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April 22, 2018  |  Login

Island Fox
Urocyon littoralis

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What Are They Like?

The diminutive Island fox is the smallest fox species in North America and is unique to the state of California. Its body measures 18-25 inches (45-63 centimeters) in length, and it weighs between 2.9-5.5 pounds (1.3-2.5 kilograms). Although much smaller than the grey fox, , the Island fox is similar in appearance. Its coat ranges from light grey to red. The chin, lips, nose, and eyes are outlined in black.  The tail is proportionately longer than the grey fox's and measures between 4-12 inches (11-31 centimeters). The average lifespan of an Island fox is four to six years in the wild, and eight years in captivity.

Where Do They Live?

Island foxes can only be found the Channel Islands, which are located off the coast of Southern California. They are present in all habitats of the islands, including valley grasslands, coastal sage scrub, sand dunes, island chaparral, marshes, and coastal oak and pine forests.

Did You Know?
The Island fox is nearly the size of a common house cat.

How Are Babies Made?

Island foxes are monogamous and typically begin breeding after they reach one year of age. Breeding usually takes place January to April. After a gestation period of 50-63 days, the female will give birth to a litter of one to five kits. The kits are born blind and helpless, and will remain in the den for the first three or four weeks, until they are ready to forage with their parents. The kits quickly become independent and soon search out their own territories.

What Do They Eat?

The diet of the Island fox varies greatly, depending on where the fox lives and the time of year. It feeds on fruits, insects, mice, small birds, lizards, amphibians and snails. These foxes are also known to scavenge beaches for human refuse.


What Do They Do?

Island foxes tend to forage by themselves instead of traveling in packs. They are primarily nocturnal animals and are most active during the hours of dusk and dawn. They communicate with one another through sight, sound and smell. Island foxes show signs of dominance though body gestures and facial expressions. They also mark their territory with urine and feces. Island foxes are generally not fearful of humans and are easy to tame. After being domesticated, they often behave in a docile, curious and playful manner.

How Concerned Should We Be?

The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has a "Red List" of species in global endangerment and has listed the Island fox as "critically endangered." The biggest threat to Island foxes is predation by golden eagles. The introduction of wild non-native pigs to the Channel Islands attracted a large number of eagles, which subsequently prey on the foxes. Another major threat is disease transmitted from outside animals. Because Island foxes are geographically isolated, they are much more susceptible to diseases such as canine distemper virus (CDV), which is carried by animals such as pet dogs. Habitat loss, scarcity of food sources and road fatalities all take a toll as well.

What's Being Done?

In 2004, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service officially listed four subspecies of the Island fox as endangered under the Endangered Species Act. In 2002, the Nature Conservancy and partners established an Island Fox Recovery Program, which included captive breeding, close monitoring of foxes in the wild and vaccinating against diseases in order to protect the remaining population against extinction. In six seasons, the program produced 85 pups and released them to the wild. This program also included efforts to relocate golden eagles back to the mainland and reestablish bald eagle communities back to the islands in order to restore natural balance. Unfortunately the Island Fox Recovery Program was phased out in 2007. Currently, conservation efforts are carried out by groups such as Defenders of Wildlife, which is active in fighting legislation that adversely affects Channel Island foxes and their habitat.


Island Foxes Recovering from the Brink of Extinction

Channel Island Fox Release San Miguel 2006

Cute Island Fox Barking

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