Desert Kit Fox
You could be walking back from the Pinto Dunes at dusk when you spy a little dog trotting through the creosote bushes. Then you realize it has awfully long ears. You have just seen the smallest and rarest member of the dog family in Joshua Tree National Park— the desert kit fox, Vulpes macrotis arsipus.
It would seem that the kit fox would be easily recognizable with its long ears, long legs, and delicate body form, but most park visitors confuse it with its larger and more conspicuous cousin, the desert gray fox, Urocyon cinereoargenteus scottii.
Once out of the den, the fox appears to move with a rapid “fox trot.” One was reliably clocked at 40 km/hr for a short distance when pursued. Kit foxes use smell much like other dog-family members. They mark their dens and trails with urine. They most probably orient themselves at night chiefly by smell. Outside of the breeding season, kit foxes lead a solitary life. They are not territorial, but avoid areas where another fox is present.
The vixen rarely leaves the den during the period of nursing. It is up to the father to do all the hunting for the pair, although he may not spend the daylight hours at the family den. He brings the food back whole, carried in his jaws.
Soon the pups are coming out of the den to play for several hours each day. By June they are weaned and both parents are bringing home the meat. Den changes are frequent during the summer when puppies are being fed. These moves may be necessary because of a buildup of fleas. At three to four months the pups begin to forage with the parents. At about five months they have attained adult weight and begin to develop the adult summer fur. The long glossy fur of winter develops in late summer and most foxes have a full winter coat by the end of October.
In October the pups head out away from their parents’ home range. Young foxes may travel long distances (30+ km) before settling down. They usually do not mate until they are 18 months old. Kit foxes have lived as long as 12 years in captivity, but probably no more than eight years in the wild. It is usually their teeth that give out first in old foxes.
The only predator known is the desert coyote, Canis latrans mearnsi, and such predation is apparently rare. Probably more foxes die as road kills. So, in order to protect the desert fox and other wildlife, drive slowly through the park—you’ll also see a lot more.
Did You Know?
With nearly 750 species of vascular plants, Joshua Tree is renowned for its plant diversity. No wonder that when the area was first proposed for preservation in the early 1930s, the name suggested was Desert Plants National Park. More...