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Overview

Brief Summary

Description

Swift foxes are primarily nocturnal, but can sometimes be seen sunning themselves near the entrance to a den. They live on prairie grasslands just east of the Rocky Mountains. Like other foxes, they face many dangers: coyotes prey on them, and they are susceptible to trapping, poisoning, and being hit by automobiles. Disease, den cave-ins, and starvation also cause mortality. Habitat destruction has greatly reduced their available habitat. In Canada, swift foxes are protected as an endangered species and attempts are being made to reintroduce them in the Canadian prairie provinces.

Links:
Mammal Species of the World
Click here for The American Society of Mammalogists species account
  • Original description: Say, T., 1823.  in Account of an expedition from Pittsburgh to the Rocky Mountains : performed in the years 1819 and 20, by order of the Hon. J.C. Calhoun, secy of war, under the command of Major Stephen H. Long : from the notes of Major Long, Mr. T. Say, and other gentlemen of the exploring party compiled by Edwin James, botanist and geologist for the expedition; in two vols., H.C. Carey and I. Lea, Philadelphia,1822-23. Vol 1, p 486.
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Distribution

occurs (regularly, as a native taxon) in multiple nations

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National Distribution

Canada

Origin: Native

Regularity: Regularly occurring

Currently: Present

Confidence: Confident

Type of Residency: Year-round

United States

Origin: Native

Regularity: Regularly occurring

Currently: Present

Confidence: Confident

Type of Residency: Year-round

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Global Range: (20,000-2,500,000 square km (about 8000-1,000,000 square miles)) Historical range included the central plains of North America, from southern Alberta and Saskatchewan south to northern Texas: included all or portions of North Dakota, South Dakota, Montana, Nebraska, Wyoming, Colorado, Kansas, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Texas, and the souther regions of Alberta, Manitoba, and Saskatchewan (Hall and Kelson 1959, Egoscue 1979, Banfield 1974). Present range is now much restricted; the species is nearly continuously distributed from Wyoming south throughout eastern Colorado, western Kansas, the Oklahoma Panhandle, eastern New Mexico, and part of the extreme northern panhandle of Texas, with scattered, disjunct populations in Montana, South Dakota, and Nebraska; apparently extirpated in North Dakota (USFWS 2001). The species was extirpated in Canada (1978 COSEWIC report), but reintroduction has resulted in reestablishment of a wild population, though viability of this population is in question. Present zone of contact between V. velox and V. macrotis is approximately in the area of the Pecos River (Dragoo et al. 1990).

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Range Description

The Swift Fox is native to short-grass and mixed-grass prairies of the Great Plains in North America (Egoscue 1979). On the northern limit of its range, the Swift Foxes was present in the Canadian provinces of Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba. The southern species boundary was New Mexico and Texas in the United States. Historical records also exist for areas in Montana, Wyoming, North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Colorado, and Oklahoma. Some historical range descriptions include Swift foxes in Minnesota and Iowa; however, there are no verified records of occurrence in either state (Sovada and Scheick 1999). Iowa has one fossil record and several unconfirmed accounts. Minnesota has no records and no account of any merit.
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According to reviews published in 2003 [1] and 2005 [63,106], swift foxes occur from northern Texas and eastern New Mexico north through eastern Colorado and western Kansas to Wyoming, southeastern Montana, and southwestern South Dakota. A map of the swift fox's core range is available at NatureServe. Reintroductions of swift fox along the southern border of Saskatchewan and Alberta and in northern Montana have resulted in isolated populations in these areas [3,10,63]. Despite increases in abundance and geographic extent since the 1950s and 1960s [1,106], swift foxes are rare in some northerly portions of their range, and their current distribution does not extend as far north or east as their historical distribution [1,10,122].
  • 1. Allardyce, David; Sovada, Marsha A. 2003. Review of the ecology, distribution, and status of swift foxes in the United States. In: Sovada, Marsha A.; Carbyn, Ludwig, eds. The swift fox: Ecology and conservation of swift foxes in a changing world; 1998 February 18-19; Regina, SK. Canadian Plains Proceedings 0317-6401 34. Regina, SK: University of Regina, Canadian Plains Research Center: 3-18. [72737]
  • 3. Ausband, D. E.; Foresman, K. R. 2007. Dispersal, survival, and reproduction of wild-born, yearling swift foxes in a reintroduced population. Canadian Journal of Zoology. 85: 185-189. [71069]
  • 10. Carbyn, Ludwig N. 1998. Update COSEWIC status report on the swift fox (Vulpes velox) in Canada. Report to the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada. Edmonton, AB: Canadian Wildlife Service, Western and Northern Region. 44 p. [70983]
  • 63. Marks, Raissa. 2005. Swift fox (Vulpes velox). Fish and Wildlife Habitat management Leaflet: Number 33. Washington, DC: Natural Resources Conservation Service; Silver Spring, MD: Wildlife Habitat Council. 8 p. [71301]
  • 106. Stephens, Robert M.; Anderson, Stanley H. 2005. Swift fox (Vulpes velox): A technical conservation assessment, [Online]. In: Species conservation program/Species conservation assessments. Golden, CO: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Region (Producer). Available: http://www.fs.fed.us/r2/projects/scp/assessments/swiftfox.pdf [2009, January 6]. [71505]
  • 122. Zwartjes, Patrick W.; Cartron, Jean-Luc E.; Stoleson, Pamela L. L.; Haussamen, Walter C.; Crane, Tiffany E. 2005. Assessment of native species and ungulate grazing in the Southwest: terrestrial wildlife. Gen. Tech. Rep. RMRS-GTR-142. Fort Collins, CO: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station. 74 p. [+ CD]. [60764]

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Geographic Range

Swift foxes originally ranged from the plains of western Canada and across the Great Plains of North America to Texas. Swift foxes disappeared entirely from Canada in the 1930s, but have been reintroduced there. At present there are a few scattered populations of swift foxes in the Great Plains of the U.S. and in western Canada. The largest population is in Colorado, Kansas, New Mexico, and Wyoming, where the species is stable. There are currently approximately only 350 individuals located in Southeast Alberta and Southwest Saskatchewan.

Biogeographic Regions: nearctic (Native )

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Physical Description

Morphology

Physical Description

The swift fox is the smallest of the wild dogs in North America. Adults weigh between 2 and 3 kilograms and are approximately 30 cm tall and 80 cm long. They are about the size of a domestic cat. Males and females look similar except that males are slightly larger. The fur of V. velox is light grey with orange-tan coloring on the sides and legs. The throat, chest, underside and inside of the ears are creamy white. The tail is bushy and marked with black at the tip. There are also black patches on either side of the snout.

Range mass: 2 to 3 kg.

Other Physical Features: endothermic ; homoiothermic; bilateral symmetry

Sexual Dimorphism: male larger

Average basal metabolic rate: 4.948 W.

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Size

Length: 80 cm

Weight: 2700 grams

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Size in North America

Sexual Dimorphism: Males are larger than females.

Length:
Range: 740-820 mm males; 680-750 mm females

Weight:
Range: "1.4-3.0 kg "
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Diagnostic Description

Differs from the kit fox in smaller ears, broader snout, and shorter tail (see Nowak 1991).

