Common Name: Swift Fox
Scientific Name: Vulpes velox
Average Life Span: 3-6 years
Length: Head & Body 18-33.75 inches; tail: 12-21.75 inches
Height: ~1 foot
Weight: 5-7+ pounds
Swift Fox – Vulpes velox
In the past, the swift fox was widely distributed across Texas and southern Canada, and inhabited all of North Dakota’s prairies. However, in the recent years the population of swift foxes has been reduced to about 40 percent of their previous range. In North Dakota the species has almost vanished, except for a few sightings every so often, meaning that there may be a small population in the southwest counties.
The swift fox was once an extremely endangered species due to programs that controlled the population of predators. Although this program was aimed to control the grey wolf and coyote population, it almost eradicated the swift fox species.
However, in 1983 they started being reintroduced and forming small populations across south east Alberta and southwest Saskatchewan. In 1999 the swift fox was labeled as an endangered species in Canada, meaning it gave this fox the ability to reproduce and multiply without danger of being hunted by humans. Now, the swift fox is no longer considered an endangered animal, and is listed in the category of least concern.
The swift fox, known to be the smallest wild dog in North America, is roughly the size of a domestic cat, measuring in at around 30 cm tall, 80 cm long, and weighing in at around 5-7 pounds. Males and females differ in size with the male being slightly larger than the female, however the coloring of these foxes are the same between genders.
The fur of the swift fox a pretty shade of light grey with streaks of an orange tan color on the sides of its legs. Both the belly, chest, neck, and ears are a creamy white, with its tail being fluffy and voluptuous and having a matte black color on its tip. Not only is there black on the tip of this foxes tail, but its snout also contains two patches of black fur on either side. The ears on these foxes are quite large in comparison with its tiny body and poke up in a sharp fluffy triangle on its head.
Since the swift fox hunts at night they have specific adaptations required for them to survive. Most animals are radially symmetrical whereas the swift fox is bilaterally symmetrical, this feature is what gives this animal its extraordinary speed due to the fact that being bilaterally symmetrical gives it increased mobility and range of motion.
The ears of the swift fox are another feature that make up its unique anatomy, their ears are quite large compared to how small they are. This gives them a very keen sense of hearing, and helps them locate their prey and keep themselves safe. The swift fox belongs to the Phylum Chordata and the kingdom Animalia.
The swift fox is an animal that is primarily nocturnal, meaning that it spends most of its time hunting and exploring during the night. During the day the swift fox tends to keep any activities confined to their dens, however, they have been seen to leave their den during the day in the winter when it is warm outside.
The lifetime of these foxes depends on whether or not it is a wild animal, or if it was brought up in captivity. Wild foxes usually live between 3-6 years, while the ones that have been raised in captivity live to a whopping 14 years! The behavior of the swift fox is a bit different to some other foxes, the swift fox is one that stays in its den way more than any other species of fox, because they heavily rely on their shelters beneath the ground for protection against predators. Another unique characteristic of the swift fox is its speed.
The Vulpes velox, most commonly known as the swift fox, has this name because of its astounding ability to reach speeds of over 40/mph, it uses its breathtaking speed to avoid predators, and to catch its next meal.
Diet / Feeding
Like most foxes, the swift fox is an omnivore, leaning more towards the carnivore side however. Its diet consists of rabbits, mice, ground squirrels, insects, and lizards, but this can depend on the seasons and what food is readily available to the fox. During the summer the adult foxes will eat a vast amount of insects, beetles, and grasshoppers. Although they feed themselves with smaller creatures, they will feed their babies larger prey such as deer and carrion that have already been killed by another predator.
The swift fox is an opportunistic eater, consuming anything it can easily seize. This can include, but is not limited to, fish, tiny birds, rotten meat, skunks, and prairie dogs. Even though the swift foxes diet is mostly meat and bugs, they will eat certain plants and seeds depending on what’s available. Grasses, berries, and seeds are what they most commonly consume when it comes to vegetation, however, they are also known to eat prickly pear cactus.
The reproduction of the swift fox varies depending on the individual, some foxes mate for life while others will reproduce with a different individual each year. The males reach sexual maturity at one year of age, whereas, the female often waits till her second year to begin reproducing. In Canada the breeding season begins in March, the gestation lasts about 50-60 days, and the pups are born during mid-May.
