Newborn Foxes Don’t Look Like Foxes

Please be aware as we head into baby season: newborn foxes don’t look much like the adults you’re more familiar with. Every year, litters of kits get harmed because of mistaken identity.

This litter was rehabilitated by The Fox Project in the UK. They were initially brought to an animal shelter by someone who thought they were puppies. In a similar case here in the US, firefighters rescued a large litter of “puppies” from a storm drain, and the fox kits were so young and so weak that they passed in rehabilitation after the mistake was recognized.

In the most upsetting case we heard of, a young vixen was shot by someone who thought she was carrying a stray kitten. Only after this senseless murder, did the shooter realize that the “kitten” was her own baby.

Please never remove a newborn baby animal from the wild, especially without knowing exactly what it is. Even poisitively identified domestic kittens and puppies found outdoors should be taken to shelters and rescues with their mothers, not alone.

Some of the ways that you can tell fox kits apart from domestic kittens and puppies are by their feet. Foxes have delicate, kitten-like claws, but they are not fully retractible as they are in kittens. A fox’s toe pad placement is also notably different than a cat’s or dog’s (but it’s easier to look up a visual description than to see it described). Fox kits also generally have white-tipped or black-tipped tails (depending on species) from birth, before the rest of their coloration is evident.

Please help keep baby animals of all kinds with their natural mothers, who can care for them better than the world’s best rehabbers and rescues.

Gray Red Foxes and Red Gray Foxes

Yes, you read it correctly! A lot of people in our area have trouble identifying which species of fox they have found. Two fox species are native to our area, the gray fox (on the left) and the red fox (on the right).

The confusion is understandable since gray foxes have an abundance of reddish fur bordering their gray markings, and since red foxes exist in a full spectrum of colors, including many shades of gray!

Red foxes are usually red, but they also naturally occur in “silver” (dark gray), white, cream, or cross (a combination of red and silver markings). Captive-bred red foxes come in dozens more colors including exotic shades like chocolate, lilac, and sapphire. The blue-gray colored red fox on the right was a fur farm rescue with our friends at SaveAFox!

Since red foxes bred for fur and the pet trade are sometimes released into the wild and mate with native animals, it’s possible (though very rare) for a fox born in the wild to show some of the more unique colors previously seen only in captivity.

Grey foxes are much less variable than their red fox cousins, with color variations being especially rare for members of the gray fox species.

The easiest and most foolproof way of identifying the species of a local fox is to take a look at its tail. In nearly all cases, a gray fox will have a black-tipped tail, while a red fox will have a white-tipped tail.

Have you seen an oddly colored fox in the wild and been unsure of what you were looking at? We’d love to see your photos!

Our Structurally Green Wildlife

Happy Saint Patrick’s Day! We thought today could be a fun time to discuss some of our under-appreciated native animals: green anoles, rough and smooth green snakes, and green tree frogs. All of these little guys are critical parts of our ecosystem because they help control pest populations. Unfortunately, they’re all also experiencing population declines due to pesticides, habitat loss, and capture for the pet trade.

You might have noticed that green is a relatively rare color in wildlife. Green birds are rare, green reptiles and amphibians are fairly uncommon, and green mammals don’t even exist! That’s because animals are incapable of producing green pigment. Animals can appear green for one of two reasons (or occasionally, a combination of the two)— some, like certain corals, produce green pigment with the help of algaes and other plants. The majority of green animals, though, are green due to structural coloration.

Our local green lizards, snakes, and frogs fall into that category. Structural coloration happens when the microscopic texture of the animal’s skin, feathers, or scales causes it to reflect a specific part of the spectrum of light. If you were to look at these animals’ bodies under an electron microscope, you’d just see interlinking chains of gray, brown, cream, yellow, black, or white, but the underlying crystal-like structure appears green when we look at the animal without the aid of a microscope.

