January 31, 2016
A large, handsome red fox lives in our neighborhood. I know it’s a male because I have seen him hoisting his hind leg to leave a urine scent mark. He sometimes hunts by day for squirrels and chipmunks, coming right out in the open with his striking red coat. It’s no surprise, then, that our yard and woods in winter are crisscrossed with trails of canid tracks through the snow. I always assume that any canid tracks I see that are of reasonably appropriate size—which amounts to virtually all of them–are red fox tracks. But this is not easy to prove; the tracks of large dogs, coyotes, and foxes, all of which can show up in our area, have a very similar shape.
Theoretically, it might seem that red fox tracks would be easy to identify, since only red foxes have a chevron-shaped callus ridge on the interdigital pad behind their four toes. This ridge is “diagnostic” for red fox. Not even the gray fox has it. However, the callus ridge is difficult to observe. Snow is often too fluffy or grainy to register the imprint of the ridge, and tracks in mud, where the consistency might offer a better opportunity, are difficult to come by. Until yesterday, I had never seen the ridge imprint. But it turned out that a fresh half-inch of snow on the cleared asphalt of our driveway offered just the right conditions for observing red fox tracks. Our local fox had obliged by leaving a couple of nice trails.
Life and death struggles
unfold unseen outside our door—
Clear tracks in fresh snow
Hind foot (top) and front foot (bottom) tracks of a red fox.
The callus ridge is more pronounced in the front foot,
but is also present in the smaller hind foot.