Foxes who live in the southern parts of the United States usually start breeding somewhere in late December, early January, with the babies born in March, early April. Unlike some creatures, the swift fox only has one litter a year, with about 2-6 babies in the litter. The pups are almost always born underground and usually remain there for about a month. At birth, the eyes and ears of the pups are closed, with this lasting for about 10-15 days meaning that they are completely dependent on their mothers for sustenance and protection during this vital time period. After about 7 weeks the pups are weaned, but tend to stay alongside their parents till the fall.
Habitat / Distribution
Swift foxes tend to inhabit short-grass prairies and western grasslands, they will make their dens in the sandy soil of the prairies, in fields that have been plowed, or right along the edge of fences. The swift fox is native to the Great Plain region of North America and extends to Saskatchewan, Alberta, Canada, and on south to Texas. The swift fox is also distributed across Kansas, Colorado, Wyoming, Nebraska, Montana, and Western Iowa. The swift fox loves to live in places where there are colonies of prairie dogs since they are a large part of the foxes diet.
Since the swift fox is such a small animal it has quite a few predators that prey on it. One of its main predators are the coyotes. For this animal, the swift fox is a perfect meal since they are very small in size and easy to hunt.
Eagles and Hawks also find the swift fox to be good prey, perfectly sized for them to grasp with their sharp talents and light enough to whisk into the air.
Not only do animals use the swift fox as game, humans are known to be one of the main hunters of this fox. Humans have almost led these creatures to mass extinction by poisoning their main food, prairie dogs, as well as killing off the bison that roam the grasslands. Without the bison, the grass grows too tall making it very hard for the fox to see any predators that may be coming to get them, and since the prairie dogs were almost eradicated, their dens home were gone and the foxes rely on other animals’ dens to live in.
All this made the swift foxes very vulnerable to any kind of predator that happened to spot them on the ground. Sometimes foxes are caught in traps that are meant for other animals, also some foxes make their homes near roads which can leave them very vulnerable to becoming roadkill.
Unlike some species of foxes, the swift fox tends to stay away from places of human habitation. However the swift fox may sometimes hunt in farms and kill animals that belong to people. Since these animals are nocturnal it means that you will most likely not see one during the day, also these foxes are not known to scavenge in trash and debris unlike some of its fox relatives.
However, people have run into these foxes, but never get harmed by them since they are very tiny. In retrospect, these foxes tend to keep to themselves, and on the rare occasion when they run into a human it is very nonchalant and tends to be more of a nuisance then a problem.
In the past, short-and mixed-grass prairies consisted of a distinct pattern of patches of grasses and forbs, created by treading and disturbing the land. Factors that affected the shaping of shortgrass prairie landscapes included fires, native animals eating the grass and treading on it, herbivores, and the weather/climate.
The decrease in grassland and places to live, due to destruction and not taking care of it, and the decline of the swift fox, are related. Things that conservationists have been doing to try to return this habitat to its former state have been, introducing controlled fires to level the plains and stop the grass from growing too tall.
The Conservation Reserve Program has revegetated millions of acres of grass that are of the same species as those that grew historically in the prairies, this grass is perfect for the foxes to live in. Not only do they revegetate, the program seeds the plains with a mixture of native short and mixed grasses that suit the environment.
Other ways such as mowing, and reducing predation and competition have been ways that the conservationists have turned to in order to save this species of fox and the habitat it lives in. Because large grassland patches are more attractive to swift fox and other short, grassland-dependent species, pastures and other grassland parcels are managed and trimmed in order to achieve the patch mosaic needed to attract the swift fox.
Some lots need to be grazed more than others, and by doing so and maintaining a variety of grazing regimes, including some heavy grazing and some spots where there is less grazing, they achieve the perfect balance of habitat for the foxes and other species in the prairies.
History of the Swift Fox
Historically the swift fox resided in southern Canada and the panhandles of Texas, as well and the entirety of North Dakota. However, in recent years there have not been as many sightings of this fox, in 1915-1970 there were actually no sightings of this fox, and even now there are rarely a few, if any.
However the history of this fox dates way back to the early 1800’s when it was discovered on July 6, 1805 somewhere around the Great Falls. The swift fox was first recognized as a species by Lewis and Clark and then named in 1823 by early western settlers who noticed its speed and agility. The name of this tiny predator has still not changed after all these years because of how perfectly it fits the lifestyle of this creature.