Some animals, like our native green anoles, can even use specialized cells called chromatophores to alter the position of the cells controlling yellow and brown pigment, so as to block light from reflecting on their structurally green scales. This ability to change color is what earned them the nickname “American chameleon.”

What’s your favorite green animal?

Should You Kill the Snake that Bit You?

You likely heard this myth growing up, especially if you had a misguided scout leader or grandpa! The idea is that, if you get bitten by a snake, you should immediately kill it so you can bring it with you to the emergency room. Supposedly, the snake’s carcass will allow doctors to know whether the snake is venomous and what treatment is needed.

There are several reasons that this is a terrible idea. One is that— even if you don’t care at all about the well-being of the snake— attempting to kill or capture it is a way to nearly guarantee a second bite. Danger-noodles often “dry bite” with the first strike but fully envenomate with the second. If the snake that bit you is venomous, trying to catch it will make the situation go from you-need-a-doctor-bad, to you-might-actually-die-bad.

Another issue is that bringing the carcass to the ER won’t actually affect your treatment. We don’t know of many medical doctors who moonlight as herpetologists, and hospital staff who are great with snake identification are required by law (and malpractice insurance!) to treat you based on your symptoms. In an emergency, no doctor would bet a patient’s life on the opinion of hospital’s nurses and janitors who are arguing over whether it’s a watersnake or a water moccasin.

If you have been bitten by a venomous snake, your treatment won’t actually depend on doctors knowing its species. It’s a common misconception that species-specific antivenins are the only way to treat snakebites, but there’s only one antivenin sold in the United States. It works for multiple species and many hospitals don’t even carry it. Antivenins are mostly used in parts of the world where snakes are much more likely to be deadly, and yes, we mean Australia.

Instead, most snake bites in the U.S. are treated successfully based on symptoms. A snake bite victim might receive medications to treat allergic reactions, stabilize the heart, improve blood clotting, reduce inflammation, and relieve pain… or they might find out that they have no symptoms of venom exposure and simply get sent home after monitoring. These medications are given based on the patient’s actual condition, not the type of snake they were bitten by.

If you do get bitten by a snake (which is, itself, rare unless it is provoked) please don’t endanger yourself and harm the animal by trying to kill it. Leave it alone and call for help as quickly as possible. If you’re able to take a photo of the nope-rope without it putting you in danger or delaying your medical attention, a picture is just as helpful as a carcass in helping to identify the animal.

Camels Kill More Tennesseans than Copperheads

We were alarmed and saddened yesterday to see the tragic news about a dromedary camel in Obion County, belonging to Shirley Petting Zoo. The animal went on a rampage and killed two men, trampling a police vehicle before finally being shot to death.

This comes just a few months after a similarly bizarre and shocking story— also here in Tennessee— about a man who killed his neighbor’s aggressive kangaroo that had escaped.

With two deaths now attributable to a camel in Tennessee, that means that camels have officially killed more Tennesseans than our much-maligned and misunderstood native snake, the Eastern copperhead.

As we mentioned in previous posts, copperhead venom is not as dangerous as many assume. Many of their bites are “dry” and even bites with venom are statistically unlikely to kill someone who promptly seeks medical attention. In the last seventy years, the only death in Tennessee caused by a copperhead involved a man in Chattanooga who was allergic to copperhead venom, was probing its butthole, and then refused medical attention for ten minutes after the bite occurred.

Not surprisingly, it turned out that the snake was part of his friend’s traveling roadside reptile show— it was, like the camel in Obion County, stressed and mishandled.

Risks from other wild animals are also overestimated: only two people have ever been killed by coyotes globally, in all of recorded history. No record exists on any fox or bobcat ever fatally attacking a human— even a newborn!— in North America. The lifetime risk of being seriously harmed by an unprovoked wild animal is next to none.

So often, we encounter people who are afraid of our local wildlife, but events over the course of the last several decades have shown that Tennesseans have a much greater reason to be afraid of the stressed, sick, and inadequately contained animals often held in our region’s roadside zoos.

