Did you know New Jersey has two resident fox species? Both the red fox (Vulpes vulpes) and gray fox (Urocyon cinereoargenteus) call New Jersey home. Both species are a mix of crepuscular and nocturnal in habit, though you may also see them out during the day, especially during breeding season when they have kits to feed. Read on to find out more about where they live, how to tell them apart, and if any other wild canids also roam the state.
Red Fox (Vulpes vulpes)
The red fox is the largest and most widespread of the “true foxes” of the Vulpes genus. The ones now residing in New Jersey are likely a mix of native ancestors and ones introduced by European settlers. They are a remarkably adaptable species that can utilize a wide variety of habitats, including areas opened up by human development. It is not uncommon to now see them in suburban and even urban areas.
Their most-recognized coloration is an orange-red coat with whitish or greyish undersides, black legs, and a white-tipped tail. However, the common name is a bit misleading, as their primary pelt color varies both across and within populations worldwide. “Red” fox fur can be almost any color that our own human hair can be, thanks to similar melanin pigments! In New Jersey, coat color can commonly range from pale gold to deep reddish brown. Furthermore, cross and silver fox morphs, although more common in Canada, may sometimes also make an appearance in the state.
Adult red foxes generally weigh between 8-15 pounds, with males slightly heavier; typical adult males in New Jersey weigh about 12-13 pounds. Length averages from 39-43 inches, including the long, bushy tail.
Gray Fox (Urocyon cinereoargenteus)
The gray fox is actually not a “true” fox — that is, it is not classified in the Vulpes genus. Rather, it is classified in the Urcoyon genus along with its only other close relative, the island fox (Urocyon littoralis). Current DNA evidence suggests this is the most basal clade of all living canids!
Gray foxes prefer the cover of deciduous woodland habitat. Unique among the canids, they are specially adapted for climbing trees, with long, hooked claws. They also used to be the most common fox not just in New Jersey, but throughout the Eastern U.S. However, human development and especially deforestation favored the expansion of the red fox’s range at the expense of the gray fox. It is therefore now the latter species that is far more common in the state. Still, gray foxes have also been able to adapt to some degree of human encroachment. This means you can sometimes spot them in developed areas as well.
Adult gray foxes are usually slightly smaller than red foxes. They generally weigh 6.5-15 pounds, with males again slightly heavier; typical adult males in New Jersey weigh 11-12 pounds. Length averages from about 30-44 inches. Their beautiful gray grizzled upper coat, rust and white colored underside highlights, and long black stripe down the back of the tail also readily distinguish them from red foxes.
What Other Wild Canids Can You Find in New Jersey?
Once upon a time, both the gray wolf (Canis lupus) and red wolf (Canis rufus) also roamed the wilds of New Jersey, but both species have long been extirpated from the region. However, there is a third canid that has established itself in the state instead — the eastern coyote (Canis latrans var.). Interestingly, the state didn’t record its first coyote until 1939, near Lambertville, Hunterdon County. However, sightings steadily increased over the following decades, and today this highly adaptable species has been documented in 94% of the state, including urban and suburban areas.
Eastern coyotes tend to be larger and more color-varied than their western cousins, the result of past interbreeding with wolves (in fact, they are often referred to as “coywolves”). They are also significantly larger than their fox cousins, with average adults in New Jersey weighing 20-50 lbs., and are further differentiated by their usually black-tipped and less bushy tails.
New Jersey has two resident fox species, the red fox and the gray fox. Both are found statewide, but the red fox is the more commonly encountered of the two. While the gray fox tends to prefer deciduous woodland habitats, the red fox is regularly spotted in a wide variety of habitats, including suburban and even urban areas. Additionally, there is a third wild canid species in New Jersey, the eastern coyote, sometimes also called a coywolf. Although only first recorded less than a century ago, they too now roam across the state.
It is also important to keep in mind that you may also encounter lost, abandoned, or stray domestic dogs. If you find what you believe is a non-wild canine, please reach out to your local rescue!
The photo featured at the top of this post is © Geoffrey Kuchera/Shutterstock.com
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