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As small, largely solitary members of the family Canidae, foxes survive by using secrecy, agility and their intelligence, rather than great numbers and brawn, to survive alongside larger relatives such as coyotes and wolves. Foxes are remarkably adaptable animals that thrive in a wide variety of habitats; as Texas is such a vast and varied land, it is no surprise that four different species of fox inhabit the state. Red, gray, swift and kit foxes all have unique differences that allow them to occupy and exploit various niches and habitats.
Red foxes (Vulpes vulpes) are the largest foxes in Texas, reaching almost 30 pounds, though most are smaller. Generally colored red to orange dorsally, they have dark feet, white under parts and white tips on the tail. The bold-colored foxes are surprisingly cryptic, and often persist unnoticed, living in close proximity to human habitation. Red foxes inhabit forests, meadows, farms and suburban areas in the eastern and north-central portions of the state. Omnivorous, red foxes hunt rabbits, rodents, frogs, birds and insects; additionally, they scavenge for eggs, carrion, berries, fruit and human garbage. In March or April, four to nine pups are born in a secluded den or burrow.
The gray fox (Urocyon cinereoargenteus) often has a combination of red, gray, white, brown and black fur and a black tip on the tail. Gray foxes are the only members of the family Canidae who can climb trees. They use this to their advantage; scientists have found dens more than 30 feet above the forest floor. Usually less than 10 pounds in weight, gray foxes are hunted by bobcats (Lynx rufus), great horned owls (Bubo virginianus), and most importantly, coyotes (Canis latrans). While gray foxes live statewide, they are not as common in areas with high coyote populations, being outcompeted and hunted by the larger animals.
Kit foxes are pale colored foxes with very large, round ears high on their head. Confined to the Trans-Pecos region of the state, kit foxes prefer arid habitats with loose soil to allow den construction. Kit foxes generally maintain several dens, and use them in a rotating manner. Though they will eat fruit if food is scarce, they are primarily carnivorous, and hunt black-tailed jackrabbits (Lepus californicus), cottontail rabbits (Sylvilagus sp.), prairie dogs (Cynomys sp.), various rodents and insects. Coyotes are responsible for 75 percent of all predation events on kit foxes, but most other local predators, including red foxes, also hunt them.
Swift foxes (Vulpes velox) are the smallest fox in Texas, and average about 4 or 5 pounds in weight. They somewhat resemble gray foxes, but you can distinguish them by their small size -- comparable to that of a house cat -- and the presence of dark markings on each side of their face. Swift foxes inhabit the panhandle region of Texas, frequently constructing their dens in open fields, farms, prairies and deserts. Aptly named, swift foxes are capable of running up to 30 mph pursuing prey or bolting from predators. Swift foxes eat any small animals they can catch, including rodents, insects and reptiles. Swift foxes are federally endangered, and habitat protection is critical for their survival.
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