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Type Information

Type for Vulpes velox
Catalog Number: USNM 108255
Collection: Smithsonian Institution, National Museum of Natural History, Department of Vertebrate Zoology, Division of Mammals
Sex/Stage: Male;
Preparation: Skin; Skull
Collector(s): W. Mackay & G. Dippie
Year Collected: 1900
Locality: Calgary, Alberta, Canada, North America
  • Type: Merriam, C. H. 1902 Mar 22. Proc. Biol. Soc. Wash. 15: 73.
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Development

Development: Pups develop quickly, occasionally reaching sexual maturity within a year. Swift fox pups are weaned by 6 or 7 weeks [10,21,106] and emerge from dens in May or early June [63]. Pups of reintroduced swift foxes in Montana emerged from dens in June [3]. Adult size is generally reached by early fall [21] when pups are 4 to 5 months old [106]. In New Mexico, females obtained adult size at about 5 months, and males obtained adult size at about 9 months [31]. Swift foxes may begin breeding in their 1st or 2nd year. In Colorado, New Mexico, and Texas, 62% percent of females remaining in their natal home range and 47% of dispersing females reproduced as yearlings [39]. Over a 2 year period, 4 of 8 of female and 2 of 6 of male juvenile swift foxes reproduced in a reintroduced population in north-central Montana [3]. On a study site in Kansas, 10% of juvenile swift foxes reproduced (Zumbaugh 1984, cited in [21]).
  • 3. Ausband, D. E.; Foresman, K. R. 2007. Dispersal, survival, and reproduction of wild-born, yearling swift foxes in a reintroduced population. Canadian Journal of Zoology. 85: 185-189. [71069]
  • 10. Carbyn, Ludwig N. 1998. Update COSEWIC status report on the swift fox (Vulpes velox) in Canada. Report to the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada. Edmonton, AB: Canadian Wildlife Service, Western and Northern Region. 44 p. [70983]
  • 31. Harrison, Robert L. 2003. Swift fox demography, movements, denning, and diet in New Mexico. The Southwestern Naturalist. 48(2): 261-273. [71070]
  • 39. Kamler, Jan F.; Ballard, Warren B.; Gese, Eric M.; Harrison, Robert L.; Karki, Seija M. 2004. Dispersal characteristics of swift foxes. Canadian Journal of Zoology. 82: 1837-1842. [71979]
  • 63. Marks, Raissa. 2005. Swift fox (Vulpes velox). Fish and Wildlife Habitat management Leaflet: Number 33. Washington, DC: Natural Resources Conservation Service; Silver Spring, MD: Wildlife Habitat Council. 8 p. [71301]
  • 21. FaunaWest Wildlife Consultants. 1991. An ecological and taxonomic review of the swift fox (Vulpes velox) with special reference to Montana. Boulder, CO: FaunaWest Wildlife Consultants. 49 p. [+ appendices]. Report prepared for Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks, Montana State University, Bozeman, MT. [70984]
  • 106. Stephens, Robert M.; Anderson, Stanley H. 2005. Swift fox (Vulpes velox): A technical conservation assessment, [Online]. In: Species conservation program/Species conservation assessments. Golden, CO: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Region (Producer). Available: http://www.fs.fed.us/r2/projects/scp/assessments/swiftfox.pdf [2009, January 6]. [71505]

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Ecology

Habitat

California Central Valley Grasslands Habitat

This taxon is found in the California Central Valley grasslands, which extend approximately 430 miles in central California, paralleling the Sierra Nevada Range to the east and the coastal ranges to the west (averaging 75 miles in longitudinal extent), and stopping abruptly at the Tehachapi Range in the south. Two rivers flow from opposite ends and join around the middle of the valley to form the extensive Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta that flows into San Francisco Bay.

Perennial grasses that were adapted to cool-season growth once dominated the ecoregion. The deep-rooted Purple Needle Grass (Nassella pulchra) was particularly important, although Nodding Needle Grass (Stipa cernua), Wild Ryes (Elymus spp.), Lassen County Bluegrass (Poa limosa), Aristida spp., Crested Hair-grass (Koeleria pyramidata), Deergrass (Muhlenbergia rigens,), and Coast Range Melicgrass (Melica imperfecta) occurred in varying proportions. Most grass growth occurred in the late spring after winter rains and the onset of warmer and sunnier days. Interspersed among the bunchgrasses were a rich array of annual and perennial grasses and forbs, the latter creating extraordinary flowering displays during certain years. Some extensive mass flowerings of the California Poppy (Eschscholzia californica), Lupines (Lupinus spp.), and Exserted Indian Paintbrush (Castilleja exserta) are found in this grassland ecoregion.

Prehistoric grasslands here supported several herbivores including Pronghorn Antelope (Antilocapra americana), elk (including a valley subspecies, the Tule Elk, (Cervus elaphus nannodes), Mule Deer (Odocoileus hemionus), California ground squirrels, gophers, mice, hare, rabbits, and kangaroo rats. Several rodents are endemics or near-endemics to southern valley habitats including the Fresno Kangaroo Rat (Dipodomys nitratoides exilis), Tipton Kangaroo Rat (Dipodomys nitratoides nitratoides), San Joaquin Pocket Mouse (Perognathus inornatus), and Giant Kangaroo Rat (Dipodomys ingens). Predators originally included grizzly bear, gray wolf, coyote, mountain lion, ringtail, bobcat, and the San Joaquin Valley Kit Fox (Vulpes velox), a near-endemic.

The valley and associated delta once supported enormous populations of wintering waterfowl in extensive freshwater marshes. Riparian woodlands acted as important migratory pathways and breeding areas for many neotropical migratory birds. Three species of bird are largely endemic to the Central Valley, surrounding foothills, and portions of the southern coast ranges, namely, the Yellow-billed Magpie (Pica nuttalli), the Tri-colored Blackbird (Agelaius tricolor EN), and Nuttall’s Woodpecker (Picoides nuttallii).

The valley contains a number of reptile species including several endemic or near-endemic species or subspecies such as the San Joaquin Coachwhip (Masticophis flagellum ruddocki), the Blunt-nosed Leopard Lizard (Gambelia sila EN), Gilbert’s Skink (Plestiodon gilberti) and the Sierra Garter Snake (Thamnophis couchii). Lizards present in the ecoregion include: Coast Horned Lizard (Phrynosoma coronatum NT); Western Fence Lizard (Sceloporus occidentalis); Southern Alligator Lizard (Elgaria multicarinata); and the Northern Alligator Lizard (Elgaria coerulea).

There are only a few amphibian species present in the California Central Valley grasslands ecoregion. Special status anuran taxa found here are: Foothill Yellow-legged Frog (Rana boylii NT); Pacific Chorus Frog (Pseudacris regilla); and Western Spadefoot Toad (Pelobates cultripes). The Tiger Salamander (Ambystoma tigrinum) occurs within this ecoregion.

Although many endemic plant species are recognized, especially those associated with vernal pools, e.g. Prickly Spiralgrass (Tuctoria mucronata). A number of invertebrates are known to be restricted to California Central Valley habitats. These include the Delta Green Ground Beetle (Elaphrus viridis CR) known only from a single vernal pool site, and the Valley Elderberry Longhorn Beetle (Desmocerus californicus dimorphus) found only in riparian woodlands of three California counties.

Vernal pool communities occur throughout the Central Valley in seasonally flooded depressions. Several types are recognized including valley pools in basin areas which are typically alkaline or saline, terrace pools on ancient flood terraces of higher ground, and pools on volcanic soils. Vernal pool vegetation is ancient and unique with many habitat and local endemic species. During wet springs, the rims of the pools are encircled by flowers that change in composition as the water recedes. Several aquatic invertebrates are restricted to these unique habitats including a species of fairy shrimp and tadpole shrimp.

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Comments: Habitat includes open prairie and arid plains, including areas intermixed with winter wheat fields. In Texas, swift foxes selected only shortgrass prairies and had lower-than-expected use or completely avoided non-native grasslands enrolled in the Conservation Reserve Program, irrigated agricultural fields, and dryland agricultural fields (Kamler et al. 2003). Viable populations exist in shortgrass prairie-sagebrush steppe transition habitat in southeastern Wyoming (Olson and Lindzey 2002).

Dens are in burrows. A fox may dig a burrow or use a burrow made by another mammal (e.g., marmot, prairie dog, badger), usually in sandy soil on high ground (e.g., hill top, Pruss 1999) in open prairies, along fencerows, occasionally in plowed field. An individual may use several different dens throughout the year.

Young are born in an underground den about 1 meter below the ground surface (Banfield 1974). The den usually has multiple entrances and may be 3-6 meters long. Slight disturbance may cause a female to move her young to a different den.

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Habitat and Ecology

Habitat and Ecology
The Swift Fox is predominately found on short-grass and mixed-grass prairies in gently rolling or level terrain (Kilgore 1969; Hillman and Sharps 1978; Hines 1980). In Kansas, Swift Foxes have been found to den and forage in fallow cropland fields such as wheat (Jackson and Choate 2000; Sovada et al. 2003). Survival rates (and reproductive rates although sample sizes were small; Sovada et al. 2003) between foxes in grassland and cropland sites were not significantly different suggesting that Swift Foxes may be able to adapt to such habitat in some cases (Sovada et al. 1998). Notably, the distribution and density of dens, are considered important components of Swift Fox habitat requirements (Herrero et al. 1991), particularly in terms of evading coyote predation or Red Fox competition (Tannerfeldt et al. 2003).

