What Goes Yip-yip…Eww?

I’ll tell you! It gave me a happy surprise yesterday, and who doesn’t love a happy surprise? I especially love one that leads to nature observations and stories.

I was leaving work around 5 pm, as workers tend to do, and turned left out of the parking garage. That road leads between two sets of offices, but is shady and has lots of trees. It once was a lovely park-like area, and some parts of it still are.

I looked ahead after making the turn and saw something in the road. Usually, you see deer, since the herd that’s always lived in the area is still here. But, no, this looked more canine.

As I got closer, I ruled out dogs. As I got even closer, I easily ruled out coyotes by looking at the tale. It was a native gray fox! You usually don’t see them when it’s light out, but we were in a dim area.

The fox seemed very happy. I soon realized it was not alone. In the proud little fox mouth was a sizable, but lifeless, striped skunk (also native). I knew foxes ate small mammals, but I didn’t realize they’d eat a skunk. Heck, this skunk was hard for Foxy to carry.

Artist’s rendering of a fox that looks more like a dog or a horse with fox ears, carrying a very accurate skunk.

I lucked out, and there weren’t any cars behind me, so I got to watch the fox trot along an office building, probably looking for a place to settle down to a nice, but potentially stinky meal. I didn’t get to grab the phone camera, but no doubt you enjoy the fact that I can’t draw for squat.

About the critters

Foxes

I’ve seen a few foxes in my years in Texas. We used to have quite a few in the greenbelt area near the Meadows of Brushy Creek, where I used to live. I probably saw more of them than coyotes out there. Here in north Austin, I’ve seen one, since they are much more shy than the brazen coyotes (who have much less spectacular tails and are bigger, usually). Of course, we have them out at the ranch, but again, far outnumbered by coyotes and bobcats.

When I see a smallish creature, I check the tail:

  • big, bushy tail = fox
  • long thin tail = coyote
  • no tail = bobcat
  • black and very long tail = mountain lion
  • covered in poop = calf (really, I know a cow when I see one)

Anyway, gray foxes are native to Texas, but you do see red ones occasionally, because they were introduced. The gray ones do blend in well with the scenery! They are pretty small, but bigger than a large house cat. They say, “yip-yip” rather than howling like a coyote. It’s more dog-like.

Gray Fox Red Rock Canyon Nevada (what a fox actually looks like, from Wikipedia commons)

They are omnivores and can climb trees, making them the most cat-like canines. They really don’t hurt anyone or anything. I’m told they rarely eat chickens. Let’s hope.

Skunks

Ima spray you.

The main skunk you see around these parts is the common striped skunk. By the way, these skunks have two stripes down their backs that start from one spot on their cute li’l heads. Mostly you see (or smell) them dead on the side of the road, but they are really fun to watch as they waddle around looking for insects and stuff to eat.

We have quite a few on our property, and as long as the dogs don’t try to play with them, they are no trouble at all. I think they are beautiful and an asset to our ranch. And I guess they make good dinners for foxes, in addition to the vultures you usually see noshing away on them.

Pets?

I’ve known people who kept skunks as pets, but I think they do better on their own, and you sure don’t want to let one that’s had its scent glands removed back out in the wild!

Foxes can easily be domesticated, as the studies in Russia have shown. They also start to look more like dogs if they are bred for friendliness. That’s my favorite fox fun fact. Again, I don’t think having a wild one as a pet is a great idea, so I’ll enjoy viewing them from afar.

Anyway, when you eat your lunch today, just think about Foxy and that stinky dinner from last night. You know something’s hungry if it eats a skunk! (I am hoping Foxy managed to eat the skunk without triggering the stink.)

For your reading pleasure

5 Fascinating Facts about Texas’ Red and Gray Fox

Skunks

The Gray Fox – Graceful, Beautiful, Interesting and Not a Dog

The Silver Fox Domestication Experiment (scholarly article, but it has good pictures)

Wild Thing: A ‘Tail’ of Two Foxes

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Author: Sue Ann (Suna) Kendall

The person behind The Hermits' Rest blog. I work with Hermit Haus Redevelopment to help people quickly sell their houses. I do their social media! I'm a certified Texas Master Naturalist and love the nature of Milam County. I'm also a tech writer in Austin, secretly.

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