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July 25, 2003

Foxes take up residence

red fox on campus
A red fox that has been living on campus this year recently was spotted near the Design Center (in the background). The fox and at least five cubs have been sighted. Photo by Adam Patridge.
by Linda Charles
Iowa Staters are used to seeing rabbits, squirrels and ground squirrels scampering around campus, but recent sightings of a red fox have caught some by surprise.

It's really not all that unusual, said Anne Avery, extension wildlife assistant. The red fox has proven very adaptable to suburban settings as more of its natural habitat is taken over by development.

No one is certain how many foxes are in the family on campus. There is at least one adult and five cubs.

Although some foxes have lived as long as nine years, most survive only a year or two. The biggest threat to foxes, especially in urban areas, are humans in cars, Avery said.

Foxes live underground in dens, often taking over rabbit homes. At about six weeks, the cubs begin to learn how to hunt for themselves.

Campus offers the red fox a veritable smorgasbord. Foxes are fond of both mice and rabbits, although they also feed on plants, insects and birds. Roadkill makes a meal, too, as does people food. One person reported seeing the fox on campus carrying a bagel.

Avery said the campus could use a few more red foxes to help control the rabbit population.

The grown fox on campus appears fairly blas about people, but the cubs are skittish. The best time to see the fox is sunrise or sunset, Avery said. If you do see one of the foxes, Avery said don't approach it, feed it and try to touch it. The more wild the foxes remain, the better off they will be.

"This is a good time of the year to see them in a central place," Avery said. "Just don't harass them."

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