I was looking out at the garden the other day and noticed some tracks in the mud. Each track had a triangular pad, four toes, and a claw mark at the end of each toe. I was a little worried that it was a hungry bobcat looking for a corn snake snack, but my coworker told me that it was actually a red fox track. I’m not sure that’s any better than a bobcat!
I decided to investigate a little further, and discovered that unfortunately red foxes are also corn snake predators. Luckily though, I found out that foxes are omnivores that eat lots of different types of food. Besides rodents, squirrels, and rabbits, foxes also like to eat birds, bird eggs, frogs, nuts, insects, and even fruit. My coworkers have even seen them eating persimmon fruits from the trees that grow near the mill dam! I did see one study that said that reptiles and amphibians make up only 30% of red fox diets in Australia. Hopefully the same thing applies in Pennsylvania!
I also learned that red foxes are not actually native to our state! Red foxes are found throughout the northern hemisphere, including boreal and mountainous regions of western North America. However, they were not here in the Mid-Atlantic when European colonization began. While some red foxes in our area probably escaped from fur farms, recent research has shown that most of our red fox populations actually came from Canada.
Interestingly, it turns out that Pennsylvania originally had a different fox species – the gray fox. This fox is smaller than the red fox and has a gray coat, black nose, reddish legs, and a black-tipped tail.
They eat similar food items to the red fox, but gray foxes tend to hunt more small mammals like voles and a higher proportions of fruit and grains. They are also better climbers than red foxes and add birds and eggs to their diets more frequently. The species is widely dispersed throughout Pennsylvania, but gray foxes are not as tolerant of humans as red foxes are. I guess that is why it was a red fox track so close to the Visitor Center instead of one from a gray fox.
Luckily, foxes are primarily nocturnal and do most of their hunting at night. Since I’m active during the day, I don’t think we’ll be crossing paths any time soon. All that being said, if you do see a fox or fox tracks in the park, please let me know. I want to make sure to stay far away from those trails!
Your friendly neighborhood corn snake,