Please, if you have a fear of being hurt by animals, use that fear constructively to help end the era of roadside zoos and for-profit exotic animal “collections.” You can actually help improve public safety and the welfare of animals by boycotting these establishments and pushing for stricter enforcement of existing state and federal laws.

Leave our native wildlife to live in peace.

Heard Coyotes Kill a Dog?

“I just heard a pack of coyotes kill a small dog.”

Have you seen (or made) this statement in neighborhood groups on social media? It’s one of the most common sources of panic in the suburbs. And, in almost all cases, it’s actually not true.

Coyotes live in small family groups of 2-8 individuals, usually a mated pair and their young of the year. When the whole family gets together, they tend to celebrate by howling. This helps them bond and it’s also meant to intimidate rivals (including us), and it works. When calling together, coyotes will rapidly change the pitch and direction of their calls so it sounds like a very large group.

One of the sounds that coyotes make during these social get-togethers is a high-pitched yelp that increases in pitch and frequency until the “song” ends. To untrained ears, it’s very easy to mistake this for the sound of a domestic dog in pain. Our imaginations sometimes get the best of us, and when we hear the alto of a coyote choir stop abruptly, we may think the “dog” has been killed.

Coyotes don’t howl and hip while hunting. There’s no reason for them to do so, since vocalizations scare away prey and give them time to flee. Coyotes are completely silent when stalking or cornering their meals, so we rarely (if ever) hear them hunting.

Of course, that’s not to say that coyotes never kill domestic dogs at all. If a dog is roaming freely off-leash and becomes a threat to a coyote or its pups, they will defend themselves, just like any animal. Small dogs are very easy prey and, when left unattended in coyote territory, they are at risk. Because of this, it’s very important to keep your pets properly contained at all times.

However, it’s important not to panic over the normal social songs that coyote families sing together. The sound that you hear isn’t actually a dog in pain, but a family enjoying each other’s company.

Protect Rhea County’s Bears

We were excited today when we received photos of bear poop and tracks from the Evensville area of Rhea County, about forty miles north of Chattanooga.

It’s very common for bears to be more active this time of year as they emerge from winter inactivity and try to regain the weight they lost over the lean months. Please be sure that they continue to seek their natural foods, for their safety and ours!

When bears get used to finding easy food from trash cans, bird feeders, and pet food bowls, they un-learn their instinctive tendency to avoid humans. They may get so comfortable around us that they start entering unsuitable urban areas and even approaching us to “ask” for food.

When this happens, there are no good outcomes. If a bear that’s used to hand-outs is relocated, it may starve to death or be chased away by competitors, or it may slowly migrate right back to where it finds human homes and businesses. If the bear continues seeking humans for food, it can hurt or even kill someone. And of course, no one wants to have to resort to euthanizing a healthy bear.

If you are in Rhea County, please help your bear neighbors by making sure you haven’t made any unnatural food sources accessible to bears. Please take down your bird feeders, feed your pets inside, put a latch on your trash can, and throw away those Halloween pumpkins that are still on your porch. Protect your bear neighbors so no one gets hurt. 🐻 🐾

Euthanized Pets Endanger Wildlife

If you’ve recently had to make the decision to send a beloved pet to the Rainbow Bridge, wild animals may be the last thing on your mind. But, if you’re not careful, your pet’s death could actually cause even more suffering.

Sometimes, particularly among people who live in apartments and don’t have appropriate places to bury their pets, laying them to rest can be difficult. Fees for cremation can be costly to an owner who may have already put themselves in debt to try to save their pet. And it’s not easy, especially in the city, to find a friend who will allow you to bury a pet on their property.

Even if you have space, digging a sufficiently deep grave for a ninety-pound dog can be impossible for someone trying to use a regular shovel in rocky soil. Faced with what may feel like no other option, some owners simply lay their pet in the forest, or even put the body in a dumpster to go to the landfill.

