A Gray Fox in a Tree

Nature Detectives

The two young friends shed their backpacks and plopped down on opposite sides of a flat rock. Jamie gazed up at a gnarled, old aspen tree next to the trail. “I’d really like to see a gray fox in that tree…or any tree.”

Kelly snorted. “Yeah, like that’s ever going to happen. Foxes don’t climb trees. And, you mean a red fox, Jamie. Some red foxes are mostly gray or black.”

“I mean gray fox,” Jamie emphasized. “Gray foxes do climb trees. They’re a whole different kind of fox than a red fox. Both kinds live in Boulder County. My tía showed me a photo of a gray fox in a tree and told me all about them.”

“How do you know whether it’s a gray fox or a gray-furred red fox?” Kelly asked.

Jamie grinned. “The two species look different, but it’s easy if you check out the tail. Red foxes always have a white-tipped tail. Gray foxes have a black-tipped tail. Gray foxes have a wild-looking black stripe down their back too. And, remember, gray foxes can climb trees! A red fox can’t do that!

“Seriously?” Kelly was still skeptical. “How can they climb trees?”

“Like a cat. Gray foxes have retractable claws.” Jamie’s fingers curled into pretend cat claws. “You know, they can extend them from their paws like a cat, and pull them back when they don’t need them. Long claws make it easy to scramble up leaning trees, but they can climb straight up a tree by hugging it with their front legs, and pushing with their back legs. They are also good at leaping from one tree branch to another.

Kelly wasn’t quite convinced. “How do they get down from a tree?”

“They back down, clinging to the trunk with their claws,” Jamie said. “Or if the tree is leaning sideways, they just run down the trunk. They are mostly out at night, but maybe we’ll see one some time. You ready? Let’s go. We can talk more about gray foxes later.”

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