Friday, March 31, 2023

Santa Cruz Island Fox

The island fox, also known as the island gray fox, Channel Islands fox, coast fox and short-tailed fox, is found on and endemic to six Channel Islands off the coast of California. Each island contains a separate subspecies: (1) San Miguel Island; (2) San Nicolas Island; (3) Santa Catalina Island; (4) San Clemente Island; (5) Santa Cruz Island; and (6) Santa Rosa Island. Each subspecies can interbreed, but each has genetic distinctions that make it unique, such as differing numbers of tail vertebrae. 
Scientists believe the foxes initially went to the three northern islands: San Miguel, Santa Rosa and Santa Cruz between 10,400 and 16,000 years ago when the ocean was much lower and the four northern islands (additionally Anacapa) were part of one island and the distance to the mainland was reduced. Native Americans then introduced foxes to the southern islands as pets or hunting dogs. 

The island fox is much smaller than the gray fox, even smaller than the kit fox. The largest of the subspecies is on Catalina and the smallest is on Santa Cruz. It has gray fur on its head, back, sides and tail, ruddy red on its neck, legs and sides and white on its belly throat and the lower half of its face and a black stripe on the tail. The coat is darker and duller than that of the gray fox. 

I visited Santa Cruz Island in March as part of a pelagic bird tour by Island Packers, which included a short one hour stop on Santa Cruz to look for the island scrub-jay which is endemic to Santa Cruz Island. I saw two foxes, likely the same fox twice, and it walked along seemingly oblivious of the people walking around near it. I was struck by how dark, dull and thick the coat was.  

1 comment:

  1. It is so beautiful. The thick coat looks like it lives in Alaska.