Unfortunately, euthanized pets’ bodies don’t just go “away.” Our native scavengers— vultures, opossums, raccoons, coyotes, crows, and others— are the undertakers of the wild world and go to work quickly, not knowing that they’re eating flesh poisoned with euthanasia drugs. The scavengers ultimately end up passing away after ingesting these medications (and often leaving orphans behind).

Please be kind to wildlife while facing the loss of your pet. If you can’t afford an additional cremation fee after your pet’s euthanasia, tell your vet that you have no other options. She may be able to work out lower-cost options, though your pet’s ashes would not be returned to you in those situations. Your city’s public health department or animal control may also offer services for disposing of deceased animals at no cost to you.

If none of those options are available to you, don’t be afraid to reach out for help using social media or your local Nextdoor or neighborhood group. There are many animal lovers in the world, some of whom may be strong people with shovels and land to loan, and they may help you give your pet a proper burial deep enough underground to avoid scavengers.

Please don’t allow your loss to also cause losses for wild animals and their family. Always dispose of a euthanized pet’s body responsibly.

Beware of Poaching for the Pet Trade

Spring is on its way, and that unfortunately means that we’re close to the time of year when our native wild animals are at the greatest risk for an under-recognized, under-reported, and under-enforced form of poaching: the illegal capture of wildlife for the pet trade.

People tend to think of poaching as something from the distant past, or something that occurs overseas in rural areas where wildlife-related law enforcement is scarce. But right here in the United States, thousands of animals are illegally kidnapped from the wild every year and trafficked into the pet trade. This can have disastrous consequences for the individual animals— who often die from improper care— and also for their populations as a whole. The exotic pet trade has proven to be especially detrimental for wild reptiles.

If you are interested in adopting an exotic pet, please beware of those selling native animals on social media. Rehabilitators never rehome rescued wildlife to the general public, and it is always illegal to sell native animals without a license. (This includes sales that use euphemistic terms like “rehoming fee.”)

If you are truly fully equipped to care for an unconventional pet, please consider reaching first. Your local animal shelters may have captive-bred exotic pets in need of homes, and you can also get in touch with organizations like Saveafox Corporation and Mid-Atlantic Turtle and Tortoise Society about rescuing a captive-bred exotic pet.

Please don’t contribute to poaching for the pet trade! Be responsible when seeking a new member for your household. And if you do see someone selling native wildlife without appropriate permits issued by both the state and the USDA, please speak up and let appropriate authorities know!

Don’t Exterminate Your Exterminators

We’re so lucky that our ecosystem is full of animals who work behind the scenes to keep our homes, lawns, and gardens free of pests! One single owl, for example, can kill twelve mice per night, while a skunk will spend weeks digging up every rat’s nest in a neighborhood. Coyotes are probably the best rodent control of all, with rats, mice, and voles comprising the majority of their diet. Everywhere you look in nature, there’s someone hard at work killing pests!

We often see a domino effect when people relocate or kill wild predators. It’s usually only a matter of time before the newly predator-free area becomes a hotbed of uncontrolled breeding for rats and mice. A single female mouse, for example, can have up to 140 pups per year, with each of her young being equally prolific. Without predators to keep their population in check… well, we promise you’d prefer to see owls instead!

It can get even worse when rodent numbers explode, because invariably, someone in your neighborhood will use rodenticides to poison them. Any remaining wild predators nearby may end up succumbing to secondary poisoning, leaving the area even more wide open and inviting for rats and mice. The reproductive rates of rodents are much faster than of any of their predators, so your neighborhood can end up on a treadmill, constantly chasing infestations with poison while wild predators die.

We need to coexist with wild animals more peacefully, and let them work for us. Please be a good neighbor to wild predators. By leaving them to raise their families in peace, you will help to protect your home from more damaging critters.