Systems
  • Terrestrial
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Cover Requirements

More info for the term: selection

Swift foxes are den dependent, relying on dens year-round for shelter, escape from predators, and rearing of young. Swift fox dens typically occur in flat areas of shortgrass prairies. Swift foxes occasionally den in rangelands and croplands [21,37]. A review notes the occurrence of swift fox dens in cemeteries [21]. Swift foxes build their own dens in suitable soil or modify those of species such as American badgers (Taxidea taxus) and ground squirrels (Spermophilus spp.) [10]. The relation of dens to water is uncertain. Dens are often near roads. Den location may also be influenced by the use of an area by coyotes and prairie dogs. For a thorough review of swift fox den selection see Harrison and Whitaker-Hoagland [34].
© Bruce Gill, Wild Reflections
  • 10. Carbyn, Ludwig N. 1998. Update COSEWIC status report on the swift fox (Vulpes velox) in Canada. Report to the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada. Edmonton, AB: Canadian Wildlife Service, Western and Northern Region. 44 p. [70983]
  • 34. Harrison, Robert L.; Whitaker-Hoagland, Julianne. 2003. Literature review of swift fox habitat and den-site selection. In: Sovada, Marsha A.; Carbyn, Ludwig, eds. The swift fox: Ecology and conservation of swift foxes in a changing world; 1998 February 18-19; Regina, SK. Canadian Plains Proceedings 0317-6401 34. Regina, SK: University of Regina, Canadian Plains Research Center: 79-89. [72740]
  • 37. Jackson, Victoria L.; Choate, Jerry R. 2000. Dens and den sites of the swift fox, Vulpes velox. The Southwestern Naturalist. 45(2): 212-220. [71513]
  • 21. FaunaWest Wildlife Consultants. 1991. An ecological and taxonomic review of the swift fox (Vulpes velox) with special reference to Montana. Boulder, CO: FaunaWest Wildlife Consultants. 49 p. [+ appendices]. Report prepared for Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks, Montana State University, Bozeman, MT. [70984]

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Preferred Habitat: Potential association with prairie dogs

More info for the term: association

Potential association with prairie dogs
: More research is needed to determine the geographic extent and degree of influence prairie dog towns have on swift fox habitat use [105]. In and around the Badlands of South Dakota, a location where prairie dogs were an important component of the swift fox's diet in some periods, swift foxes used areas closer to prairie dog towns than expected at random [90]. Swift foxes were included in a list of species associated with prairie dogs in western South Dakota [96]. In the panhandle of Oklahoma, swift fox detection in prairie dog towns and paired sites without prairie dogs were statistically similar, with more detections in the sites without prairie dog towns than in prairie dog towns. This may have been at least partially due to the trend for more coyote detections near prairie dog towns in this region [97]. In northwestern Texas swift foxes occurred in prairie dog towns significantly (P<0.001) less than expected based on availability in 5 of 6 comparisons made on 2 sites over 3 years [78]. A review suggests that prairie dog towns can be detrimental to swift foxes due to a likely increase in exposure to poisons in these areas [106].
  • 90. Russell, Todd A. 2006. Habitat selection by swift foxes in Badlands National Park and the surrounding area in South Dakota. Brookings, SD: South Dakota State University. 104 p. Thesis. [72505]
  • 96. Sharps, Jon C.; Uresk, Daniel W. 1990. Ecological review of black-tailed prairie dogs and associated species in western South Dakota. The Great Basin Naturalist. 50(4): 339-344. [14895]
  • 97. Shaughnessy, Michael J., Jr.; Cifelli, Richard L. 2004. Influence of black-tailed prairie dogs on carnivore distributions in the Oklahoma Panhandle. Western North American Naturalist. 64(2): 184-192. [71004]
  • 105. Stapp, Paul. 1998. A reevaluation of the role of prairie dogs in Great Plains grasslands. Conservation Biology. 12(6): 1253-1259. [66728]
  • 78. Nicholson, Kerry L.; Ballard, Warren B.; McGee, Brady K.; Surles, James; Kamler, Jan F.; Lemons, Patrick R. 2006. Swift fox use of black-tailed prairie dog towns in northwest Texas. The Journal of Wildlife Management. 70(6): 1659-1666. [72113]
  • 106. Stephens, Robert M.; Anderson, Stanley H. 2005. Swift fox (Vulpes velox): A technical conservation assessment, [Online]. In: Species conservation program/Species conservation assessments. Golden, CO: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Region (Producer). Available: http://www.fs.fed.us/r2/projects/scp/assessments/swiftfox.pdf [2009, January 6]. [71505]

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Preferred Habitat: Landscape characteristics

More info for the term: selection

Landscape characteristics: Topography of swift fox locations is generally flat. In big sagebrush-shortgrass prairie transition habitat in Wyoming, swift foxes selected (P<0.001) areas with slopes 3% or less and avoided areas with slopes of 3% to 9%; this included the steep topography and thick vegetation of creek drainages [81]. Rugged, steep terrain is generally avoided [10,90], although swift foxes have been observed in "badland-like" regions of Wyoming [10].

Swift foxes may select habitat at a large scale. The best supported model of habitat selection by reintroduced swift foxes in and around Badlands National Park in South Dakota incorporated habitat variables such as distance to roads and prairie dog towns and topography at a 4,000-foot (1,200 m) scale [90].

  • 10. Carbyn, Ludwig N. 1998. Update COSEWIC status report on the swift fox (Vulpes velox) in Canada. Report to the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada. Edmonton, AB: Canadian Wildlife Service, Western and Northern Region. 44 p. [70983]
  • 81. Olson, Travis L. 2000. Population characteristics, habitat selection patterns, and diet of swift foxes in southeast Wyoming. Laramie, WY: University of Wyoming. 139 p. Thesis. [70997]
  • 90. Russell, Todd A. 2006. Habitat selection by swift foxes in Badlands National Park and the surrounding area in South Dakota. Brookings, SD: South Dakota State University. 104 p. Thesis. [72505]

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Preferred Habitat: Vegetation structure/cover type

More info for the terms: association, cover, density, selection, shrub, shrubs

Vegetation structure/cover type: Swift foxes typically use habitats comprised primarily of short (<12 inches, 30 cm) grasses and in some cases a few short shrubs. According to a review, swift fox densities are greatest where shrubs are >50 feet (15 m) apart, decline where shrubs are 16 to 50 feet (5-15 m) apart, and do not occur where shrubs are <16 feet (5 m) apart [122]. During the winter and spring, swift foxes in New Mexico selected areas of grama (Bouteloua spp.) rangeland (P=0.005) with low shrub density (P=0.004) [33]. On a site in southeastern Colorado with shortgrass prairie and Colorado pinyon-oneseed juniper woodland, swift fox home ranges occurred only in open prairie habitat [49]. In eastern Colorado, swift fox occupancy was associated with amount of shortgrass prairie [23,64]. Big sagebrush in suitable swift fox habitat at the transition between shortgrass prairie and big sagebrush cover types in Wyoming occurred at less than 16% cover and was less than 12 inches (30 cm) tall [81]. In the Badlands National Park area of South Dakota, swift fox occupancy in areas with visibility to 490 feet (150 m) was more than 7 times the occupancy of areas with visibility to only 160 feet (50 m). Within home ranges, the best supported habitat selection model for this area was based on a negative association with vegetation height [90]. Swift fox densities in southeastern Colorado were negatively associated with basal percent cover and shrub density, and significantly (P=0.02) negatively associated with grass height [112].

The swift fox's association with open, short cover is likely due to greater visibility in these habitats reducing predation on swift fox. In South Dakota in fall of 2005, coyote predation on reintroduced swift foxes in areas with low visibility (160 feet, 50 m) was 5.3 times that in areas with high visibility (490 feet, 150 m) [90]. In the transition between shortgrass prairie and big sagebrush steppe of Wyoming, swift foxes that had been killed by predators were located in big sagebrush habitat significantly (P=0.01) more and in sagebrush-grassland significantly (P=0.03) less than would be expected at random [81].

