I’ve decided to participate in Inktober this year, which is a challenge where you draw one ink drawing each day during the month of October. There is an official prompt list that you can find here, so you have a theme to draw to for each day. The very first prompt was ‘swift’, and I immediately thought of swift foxes, so that’s what I’m going to write about today.
Swift foxes are found in Canada and the United States, in the great plains and prairie regions. For a time swift foxes vanished entirely from Canada, but have since been reintroduced and now small numbers are found in Alberta and Saskatchewan. There is some debate about whether kit foxes are a subspecies of swift foxes, or a separate species altogether. In places where the two foxes live together, hybrids can occur, but molecular data suggests the two may be separate species.
Swift foxes are not super large, being about the size of a domestic cat. They are, in fact, the smallest wild canids in North America, and weigh between two and three kilograms. Swift foxes are grey in colour, with orange to tan colouration on their sides and legs. Their undersides fade into white, and their bushy tails have black tips, as if the foxes accidentally dipped them in a bucket of paint.
Though a lot of animals have names that don’t make sense, swift foxes aren’t one of them. They can run at over 50 km/h, and the foxes use this speed to catch prey and avoid predators. They are truly omnivorous, eating pretty much whatever they can find, including small mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, fish and insects, as well as berries and grasses (the foxes probably don’t have to run too fast to catch those last two).
Coyotes, badgers, golden eagles, and bobcats have all been known to prey on swift foxes. To avoid these being eaten, swift foxes rely on their speed, but also take shelter in their dens during the day. Swift fox dens measure two to four feet in length, and have multiple entrances. In the cold months of winter swift foxes will occasionally leave their dens to soak up the warmth of the sun, but for the rest of the year these foxes are nocturnal.
Mating in swift foxes occurs at different times, depending on where the foxes live. Breeding happens from December to February in US populations, and in March in Canadian populations. Most foxes are serially monogamous, choosing a new mate each year, though some pairs to stay together for life. Swift foxes have one litter per year, with litter sizes ranging from two to six kits.
The kits stay in their dens for about a month, though the parents may move them if food becomes scarce or the den becomes infested with parasites. The kits are fully dependent on their mothers for the first two weeks of their lives, as their eyes and ears are closed until about fifteen days of age. The kits are weaned after six or seven weeks of age, but generally stay with their parents until the fall.
While swift foxes aren’t generally considered to be much of a threat to livestock, coyote and wolf predator control programs in the 1930s had a huge impact on swift fox populations. They were completely extirpated from Canada and numbers in the US severely declined. Fortunately, breeding programs have reintroduced the fox to Canada, and there are stable populations in the US, so the species is currently listed as Least Concern.
Cover image by USFWS Mountain-Prairie, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons, cropped to fit