail. Or, you may get lucky and catch the young pups practicing their acrobatic moves during the day.
Unlike wolves and coyotes, kit foxes creep through the weeds and brush like a cat stalking prey. Families are more active during the day while the pups are being educated. Mom or Dad keep watch for danger from a coyote, mountain lion or hawk, and hustle them back into the den. Cars are another big danger. Only about half the pups survive the first year. In the wild, they will live five to 12 years. Desert life can be rough.
If you spot one kit fox, look for more. The fox is a family-minded animal. They mate for life and parent foxes raise their pups together. The litter of one to seven pups is born in March or April and stays in the den for about the first four weeks. You will have the best chance of seeing them from June, when the pups first come out of the den, until September when they are almost fully grown and hunting at night with the family. It is while they are growing up that the pups play outside during the day under the watchful eye of Mom and Grandma. They have a ‘traditional’ family structure: Mom stays home most of the time and Dad brings home her dinner. Once the pups are weaned, the whole family goes hunting.
Foxes are predators and hunt prairie dogs, rats, rabbits and small birds, including a nice fat chicken out of the hen yard. When game is scarce, they will eat tomatoes, cactus fruit (tunas) and any fallen fruit, large bugs, snakes and reptiles. If they live near people, they will scrounge garbage and even come up on your porch to help themselves to that dish of dog food sitting out for Buddy.
Foxes require very little water, getting most of what they need from the food they eat. They are well-adapted to the dry desert climate, napping in the coolness of the den during the day and hunting at night when their fur coat helps keep them warm. They usually come out shortly before sunset to start their day.
Their feet are furry to help them “float” on the ground and dampen any sound. They crawl along the ground, hiding in the weeds, as they quietly creep up on a rat or rabbit; then it is a pounce and if necessary, a chase. A fox can run up to 31 miles an hour and are known for being clever and quick thinking. By 8 months the pups are grown. The females will find a mate and live near her family. The males leave home and find a more distant territory.
– by Carolyn Brown Zniewski