Swift foxes generally avoid crops and planted tall grasslands. In northwestern Texas, swift foxes used dry land agricultural fields of grain sorghum or wheat less than expected based on availability, and completely avoided irrigated fields of corn (Zea spp.) and winter wheat (Triticum spp.). Only 1 juvenile was observed in grasslands planted with tall grasses such as bluestems (Andropogon spp.) and sideoats grama (Bouteloua curtipendula) [38]. Similar tall grass communities in western Kansas were rarely used by swift fox. Croplands used by swift foxes in western Kansas were generally fallow or small grain fields [102]. In northwestern Texas, average dispersal distance from private ranches was significantly (P=0.04) further than from national grasslands, and swift foxes from private ranches tended (P≤0.001) to move away from cropland and residences [79]. Swift foxes in rangeland of western Kansas weighed significantly (P=0.01) more and were in better condition than those in cropland [65].

  • 33. Harrison, Robert L.; Schmitt, C. Gregory. 2003. Current swift fox distribution and habitat selection within areas of historical occurrence in New Mexico. In: Sovada, Marsha A.; Carbyn, Ludwig, eds. The swift fox: Ecology and conservation of swift foxes in a changing world; 1998 February 18-19; Regina, SK. Canadian Plains Proceedings 0317-6401 34. Regina, SK: University of Regina, Canadian Plains Research Center: 71-78. [72739]
  • 38. Kamler, Jan F.; Ballard, Warren B.; Fish, Ernest B.; Lemons, Patrick R.; Mote, Kevin; Perchellet, Celine C. 2003. Habitat use, home ranges, and survival of swift foxes in a fragmented landscape: conservation implications. Journal of Mammalogy. 84(3): 989-995. [71999]
  • 49. Kitchen, Ann M.; Gese, Eric M.; Schauster, Edward R. 1999. Resource partitioning between coyotes and swift foxes: space, time, and diet. Canadian Journal of Zoology. 77: 1645-1656. [71981]
  • 64. Martin, Daniel J.; White, Gary C.; Pusateri, Frances M. 2007. Occupancy rates by swift foxes (Vulpes velox) in eastern Colorado. The Southwestern Naturalist. 52(4): 541-551. [70993]
  • 65. Matlack, Raymond S.; Gipson, Philip S.; Kaufman, Donald W. 2000. The swift fox in rangeland and cropland in western Kansas: relative abundance, mortality, and body size. The Southwestern Naturalist. 45(2): 221-225. [71512]
  • 79. Nicholson, Kerry L.; Ballard, Warren B.; McGee, Brady K.; Whitlaw, Heather A. 2007. Dispersal and extraterritorial movements of swift foxes (Vulpes velox) in northwestern Texas. Western North American Naturalist. 67(1): 102-108. [70996]
  • 81. Olson, Travis L. 2000. Population characteristics, habitat selection patterns, and diet of swift foxes in southeast Wyoming. Laramie, WY: University of Wyoming. 139 p. Thesis. [70997]
  • 90. Russell, Todd A. 2006. Habitat selection by swift foxes in Badlands National Park and the surrounding area in South Dakota. Brookings, SD: South Dakota State University. 104 p. Thesis. [72505]
  • 102. Sovada, Marsha A.; Slivinski, Christiane C.; Woodward, Robert O.; Phillips, Michael L. 2003. Home range, habitat use, litter size, and pup dispersal of swift foxes in two distinct landscapes in western Kansas. In: Sovada, Marsha A.; Carbyn, Ludwig, eds. The swift fox: Ecology and conservation of swift foxes in a changing world; 1998 February 18-19; Regina, SK. Canadian Plains Proceedings 0317-6401 34. Regina, SK: University of Regina, Canadian Plains Research Center: 149-160. [72742]
  • 112. Thompson, Craig M.; Gese, Eric M. 2007. Food webs and intraguild predation: community interactions of a native mesocarnivore. Ecology. 88(2): 334-346. [72021]
  • 23. Finley, Darby J.; White, Gary C.; Fitzgerald, James P. 2005. Estimation of swift fox population size and occupancy rates in eastern Colorado. The Journal of Wildlife Management. 69(3): 861-873. [72110]
  • 122. Zwartjes, Patrick W.; Cartron, Jean-Luc E.; Stoleson, Pamela L. L.; Haussamen, Walter C.; Crane, Tiffany E. 2005. Assessment of native species and ungulate grazing in the Southwest: terrestrial wildlife. Gen. Tech. Rep. RMRS-GTR-142. Fort Collins, CO: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station. 74 p. [+ CD]. [60764]

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Preferred Habitat

More info for the term: association

Swift foxes are most common in shortgrass prairie with flat or rolling topography and high visibility over long distances. Swift foxes occur at elevations up to 7,000 feet (2,100 m) in the southwestern United States [122].

  • 122. Zwartjes, Patrick W.; Cartron, Jean-Luc E.; Stoleson, Pamela L. L.; Haussamen, Walter C.; Crane, Tiffany E. 2005. Assessment of native species and ungulate grazing in the Southwest: terrestrial wildlife. Gen. Tech. Rep. RMRS-GTR-142. Fort Collins, CO: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station. 74 p. [+ CD]. [60764]

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Swift foxes live primarily in shortgrass prairies and deserts. They often form their dens in sandy soils on open prairies, along fences or in plowed fields.

Habitat Regions: temperate ; terrestrial

Terrestrial Biomes: desert or dune ; savanna or grassland

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Migration

Non-Migrant: Yes. At least some populations of this species do not make significant seasonal migrations. Juvenile dispersal is not considered a migration.

Locally Migrant: No. No populations of this species make local extended movements (generally less than 200 km) at particular times of the year (e.g., to breeding or wintering grounds, to hibernation sites).

Locally Migrant: No. No populations of this species make annual migrations of over 200 km.

Home range size ranges from a few hundred to a few thousand hectares (see Harrison 2003). Individuals may range over several square kilometers during a single night; may shift the location of their home range from one year to the next (Harrison 2003). Dispersal distance averages around 11 km, with an observed maximum of only 64 km (see Mercure et al. 1993).

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Dispersal

Dispersal: Juvenile swift foxes disperse in fall or winter. Juvenile dispersal occurred in 2 periods in studies in Colorado, New Mexico, and Texas, one in September and October and another in January and February [39]. In a reintroduced population in north-central Montana, 77% of juveniles dispersed in September and October, while the remainder dispersed in January and March [3]. In western Kansas, dispersal occurred from 1 October to 27 December, and the average dispersal date was 5 November [102]. Four juveniles in New Mexico dispersed in September, October, November, and February [31].

Juvenile swift foxes typically disperse an average of 6 to 9 miles (10 to 15 km). Average dispersal distance of juveniles was 8 miles (13.1 km) in northwestern Texas [79] and 9 miles (14.7 km) in western Kansas [102]. Juveniles in a reintroduced population in north-central Montana dispersed an average of 6.5 miles (10.4 km). Several juveniles dispersed twice. The initial dispersal event was over 1.2 miles (2 km) and was followed by movements that averaged 14.5 miles (23.4 km) [3]. In New Mexico one female swift fox juvenile dispersed 1.2 miles (2 km) and another dispersed 6.2 miles (10 km) [31]. Some juveniles in southeastern Colorado remained in their natal home range while others dispersed into neighboring territories or further (≤9.9 miles (15.9 km)) [95]. Studies in Colorado, New Mexico, and Texas found that males were significantly (P=0.002) more likely to disperse from their natal home range than females [39]. However, a similar number of male and female swift foxes remained on natal home ranges in a reintroduced population in north-central Montana [3].

Adult swift fox of both genders disperse, although at lower rates than juveniles. Dispersal of male and female adult swift foxes has been observed in Texas, New Mexico, and Colorado [31,95]. Pooling of swift fox dispersal data from these areas indicates significantly (P<0.001) more adult males dispersing than adult females. Although adult male dispersal comprised 25% of all dispersal in these areas, adults dispersed significantly (P<0.001) less than juvenile swift foxes. Dispersing adults were significantly (P=0.028) more likely to settle in a new territory than dispersing juveniles [39]. There are several reports of adults of both genders dispersing after the loss of their mate [31,39,95]. However, in the transition between shortgrass prairie and Colorado pinyon-oneseed juniper communities in southeastern Colorado, none of the female swift foxes that lost mates dispersed from their home ranges while half of males that lost a mate dispersed [47]. In northwest Texas, dispersal distance of resident adults with mates averaged 6.2 miles (10 km), and dispersal distance of adults without mates or continuous ranges averaged 15.8 miles (25.4 km) [79]. Adult dispersal in New Mexico, northwestern Texas, and Colorado occurred year round [39].

