Foxy facts: 8 things to know about P.E.I. foxes
'They are using us because they could get easy resources but that doesn't mean they need it'
The most visible wildlife on four legs in P.E.I. — even in urban areas — is undoubtedly the fox. Scientists aren't sure of exact numbers, but believe the Island's fox population is thriving and healthy.
Marina Silva Opps is a UPEI biology professor and terrestrial ecologist who's in charge of the P.E.I. Urban Fox Project, and she helped point out some interesting facts about our little red neighbours.
1. They like to travel
Foxes have a surprisingly large territorial range of between 40 to 160 square hectares, but usually spend most of their time in a range of seven to 40 hectares or less.
So when you see a particular fox in downtown Charlottetown and what you think might be the same fox out in East Royalty, it could be!
2. Family life
Foxes usually have four to six kits, but sometimes as many as nine, in March after mating in January or early February. The male will stay with the female and help raise the young and then move on.
They use dens, usually dug out of the earth, primarily for raising their young but occasionally for resting during the rest of the year.
The kits stick close to their mother for nine to 12 weeks, then strike out on their own in late fall. They may establish a territory that overlaps with their parents, Opps said.
3. Cars and coyotes
The main predator of the fox on P.E.I. is coyotes, while the other is vehicles. A third would be hunters — about 400 to 700 fox pelts are harvested each year.
While adults foxes are extremely adept at crossing the road — they look both ways, and Opps said they've even been seen at intersections waiting for lights to change — pups do fall victim to traffic, but it is rare to see an adult fox killed in the road.
Urban foxes can live four or five years, Opps said, but in rural areas usually live only one or two years because of predation and hunting.
4. Economic drivers
Foxes were an economic underpinning to the Island economy for about 100 years.
The fox-farming industry began in 1890 in western Prince Edward Island when a couple of businessmen captured black and silver-coloured foxes and began a secret breeding experiment.
The two made millions of dollars selling the pelts. Eventually they sold breeding stock to others, and foxes became an industry that boomed several times, making and losing fortunes for thousands of Island farmers.
Many kept a few dozen foxes on their mixed family farms until just a few decades ago, and the last recorded live fox show was held near Summerside, P.E.I., in 2006, at which time there were about two dozen breeders.
5. Even if they are black they are red
P.E.I. foxes are red foxes, even if they are black or silver — they are all the same species.
"There's this belief, this personal impression, that in P.E.I. we have the biggest variety of colours," of foxes, but it's not much different from other places, said Opps.
"It's sort of like a black lab, a yellow lab and a chocolate lab," notes Curley of the colour variation within species.
6. They are smart
"They are capable of living with us, and we are not easy to live with cause we take so much space," said Opps of what she admires most about foxes.
While they've been called sly and crafty — Opps said they're just doing what comes naturally.
"Even if they just sit there they know we are going to admire them and then maybe provide some resources to them."
They also have very keen senses of smell, hearing and vibration — that's how they detect mice metres under the snow in winter.
7. They don't need our help
"They can find resources here, they don't need to be fed," Opps said firmly.
They eat everything from twigs and leaves to worms and seeds, hunt for frogs, mice and birds, and take advantage of carrion.
Opps has spoken with many Charlottetown residents who feed foxes, and emphasizes it is not necessary. Even if foxes look thin, don't be fooled — they are very capable of finding their own meals.
"They may tolerate us, they may allow us to be close. They are using us because they could get easy resources but that doesn't mean they need it," Opps said.
8. They are playful
Foxes love to steal shoes, pool noodles and children's toys to chew on, like a dog — remember, they are related.
But did you know some of them have been known to enjoy playing on trampolines in Charlottetown? Opps surmises they liked the vibration and movement under their feet. They've also enjoyed P.E.I. swimming pools, she said.
Opps recalls the story of a friend who spotted a fox trotting through Charlottetown with a wallet in its mouth. When the man encouraged the fox to drop it, the animal would run just out of reach then turn around and look at the human — he wanted play!
"He started to do the whole thing that a dog would do when you try to take away a toy from its mouth."
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