The benefits are great for those of us willing to leave the comforts of home and hot chocolate on a snowy day. Beyond the enjoyment of sledding and snowball fights, there’s always the potential to gain a rare glimpse into the habits of the wild creatures living among us–through their tracks.
A few years ago, my daughter and I ventured to the Arboretum after an unusually heavy January snowstorm, wading through knee-deep snow to follow a trail of fox tracks. As we walked, a story unraveled before us of a lone fox stopping at the wetland for a drink, tangling with a rabbit, ducking under a log, and finally returning to its den in the middle of Nancy’s Meadow. Though I’ve taught many lessons about animal tracks, it wasn’t until that wintry afternoon that I really earned my “track detective” badge.
The den we discovered belonged to a red fox, Vulpes vulpes. Red foxes are relatively small members of the canine family, averaging only eleven to thirteen pounds. They enjoy a varied diet, dining on frogs, snakes, mice, berries, rabbits, fruit, birds, eggs, and beetles, to name a few. The fox’s reputation for cleverness might rise from its habit of storing excess food under leaves, in snow, or in the ground. Foxes generally have separate dens for shelter, breeding, and resting. They live in family groups, with an average litter size of four to six kits.
This year’s snowfall has been minimal to non-existent. But as temperatures drop later in the week, I’ll be dusting off my track detective badge just in case.
by Jenny Houghton,Youth Program Coordinator
Drawing by Barbara Bryan