  • 3. Ausband, D. E.; Foresman, K. R. 2007. Dispersal, survival, and reproduction of wild-born, yearling swift foxes in a reintroduced population. Canadian Journal of Zoology. 85: 185-189. [71069]
  • 31. Harrison, Robert L. 2003. Swift fox demography, movements, denning, and diet in New Mexico. The Southwestern Naturalist. 48(2): 261-273. [71070]
  • 39. Kamler, Jan F.; Ballard, Warren B.; Gese, Eric M.; Harrison, Robert L.; Karki, Seija M. 2004. Dispersal characteristics of swift foxes. Canadian Journal of Zoology. 82: 1837-1842. [71979]
  • 79. Nicholson, Kerry L.; Ballard, Warren B.; McGee, Brady K.; Whitlaw, Heather A. 2007. Dispersal and extraterritorial movements of swift foxes (Vulpes velox) in northwestern Texas. Western North American Naturalist. 67(1): 102-108. [70996]
  • 95. Schauster, Edward R.; Gese, Eric M.; Kitchen, Ann M. 2002. Population ecology of swift foxes (Vulpes velox) in southeastern Colorado. Canadian Journal of Zoology. 80(2): 307-319. [71000]
  • 102. Sovada, Marsha A.; Slivinski, Christiane C.; Woodward, Robert O.; Phillips, Michael L. 2003. Home range, habitat use, litter size, and pup dispersal of swift foxes in two distinct landscapes in western Kansas. In: Sovada, Marsha A.; Carbyn, Ludwig, eds. The swift fox: Ecology and conservation of swift foxes in a changing world; 1998 February 18-19; Regina, SK. Canadian Plains Proceedings 0317-6401 34. Regina, SK: University of Regina, Canadian Plains Research Center: 149-160. [72742]
  • 47. Kitchen, Ann M.; Gese, Eric M.; Karki, Seija M.; Schauster, Edward R. 2005. Spatial ecology of swift fox social groups: from group formation to mate loss. Journal of Mammalogy. 86(3): 547-554. [72006]

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Trophic Strategy

Comments: Diet includes mammals (jackrabbits, cottontails, ground squirrels, mice), birds, invertebrates, and vegetable matter (grasses and berries). Mammals (often especially SYLVILAGUS) and insects comprise the bulk of the diet, but feeding is opportunistic. Caches excess food under snow in winter (Banfield 1974).

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Food Habits

Swift foxes are opportunistic hunters ([44,81,101], reviews by [1,10]) eating mammals, insects, carrion, birds, and plants. Swift fox diet composition generally reflects prey availability. This is most often exemplified by seasonal variation in swift fox diets but can also be influenced by land management practices. The diets of swift fox and coyotes overlap to varying extents throughout their range and during the year. Prey availability may impact risk of swift foxes being preyed upon by coyotes or other predators, and could influence swift fox densities. Swift foxes have been observed caching food items [81,101].

  • 1. Allardyce, David; Sovada, Marsha A. 2003. Review of the ecology, distribution, and status of swift foxes in the United States. In: Sovada, Marsha A.; Carbyn, Ludwig, eds. The swift fox: Ecology and conservation of swift foxes in a changing world; 1998 February 18-19; Regina, SK. Canadian Plains Proceedings 0317-6401 34. Regina, SK: University of Regina, Canadian Plains Research Center: 3-18. [72737]
  • 10. Carbyn, Ludwig N. 1998. Update COSEWIC status report on the swift fox (Vulpes velox) in Canada. Report to the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada. Edmonton, AB: Canadian Wildlife Service, Western and Northern Region. 44 p. [70983]
  • 44. Kamler, Jan F.; Ballard, Warren B; Wallace, Mark C.; Gipson, Philip S. 2007. Diets of swift foxes (Vulpes velox) in continuous and fragmented prairie in northwestern Texas. The Southwestern Naturalist. 52(4): 504-510. [72648]
  • 81. Olson, Travis L. 2000. Population characteristics, habitat selection patterns, and diet of swift foxes in southeast Wyoming. Laramie, WY: University of Wyoming. 139 p. Thesis. [70997]
  • 101. Sovada, Marsha A.; Roy, Christiane C.; Telesco, David J. 2001. Seasonal food habits of swift fox (Vulpes velox) in cropland and rangeland landscapes in western Kansas. The American Midland Naturalist. 145(1): 101-111. [72645]

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Food Habits

The diet of the swift fox varies seasonally, depending on what is available. It typically eats whatever live prey it can catch. Its diet includes small mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, fish, insects, but also includes berries and grasses.

Animal Foods: birds; mammals; amphibians; reptiles; fish; eggs; carrion ; insects; terrestrial non-insect arthropods

Plant Foods: seeds, grains, and nuts; fruit

Primary Diet: omnivore

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Associations

Predators: Coyote predation

More info for the terms: competition, density, selection

Coyote predation: Coyote predation is usually the predominant source of swift fox mortality. Swift foxes in several studies died of unknown causes [39,49,83]. If any of those deaths were due to coyotes, the values reported for these studies in the table below would be underestimates. Dietary overlap (see Food Habits) and the irregularity of coyote consumption of swift fox carcasses suggest that competition, rather than food requirements, may explain coyote predation on swift foxes [43].

Percent of mortality likely caused by coyotes in study areas throughout the swift fox's range
Location Percent mortality due to coyote predation
Montana 46% [3]
Wyoming 46% [83]
Colorado 48% [49]
82% [95]
63% [2]
Colorado, New Mexico, Texas 69% [39]
Kansas 62% [100]
Texas 89% [41]
southern Alberta and Saskatchewan, and northern Montana 56%, 44%, 17% in each of 3 years [76]

Coyotes can impact swift fox survival, recruitment, and density. Swift fox density was negatively associated with coyote abundance in northwestern Texas [40] and in 2 temporally distinct studies in a southeastern Colorado study area [95,112]. Survival rate and density of swift foxes were higher in a population with significantly (P<0.01) less coyote-related mortality than a nearby population [42]. Removal of 227 coyotes from the site with high coyote-related swift fox mortality resulted in swift fox survival rate increasing from 0.47 to 0.63, swift fox density increasing from 0.24 to 0.31 fox/km² to 0.68 fox/km², and recruitment increasing from 0.25 young/adult to 1.2 young/adult [40]. A study investigating the impacts of coyote predation on kit and swift foxes concluded that in combination with prey abundance and territorial behavior, coyotes can lower the maximum density obtained [118]. Coyotes can also influence home range, den, and habitat selection; and, due to effects on swift fox density, mating systems.

  • 2. Andersen, David E.; Laurion, Thomas. R.; Cary, John R.; Sikes, Robert S.; McLeod, Mary A.; Gese, Eric M. 2003. Aspects of swift fox ecology in southeastern Colorado. In: Sovada, Marsha A.; Carbyn, Ludwig, eds. The swift fox: Ecology and conservation of swift foxes in a changing world; 1998 February 18-19; Regina, SK. Canadian Plains Proceedings 0317-6401 34. Regina, SK: University of Regina, Canadian Plains Research Center: 139-147. [72741]
  • 3. Ausband, D. E.; Foresman, K. R. 2007. Dispersal, survival, and reproduction of wild-born, yearling swift foxes in a reintroduced population. Canadian Journal of Zoology. 85: 185-189. [71069]
  • 39. Kamler, Jan F.; Ballard, Warren B.; Gese, Eric M.; Harrison, Robert L.; Karki, Seija M. 2004. Dispersal characteristics of swift foxes. Canadian Journal of Zoology. 82: 1837-1842. [71979]
  • 41. Kamler, Jan F.; Ballard, Warren B.; Gilliland, Rickey L.; Mote, Kevin. 2003. Spatial relationships between swift foxes and coyotes in northwestern Texas. Canadian Journal of Zoology. 81: 168-172. [72001]
  • 42. Kamler, Jan F.; Ballard, Warren B.; Lemons, Patrick R.; Mote, Kevin. 2004. Variation in mating system and group structure in two populations of swift foxes, Vulpes velox. Animal Behaviour. 68: 83-88. [72003]
  • 43. Kamler, Jan F.; Ballard, Warren B.; Wallace, Mark C.; Gilliland, Rick L.; Gipson, Philip S. 2007. Dietary overlap of swift foxes and coyotes in northwestern Texas. The American Midland Naturalist. 158: 139-146. [72416]
  • 49. Kitchen, Ann M.; Gese, Eric M.; Schauster, Edward R. 1999. Resource partitioning between coyotes and swift foxes: space, time, and diet. Canadian Journal of Zoology. 77: 1645-1656. [71981]
  • 76. Moehrenschlager, Axel; List, Rurik; MacDonald, David W. 2007. Escaping intraguild predation: Mexican kit foxes survive while coyotes and golden eagles kill Canadian swift foxes. Journal of Mammalogy. 88(4): 1029-1039. [71983]
  • 95. Schauster, Edward R.; Gese, Eric M.; Kitchen, Ann M. 2002. Population ecology of swift foxes (Vulpes velox) in southeastern Colorado. Canadian Journal of Zoology. 80(2): 307-319. [71000]
  • 112. Thompson, Craig M.; Gese, Eric M. 2007. Food webs and intraguild predation: community interactions of a native mesocarnivore. Ecology. 88(2): 334-346. [72021]
  • 40. Kamler, Jan F.; Ballard, Warren B.; Gilliland, Rickey L.; Lemons, Patrick R., II; Mote, Kevin. 2003. Impacts of coyotes on swift foxes in northwestern Texas. The Journal of Wildlife Management. 67(2): 317-323. [72000]
  • 83. Olson, Travis L.; Lindzey, Frederick G. 2002. Swift fox survival and production in southeastern Wyoming. The Journal of Wildlife Management. 83(1): 199-206. [71509]
  • 100. Sovada, Marsha A.; Roy, Christiane C.; Bright, J. B.; Gillis, James R. 1998. Causes and rates of mortality of swift foxes in western Kansas. The Journal of Wildlife Management. 62(4): 1300-1306. [72020]
  • 118. White, P. J.; Garrott, Robert A. 1997. Factors regulating kit fox populations. Canadian Journal of Zoology. 75: 1982-1988. [72417]

