Friday, September 16, 2011

The Climbing Canine.

From one of my camera sets back in North Carolina.

The climbing tendencies of Gray Foxes (Urocyon cinereoargenteus) are well known.

As it was told to me by some "old-timers" :)  ....the tendency of the Gray Fox to climb may have saved it a little bit of historical grief from hunters, AND led to the introduction of the European Red Fox (Vulpes vulpes) in North America.  Although native Reds did exist in many areas of North America at one time (having migrated across the land bridge from Europe during the Illinoian Glacial Period 130-300 thousand years ago), they became very rare by the end the Wisconsonian Glacial Period around 10-100 thousand years before present (Aubry et al. 2009).  Some native Reds still exist in North America today, but they are reportedly only found in remote locations, such as subalpine and alpine habitats of the Rocky Mountains, Sierra Nevadas, and in areas of Alaska and Canada.

So we can apparently assume that when Europeans arrived on the eastern shores of the New World, they found only Gray Foxes.  Because Grays would quickly run up a tree when chased by dogs and hunters on horses, they didn't make good sport.  Coyotes were also reportedly hunted from horse-back with the use of dogs on occasion. But 'yotes do not use the convoluted escape routes that Reds do, and are rather likely to bolt in a straight line when fleeing... making them less of a challenge.  The Red Fox, on the other hand, will break and run and run across open space to shelter...then break and run in a different direction to shelter and so on.  This made for a much better hunt ("View Haloo", if you will).

Therefore, to have something more sporting to hunt (in part) the Red Fox was introduced to North America.  Thus, Red Fox encountered in the Midwestern and Eastern U.S. are believed to be of European Stock.

But...we were talking about the Gray Fox and their notions to climb things.....

Although Gray Fox love to climb, I never thought my camera traps would actually ever catch a shot of them climbing. 

As it is often said: it's better to be lucky than good.

I wish I would have gotten a picture of it actually catching whatever it was after on that snowy December evening.

Literature Cited:

Aubry, K.B., M.J. Statham, B.N. Sacks, J.D. Perrines, and S.M. Wisely. 2009.Phylogeography of the North American red fox: vicariance in Pleistocene forest refugia. Molecular Ecology 18: 2668-2686.


  1. I have always been confused about native vs. introduced red fox in North America, thanks for clearing that up.

  2. Those are cool photos! Maybe the fox was afraid of the cam, and climbed due to fear? I'd read that they could climb trees but never really believed it.

    I didn't know the red fox story. Thanks.

  3. Ooh, ooh! I'd heard they climb, too, but haven't seen a photo of such! Thanks!

  4. That's fascinating..I had no idea!

  5. Awesome catch of one climbing a tree.

  6. Thank you all!

    I felt very fortunate to have gotten a picture of one actually climbing a tree.

    Sometimes all the hard work put into these field surveys pays off! :)

  7. @KB: The Bushnell uses an Infra-Red Flash so the fox never would have seen a flash, but it may have some small red LED that shows when it has been activated, I cannot remember. That being said we have taken video of gray foxes being flashed with a white flash and they do not seem to care at all. For example this post (shameless self plug):

    We will have another post showing the same thing up shortly.

  8. Hey JK....thanks for linking that post from your blog. I remember it and it's got some useful info on response of animals to white flash!

    I'm guessing everyone here also checks out your blog, but....just in case....Folks, if you haven't taken a gander at Camera Trapping Campus, make sure you swing over there. JK and Christian have alot of cool stuff they post! There is a link to it in "My Blog List" over in the left margin.

    I actually think some critters respond in a more negative fashion to the red glow of the LEDs than on the white-flash...although it seems they acclimate to either given enough exposure.

    Below are links to two examples of 'yotes showing a negative response to the red LEDs on my Bushnells (although they seem to acclimate to them in the first post).

    Some folks over at the hunting/camera trap forums also swear that bear heap alot more special attention on IR cams than white flash.....although I can't say how much truth there is to that.

    I'll actually soon be posting another example of 'yote acclimation to cameras....although in this case its the possibility of food that trumps the apprehension towards camera!