Wild Thing: The Other Foxes
Though less prevalent than reds and grays, swift and kit foxes are found in some areas of Texas.
By Jonah Evans
You may have seen two familiar species of foxes in Texas, but the state actually has four types. Gray and red foxes, the most common, are found across most of the state. The swift and kit fox are much more specialized — the swift fox occurs only in the Panhandle, and the kit fox is found in the deserts of West Texas.
Swift and kit foxes are closely related; scientists have long argued whether they are different species. For now, most seem to agree that although the two sometimes hybridize where their ranges overlap, they are separate species.
The kit fox of West Texas is less than half the size of a gray fox and at only 3 to 6 pounds is the smallest of Texas’ foxes. Highly adapted for living in open desert with large ears for keeping cool, the kit fox can also get all the water it needs from its diet, which consists of kangaroo rats, mice, lizards, birds, insects, berries, seeds, and other desert flora and fauna.
Swift foxes are slightly (but not much) larger than kit foxes and are found in the short-grass prairies of the Texas Panhandle. They eat mostly rabbits, small rodents, birds, lizards and insects.
Both swift and kit foxes use burrows, and it isn’t uncommon to see a family group of five or more foxes sitting outside the opening during dawn and dusk hours. Burrows serve not only as shelter from the elements, but also as safe havens to escape coyotes and other predators.
While the swift fox historically occurred in 77 counties in North Texas, today it is found only in the two most northwestern Panhandle counties: Dallam and Sherman. More research is needed to determine if it still occurs in other parts of the state. This apparent decline is not limited to just Texas — it is estimated that swift foxes currently inhabit only 40 percent of their historic range. This decline is primarily attributed to shrub encroachment, changing land uses, historical hunting practices and predation from coyotes.
Very little research has been done on kit foxes in Texas. Anecdotal accounts from old-timers in West Texas seem to agree that they used to be much more common than they are today. They are known to be declining in many parts of their range, though not to the extent of the swift fox.
TPWD is currently working to learn more about swift and kit foxes in the state, but in a large state with primarily private land, finding a small fox isn’t easy. Reports from public sightings are a valuable source of information, so please share your observations on iNaturalist.com or by contacting TPWD at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Common Names: Swift fox, kit fox
Scientific Names: Vulpes velox, Vulpes macrotis
Habitat: Desert scrub, chaparral and grasslands
Diet: Rabbits, prairie dogs, ground squirrels, mice, birds, reptiles, amphibians, berries and seeds
Did You Know? Biologists had thought swift and kit foxes might be the same species, but now it's generally agreed that they are separate species.
See more wildlife articles on TP&W magazine's Texas wildlife page