Red Fox

foxThe red fox, scientific name, Vulpes vulpes is one of the winter mammals you may see this time of year. I see our neighborhood fox on Mondays, because that is trash collection day and she knows it. Our vixen can be distinguished from the other foxes around because she is tall. She has the longest legs on a fox I’ve ever seen. She has very little fear of humans. She spend many a day sitting about 20 feet away from me in the spring while I was in the garden and trots around the property like its hers. And basically it is her territory.

She, and her cohorts three grey foxes, scientific name, Urocyon cinereoargenteus, have been a boon to the neighborhood. They have cleaned the neighborhood of the abundant Norway Rat population we had a few years back and are keeping the Eastern cotton tail rabbit populations down too. Foxes are omnivores so they will eat anything, dead woodchucks, eggs, trash and fresh kills. Also they like to bury their food in shallow holes in the ground to save for later.

The differences between these two canid species are subtle, from far away the red fox has a red coat and looks like its wearing white socks. The grey fox is as its name implies, grey but sometimes it has rust colorings on its ears and the neck. Red foxes are slightly bigger and taller. The grey foxes have a stockier body and interestingly enough they can climb trees.

Up close the red fox has pupils like a cats, long and vertical, the grey fox has eyes like a dog, round pupils.

Its exciting to see one of these animals in the wild. Its also fun to track them by using their footprints, either in the snow or in the mud. Our red fox has a routine she follows, up the driveway early in the morning and down the path by the garbage cans around 9am. She also trots around the storage shed edges looking for mice and across my porch as a short cut to the front property where the eastern cottontails hang out.

This time of year is mating season for both the red fox and the grey fox. Baby foxes called kits are in our future!

Nature Academy of the Berkshires · terrarium

Terrarium Goings Ons

There is not much happening outside this week, a couple of skiddish squirrels, a rabbit I never get to see and a sneaky fox. The crows have been around, but they keep their distance too. Inside its been interesting. Inside the terrarium that is. The caterpillar has been out and about, a cranefly emerged, a spider has been spotted, and the slugs, they have been having a blast! I’ve watched them glide up the glass and slide down as though they are playing. The babies, in the night, I found them free falling from the top of the tank on long strings of slime. Yup. They do that. Today one was sliding over a marble like a circus animal. Wish I had a video of that too. Here is a time lapse video.

backyard animals · Nature Academy of the Berkshires · winter


squirrel-holeWe have had a good amount of snow fall over the past two weeks. Its pretty. Its white, and its great for animal tracking. But that first heavy snow, when it was windy and cold and nobody wanted to be outside. The squirrels braved it. And in my yard they braved it for peanuts. I found several of these holes in the snow at the base of trees. The squirrels didn’t want to spend any more time in the cold than they had to, so it was jump, dig, grab and back up the tree. The peanut shells were then tossed on top of the snow. I think the squirrels are going to be my favorite winter animals to watch this year.

backyard bugs · insects · Nature Academy of the Berkshires · winter

Put on Your Winter Coat

It was late November, during the wet snow storm when I spied this moth on the trunk of a tree by the lake. Luckily it was wearing a winter coat. It is a noctuid moth, I believe, belonging in the family “Papaipema” that is only found in North America.

After doing a little research it appears that this is a cold weather moth, not usually snow on the ground cold like it was on this day, but late fall cold. The caterpillar is rarely seen because it bores into roots, rhizomes, and stems of herbaceous plants and stays there all summer. The moth appears late in the season when we are not expecting to see many moths or insects. These hardy leps, then lay their eggs in the fall with the caterpillars hatching in the spring, boring into their food plant and starting the cycle all over again.

We get an added treat in this picture to see the lichen on the tree photosynthesizing in the vapors of the damp snow.

backyard bugs · Nature Academy of the Berkshires

Isopod in the Snow

isopod-in-the-snowWe spotted this little wood louse in the snow during the storm this week. I’m guessing it was blown there by the wind. Poor thing. I gathered it up and placed it in the warm leaves by the foundation of the house.

These creatures are fascinating and there will be more on their life cycle and genetic systems later, but for now, just remember they hide all winter, so if you see one in the snow, save it!