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Food Habits: Effects of low prey abundance

More info for the terms: association, density

Effects of low prey abundance: Low prey abundance may increase vulnerability of swift fox to coyote predation. One interpretation of data on swift fox activity patterns in southeastern Colorado suggests that lower food availability during winter resulted in swift foxes traveling further to obtain food [12]. Given the increased risk of predation away from dens [49,100] and in unfamiliar portions of the home range [49,76,83,100], increased travel distances may increase the risk of predation on swift fox. A comparison between a kit fox population in northern Mexico with low rates of predation-caused mortality and a swift fox population in southern Alberta and Saskatchewan, and northern Montana with high rates of predation-caused mortality led to the suggestion that smaller home ranges due to greater food availability in northern Mexico led to fewer encounters with predators [76]. A review suggests that increased exposure to predators due to low food availability could limit swift fox population size [1].

Limited research suggests swift fox densities are correlated with abundance of some prey species. In grassland steppe of southeastern Colorado, swift fox density was negatively correlated (P=0.01) with black-tailed jackrabbit abundance. This was likely due to the positive association between black-tailed jackrabbit abundance and coyote density. Although not statistically significant, swift fox density was positively associated with desert cottontail and Ord's kangaroo rat abundances [112]. A positive relationship between kit fox density and rabbit abundance, and the density dependent nature of kit fox reproductive rates at low prey densities led researchers to suggest that prey abundance was 1 of 2 major factors influencing population densities, the other being behavioral spacing [118]. Russell [90] suggests more research is needed on the influence of prey species on swift fox densities.

  • 1. Allardyce, David; Sovada, Marsha A. 2003. Review of the ecology, distribution, and status of swift foxes in the United States. In: Sovada, Marsha A.; Carbyn, Ludwig, eds. The swift fox: Ecology and conservation of swift foxes in a changing world; 1998 February 18-19; Regina, SK. Canadian Plains Proceedings 0317-6401 34. Regina, SK: University of Regina, Canadian Plains Research Center: 3-18. [72737]
  • 12. Covell, Darrel F.; Miller, David S.; Karasov, William H. 1996. Cost of locomotion and daily energy expenditure by free-living swift foxes (Vulpes velox): a seasonal comparison. Canadian Journal of Zoology. 74(2): 283-290. [70977]
  • 49. Kitchen, Ann M.; Gese, Eric M.; Schauster, Edward R. 1999. Resource partitioning between coyotes and swift foxes: space, time, and diet. Canadian Journal of Zoology. 77: 1645-1656. [71981]
  • 76. Moehrenschlager, Axel; List, Rurik; MacDonald, David W. 2007. Escaping intraguild predation: Mexican kit foxes survive while coyotes and golden eagles kill Canadian swift foxes. Journal of Mammalogy. 88(4): 1029-1039. [71983]
  • 90. Russell, Todd A. 2006. Habitat selection by swift foxes in Badlands National Park and the surrounding area in South Dakota. Brookings, SD: South Dakota State University. 104 p. Thesis. [72505]
  • 112. Thompson, Craig M.; Gese, Eric M. 2007. Food webs and intraguild predation: community interactions of a native mesocarnivore. Ecology. 88(2): 334-346. [72021]
  • 83. Olson, Travis L.; Lindzey, Frederick G. 2002. Swift fox survival and production in southeastern Wyoming. The Journal of Wildlife Management. 83(1): 199-206. [71509]
  • 100. Sovada, Marsha A.; Roy, Christiane C.; Bright, J. B.; Gillis, James R. 1998. Causes and rates of mortality of swift foxes in western Kansas. The Journal of Wildlife Management. 62(4): 1300-1306. [72020]
  • 118. White, P. J.; Garrott, Robert A. 1997. Factors regulating kit fox populations. Canadian Journal of Zoology. 75: 1982-1988. [72417]

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Food Habits: Influence of prey availability

More info for the terms: frequency, presence

Influence of prey availability: Seasonal changes in diet generally reflect changes in food availability ([43,81], review by [10]). For instance, on sites in South Dakota [90] and Nebraska [36] birds were most frequently encountered in summer; and on a site in Wyoming, birds were least frequently encountered in winter [81]. Carrion occurred most frequently in swift fox diets in fall and winter in Wyoming [81] and in fall in South Dakota [90]. Several studies note a peak in the consumption of insects in summer and/or fall [12,43,49,90,101]. On a site in Kansas, frequency of beetles in the diet peaked in summer and grasshopper frequency peaked in fall [101]. Grasshopper frequency peaked in September and November on a Wyoming study site [81]. In Kansas, insects frequently occurred in swift fox stomach contents during winter, but at low volumes [121]. On a site in New Mexico frequency of grasshoppers in the swift fox diet peaked during winter, and frequency of vegetation in the diet peaked in spring [31]. On a site in Kansas, the frequency of mice, rats, and voles (Muridae) in the swift fox diet peaked in summer and fall and the frequency of rabbits peaked in spring [101], possibly due to the availability of young, small rabbits.

Differences in diets of swift foxes in rangeland and cropland in Kansas [101] and northwestern Texas [44] also suggest that swift fox diets are influenced by prey availability. In spring in Kansas, plains pocket gophers (Geomys bursarius, P=0.026) and rodents in the Heteromyidae family (P=0.067) were significantly more frequent in the diets of swift foxes in rangeland than of cropland. These rodents were probably more abundant in rangeland than cropland. In fall, swift foxes in cropland ate significantly (P=0.008) more birds than swift foxes in rangeland, likely due to the presence of overwintering horned larks and longspurs in wheat fields. Swift foxes in cropland ate more vegetation than those in rangeland in both spring (P=0.004) and fall (P=0.001) [101]. Taxonomic and size differences between the diets of swift foxes in contiguous and fragmented prairie in northwestern Texas was significant (P<0.001). Swift foxes occupying prairie habitat fragmented by cropland and planted tall grasslands had more diverse diets, and ate more black-tailed jackrabbits (Lepus californicus), cottontails (Sylvilagus spp.), birds, and vegetation than swift foxes in contiguous prairie. Foxes in contiguous prairie ate smaller prey including more insects. In this study area rabbits were more abundant in fragmented habitat than in contiguous prairie [44]. Despite fragmented habitat apparently meeting the dietary requirements of swift foxes, cropland and planted tall grassland habitats were avoided ([38], see Preferred habitat).

