The "Audubon Society Filed Guide to Mammals" says four species of foxes reside in parts of North America, each having an omnivorous diet consisting of both meat and plant matter. The arctic fox of the northern tundra, the red and gray fox with their wide geographical distribution across the continent and the kit fox of the western states all depend on an assortment of foods to survive.
The meat portion of the fox's diet comes from a huge selection of prey species. Small mammals such as voles, mice, cottontail rabbits, ground squirrels and lemmings comprise much of the diet, as these are of a size that a fox can quickly dispatch once he catches them. Foxes will also eat birds as well as their eggs, raiding the nest of any species to which it can gain access. Foxes will also consume certain kinds of insects such as grasshoppers, crickets and caterpillars. Aquatic species like the crayfish are also part of the menu.
All of the North American foxes have a vegetarian side to their diets. Nuts, berries, apples, corn, persimmons, cherries, grapes, blackberries and grass make up a part of the diet of the red fox and the gray fox. The kit fox, also called a swift fox for its ability to run as fast as 25 miles per hour for short spurts, will eat grasses and berries throughout its range. The arctic fox will also eat berries, but does not have a chance to eat any of the fruits and crops other foxes do, as the plant life in its ecosystem is much more limited than that of the other three types.
The lemming, a small rodent that typically exists in large numbers in the Arctic, is a main food source for the arctic fox. But the lemming populations often ebb and peak in cycles, making it difficult for the arctic fox to survive in its cold climate during years when lemmings are scarce. The fox population in this region often mirrors that of the lemmings, with fewer foxes around when the lemmings are on a down cycle.
Carrion and Theft
The arctic fox, during the hard winter months when food is at a premium, will often follow polar bears around and sneak in to eat part of their kills. Although the arctic fox is generally a loner, it will often join and partake of the carcass of animals such as a caribou or seal during the winter out of necessity, eating as much as it can before the rightful owner, such as a bear, returns. The Arctic fox has little choice in the toughest of times but to eat carrion and the animal will sometimes resort to eating the droppings of other species.
Foxes often will store food away for use at a later and leaner time. The arctic fox will dig a hole into the cold permafrost and deposit animals like lemmings there as a cache for another meal. The red fox will hunt even when it has eaten, says the Nature Works website, catching creatures and burying them under snow, dirt or leaves and coming back when hungry to eat them. The gray fox has an advantage that the other foxes lack: it can climb trees, where it can reach fruits and bird nests. In deep snow, the acute hearing of a fox can lead it to prey beneath the drifts, where it will dig through and find the potential meal.
- Nature Works: Animals
- "National Audubon Society Field Guide to Mammals;" John O. Whitaker, Jr.; 2008
- Photo Credit red fox,fox,mammal,animal,big bear,big bear lake,c image by Earl Robbins from Fotolia.com
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