Cross foxes and grey foxes are easily confused! The description of “grey with a red outline” applies to both, but they’re actually completely different species (both of which occur naturally here in Southeast Tennessee).
The cross fox is actually a red fox, the species most people are familiar with. When a red fox carries genes for partial melanism (more pigment in certain parts of the body), the colors distribute to create dark grey to black marks around the face, legs, and tail, and in a cross-like shape in the back and shoulders. A cross fox’s chest and belly will generally be gray to black. The rest of the body remains the typical red-orange seen in most red foxes.
Like other red foxes, cross foxes white-tipped tails and wooly fur on their paws. They may been seen with their relatives or mates, which may be typically colored red foxes or melanistic (“silver”) red foxes. Cross foxes are very rare here in the South, but more common further north, where they’re believed to comprise nearly one third of Canada’s red fox population.
Gray foxes are a completely different species from red foxes, including cross foxes. As a much older and more primitive species, they are more cat-like in their build and facial structure and have retractable claws used to climb trees. They do not mate or socialize with red foxes of any color.
The key characteristic of a gray fox is its black-tipped tail, which never occurs on any color morph of red fox. The gray portions of a gray fox’s fur will usually be lighter than a cross fox’s, and the red accents on a gray fox’s fur usually extend to the legs and feet. Gray foxes also usually have white markings on the chin, chest, and belly.
Have you ever seen a gray fox or cross fox in the wild? We’d love to see photos!