  • 10. Carbyn, Ludwig N. 1998. Update COSEWIC status report on the swift fox (Vulpes velox) in Canada. Report to the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada. Edmonton, AB: Canadian Wildlife Service, Western and Northern Region. 44 p. [70983]
  • 12. Covell, Darrel F.; Miller, David S.; Karasov, William H. 1996. Cost of locomotion and daily energy expenditure by free-living swift foxes (Vulpes velox): a seasonal comparison. Canadian Journal of Zoology. 74(2): 283-290. [70977]
  • 31. Harrison, Robert L. 2003. Swift fox demography, movements, denning, and diet in New Mexico. The Southwestern Naturalist. 48(2): 261-273. [71070]
  • 36. Hines, Terrence D.; Case, Ronald M. 1991. Diet, home range, movements, and activity periods of swift fox in Nebraska. The Prairie Naturalist. 23(3): 131-138. [70986]
  • 38. Kamler, Jan F.; Ballard, Warren B.; Fish, Ernest B.; Lemons, Patrick R.; Mote, Kevin; Perchellet, Celine C. 2003. Habitat use, home ranges, and survival of swift foxes in a fragmented landscape: conservation implications. Journal of Mammalogy. 84(3): 989-995. [71999]
  • 43. Kamler, Jan F.; Ballard, Warren B.; Wallace, Mark C.; Gilliland, Rick L.; Gipson, Philip S. 2007. Dietary overlap of swift foxes and coyotes in northwestern Texas. The American Midland Naturalist. 158: 139-146. [72416]
  • 44. Kamler, Jan F.; Ballard, Warren B; Wallace, Mark C.; Gipson, Philip S. 2007. Diets of swift foxes (Vulpes velox) in continuous and fragmented prairie in northwestern Texas. The Southwestern Naturalist. 52(4): 504-510. [72648]
  • 49. Kitchen, Ann M.; Gese, Eric M.; Schauster, Edward R. 1999. Resource partitioning between coyotes and swift foxes: space, time, and diet. Canadian Journal of Zoology. 77: 1645-1656. [71981]
  • 81. Olson, Travis L. 2000. Population characteristics, habitat selection patterns, and diet of swift foxes in southeast Wyoming. Laramie, WY: University of Wyoming. 139 p. Thesis. [70997]
  • 90. Russell, Todd A. 2006. Habitat selection by swift foxes in Badlands National Park and the surrounding area in South Dakota. Brookings, SD: South Dakota State University. 104 p. Thesis. [72505]
  • 101. Sovada, Marsha A.; Roy, Christiane C.; Telesco, David J. 2001. Seasonal food habits of swift fox (Vulpes velox) in cropland and rangeland landscapes in western Kansas. The American Midland Naturalist. 145(1): 101-111. [72645]
  • 121. Zumbaugh, David M.; Choate, Jerry R.; Fox, Lloyd B. 1985. Winter food habits of the swift fox on the central High Plains. The Prairie Naturalist. 17(1): 41-47. [71011]

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Food Habits: Diet composition

More info for the terms: cactus, frequency

Diet Composition: Although swift foxes have a varied diet, small mammals and insects constitute the majority of prey items. They were the predominant components of swift fox diets on sites in New Mexico [31], Texas [43], Kansas [101], Colorado [2,49], Nebraska [36], Wyoming [81], and South Dakota [90,116]. Mammals often occur in the diet of swift foxes at frequencies of 80% to 100%, and insects often occur in the diet at frequencies greater than 50% [36,81,90,101]. Although mammals typically comprise the majority of prey volume [2,43,121], insects can constitute a substantial proportion [2,43]. Lagomorphs (Lepus spp. and Sylvilagus spp.) and rodents are the most frequent mammalian components, and grasshoppers (Caelifera) and beetles (Coleoptera) are the most frequent insect components in swift fox diets [31,36,49,81,101,116]. Typical rodent genera consumed by swift foxes include voles (Microtus spp.) [36,81,101,121], white-footed mice (Peromyscus spp.) [49,101,121], kangaroo rats (Dipodomys spp.) [31,49], pocket mice (Perognathus spp.) [49,81], harvest mice (Reithrodontomys spp.) [36,121], ground squirrels (Spermophilus spp.) [49,81], and woodrats (Neotoma spp.) [49,121]. Black-tail prairie dogs (Cynomys ludovicianus) are also eaten by swift foxes in some locations [49,90,116].

Other food items in swift fox diets include carrion, birds, plants and reptiles. Frequency of birds in swift fox diets varies from less than 10% [2] to 40% or more [36,90]. Bird species eaten are typically ground nesters, such as ring-necked pheasants (Phasianus colchicus), horned larks (Eremophila alpestris) [121], western meadowlarks (Sturnella neglecta), and chestnut-collared longspurs (Calcarius ornatus) [116]. Carrion can also occur at high frequencies in swift fox diets. In southeastern Wyoming, antelope (Antilocapra americana) carrion occurred in 20% of swift fox scats during winter [81], and in Nebraska cattle remains occurred in an average of 38% of scats [36]. Several studies report livestock carrion in swift fox diets [31,36,101,116,121]. Other prey species potentially consumed as carrion include skunks, raccoons [101], and jackrabbits (Lepus sp.) [36]. Vegetation was frequently consumed in Nebraska [36] and in big sagebrush-shortgrass prairie transition habitat in Wyoming [81]. Plant species reported in the swift fox diet include pricklypear cactus (Opuntia spp.) and grasses (Poaceae) [90,101,116]. Reptiles are consumed infrequently [31,101,121]. A review [10] includes amphibians as swift fox prey items.

  • 2. Andersen, David E.; Laurion, Thomas. R.; Cary, John R.; Sikes, Robert S.; McLeod, Mary A.; Gese, Eric M. 2003. Aspects of swift fox ecology in southeastern Colorado. In: Sovada, Marsha A.; Carbyn, Ludwig, eds. The swift fox: Ecology and conservation of swift foxes in a changing world; 1998 February 18-19; Regina, SK. Canadian Plains Proceedings 0317-6401 34. Regina, SK: University of Regina, Canadian Plains Research Center: 139-147. [72741]
  • 10. Carbyn, Ludwig N. 1998. Update COSEWIC status report on the swift fox (Vulpes velox) in Canada. Report to the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada. Edmonton, AB: Canadian Wildlife Service, Western and Northern Region. 44 p. [70983]
  • 31. Harrison, Robert L. 2003. Swift fox demography, movements, denning, and diet in New Mexico. The Southwestern Naturalist. 48(2): 261-273. [71070]
  • 36. Hines, Terrence D.; Case, Ronald M. 1991. Diet, home range, movements, and activity periods of swift fox in Nebraska. The Prairie Naturalist. 23(3): 131-138. [70986]
  • 43. Kamler, Jan F.; Ballard, Warren B.; Wallace, Mark C.; Gilliland, Rick L.; Gipson, Philip S. 2007. Dietary overlap of swift foxes and coyotes in northwestern Texas. The American Midland Naturalist. 158: 139-146. [72416]
  • 49. Kitchen, Ann M.; Gese, Eric M.; Schauster, Edward R. 1999. Resource partitioning between coyotes and swift foxes: space, time, and diet. Canadian Journal of Zoology. 77: 1645-1656. [71981]
  • 81. Olson, Travis L. 2000. Population characteristics, habitat selection patterns, and diet of swift foxes in southeast Wyoming. Laramie, WY: University of Wyoming. 139 p. Thesis. [70997]
  • 90. Russell, Todd A. 2006. Habitat selection by swift foxes in Badlands National Park and the surrounding area in South Dakota. Brookings, SD: South Dakota State University. 104 p. Thesis. [72505]
  • 101. Sovada, Marsha A.; Roy, Christiane C.; Telesco, David J. 2001. Seasonal food habits of swift fox (Vulpes velox) in cropland and rangeland landscapes in western Kansas. The American Midland Naturalist. 145(1): 101-111. [72645]
  • 116. Uresk, Daniel W.; Sharps, Jon C. 1986. Denning habitat and diet of the swift fox in western South Dakota. Great Basin Naturalist. 46(2): 249-253. [72311]
  • 121. Zumbaugh, David M.; Choate, Jerry R.; Fox, Lloyd B. 1985. Winter food habits of the swift fox on the central High Plains. The Prairie Naturalist. 17(1): 41-47. [71011]

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Predators: Factors influencing predation rates

Factors influencing predation rates: Swift foxes are apparently at higher risk of predation in unfamiliar areas. In Colorado 100% [49] and in Wyoming 89% [83] of swift fox mortalities due to predation occurred on the periphery or outside of the swift fox's home range. In southern Alberta and Saskatchewan, and northern Montana half as many predation-caused deaths occurred in the core of a swift fox's home range (50% fixed kernal) as in less used portions of the home range [76]. In western Kansas half of predation-caused mortalities occurred outside the swift fox's home range [100].

Vegetation structure [81,112] (see Preferred Habitat) and den [2] and food availability may also influence exposure of swift foxes to predation.

  • 2. Andersen, David E.; Laurion, Thomas. R.; Cary, John R.; Sikes, Robert S.; McLeod, Mary A.; Gese, Eric M. 2003. Aspects of swift fox ecology in southeastern Colorado. In: Sovada, Marsha A.; Carbyn, Ludwig, eds. The swift fox: Ecology and conservation of swift foxes in a changing world; 1998 February 18-19; Regina, SK. Canadian Plains Proceedings 0317-6401 34. Regina, SK: University of Regina, Canadian Plains Research Center: 139-147. [72741]
  • 49. Kitchen, Ann M.; Gese, Eric M.; Schauster, Edward R. 1999. Resource partitioning between coyotes and swift foxes: space, time, and diet. Canadian Journal of Zoology. 77: 1645-1656. [71981]
  • 76. Moehrenschlager, Axel; List, Rurik; MacDonald, David W. 2007. Escaping intraguild predation: Mexican kit foxes survive while coyotes and golden eagles kill Canadian swift foxes. Journal of Mammalogy. 88(4): 1029-1039. [71983]
  • 81. Olson, Travis L. 2000. Population characteristics, habitat selection patterns, and diet of swift foxes in southeast Wyoming. Laramie, WY: University of Wyoming. 139 p. Thesis. [70997]
  • 112. Thompson, Craig M.; Gese, Eric M. 2007. Food webs and intraguild predation: community interactions of a native mesocarnivore. Ecology. 88(2): 334-346. [72021]
  • 83. Olson, Travis L.; Lindzey, Frederick G. 2002. Swift fox survival and production in southeastern Wyoming. The Journal of Wildlife Management. 83(1): 199-206. [71509]
  • 100. Sovada, Marsha A.; Roy, Christiane C.; Bright, J. B.; Gillis, James R. 1998. Causes and rates of mortality of swift foxes in western Kansas. The Journal of Wildlife Management. 62(4): 1300-1306. [72020]

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Predators: Parasites and disease

Parasites and disease: Swift foxes are susceptible to several parasites and diseases. The most common parasite in swift fox populations is fleas (Pulex spp.), with infestation rates of 95% to 100% reported in Texas [85], Nebraska [36], and Colorado [91]. Internal parasites of swift foxes include roundworms (Toxascaris spp., Toxocara spp.) [36,88] and hookworms (Ancylostoma spp.) [1,88]. Deaths due to canine distemper virus have been reported in Wyoming [83]. Although a review notes that swift foxes are likely resistant to plague [88], they could potentially play a small role in the transmission of plague between prairie dog colonies [68,88,91]. For a comprehensive review of swift fox parasites and diseases, see Pybus and Williams [88].
  • 1. Allardyce, David; Sovada, Marsha A. 2003. Review of the ecology, distribution, and status of swift foxes in the United States. In: Sovada, Marsha A.; Carbyn, Ludwig, eds. The swift fox: Ecology and conservation of swift foxes in a changing world; 1998 February 18-19; Regina, SK. Canadian Plains Proceedings 0317-6401 34. Regina, SK: University of Regina, Canadian Plains Research Center: 3-18. [72737]
  • 36. Hines, Terrence D.; Case, Ronald M. 1991. Diet, home range, movements, and activity periods of swift fox in Nebraska. The Prairie Naturalist. 23(3): 131-138. [70986]
  • 68. McGee, Brady K.; Butler, Matthew J.; Pence, Danny B.; Alexander, James L.; Nissen, Janet B.; Ballard, Warren B.; Nicholson, Kerry L. 2006. Possible vector dissemination by swift foxes following a plague epizootic in black-tailed prairie dogs in northwestern Texas. Journal of Wildlife Diseases. 42(2): 415-420. [72420]
  • 85. Pence, Danny B.; Kamler, Jan F.; Ballard, Warren B. 2004. Ectoparasites of the swift fox in northwestern Texas. Journal of Wildlife Diseases. 40(3): 543-547. [72418]
  • 88. Pybus, M. J.; Williams, E. S. 2003. A review of parasites and diseases of wild swift fox. In: Sovada, Marsha A.; Carbyn, Ludwig, eds. The swift fox: Ecology and conservation of swift foxes in a changing world; 1998 February 18-19; Regina, SK. Canadian Plains Proceedings 0317-6401 34. Regina, SK: University of Regina, Canadian Plains Research Center: 231-236. [72747]
  • 91. Salkeld, Daniel J.; Eisen, Rebecca J; Stapp, Paul; Wilder, Aryn P.; Lowell, Jennifer; Tripp, Daniel W.; Albertson, Doug; Antolin, Michael F. 2007. The potential role of swift foxes (Vulpes velox) and their fleas in plague outbreaks in prairie dogs. Journal of Wildlife Diseases. 43(3): 425-431. [71001]
  • 83. Olson, Travis L.; Lindzey, Frederick G. 2002. Swift fox survival and production in southeastern Wyoming. The Journal of Wildlife Management. 83(1): 199-206. [71509]

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Predators: Other predators

Other predators: Although coyotes are the most common predator of swift foxes, raptors, badgers, and bobcats also prey on swift foxes. Raptors were responsible for 27% of mortalities in north-central Montana [3], 6% of mortalities in a Wyoming study area [83] and 9% of predation-caused deaths in southeastern Colorado [95]. In southeastern Alberta, southwestern Saskatchewan, and northern Montana golden eagles (Aquila chrysaetos) caused 22%, 22% and 75% of mortalities in each year of a 3-year study [76]. Badger predation on swift fox is less common, accounting for 7% of mortalities in north-central Montana [3], 3% in Wyoming [83], and 2% in studies in Colorado, New Mexico, and Texas [39]. Bobcats (Lynx rufus) were considered predators of swift foxes in southeastern Colorado [95].
  • 3. Ausband, D. E.; Foresman, K. R. 2007. Dispersal, survival, and reproduction of wild-born, yearling swift foxes in a reintroduced population. Canadian Journal of Zoology. 85: 185-189. [71069]
  • 39. Kamler, Jan F.; Ballard, Warren B.; Gese, Eric M.; Harrison, Robert L.; Karki, Seija M. 2004. Dispersal characteristics of swift foxes. Canadian Journal of Zoology. 82: 1837-1842. [71979]
  • 76. Moehrenschlager, Axel; List, Rurik; MacDonald, David W. 2007. Escaping intraguild predation: Mexican kit foxes survive while coyotes and golden eagles kill Canadian swift foxes. Journal of Mammalogy. 88(4): 1029-1039. [71983]
  • 95. Schauster, Edward R.; Gese, Eric M.; Kitchen, Ann M. 2002. Population ecology of swift foxes (Vulpes velox) in southeastern Colorado. Canadian Journal of Zoology. 80(2): 307-319. [71000]
  • 83. Olson, Travis L.; Lindzey, Frederick G. 2002. Swift fox survival and production in southeastern Wyoming. The Journal of Wildlife Management. 83(1): 199-206. [71509]

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Predators

Coyotes are the major predator of swift foxes and can have large impacts on swift fox populations. Badgers and raptors are also responsible for some swift fox mortality. Exposure to predation is influenced by several factors, including familiarity with surroundings and vegetation structure.

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Food Habits: Overlap of coyote and swift fox diets

Overlap of coyote and swift fox diets: Swift foxes and coyotes had high dietary overlap in northwestern Texas [43] and southeastern Colorado [49], although some resource partitioning occurred. Prey items used by both coyotes and swift foxes include lagomorphs, rodents, grasshoppers, and birds [43,49]. In northwestern Texas, small rodents were the predominant prey items for both swift foxes and coyotes in most seasons. This dietary overlap was especially strong in winter [43]. However, smaller prey items were significantly (P<0.001) more abundant in swift fox diets than in coyote diets in both northwestern Texas [43] and southeastern Colorado [49]. Coyotes ate more large mammals and had more diverse diets than swift foxes in both study areas. Despite these differences, the similarities in diets suggest that swift foxes and coyotes may compete for food when prey is limited [43,49].
  • 43. Kamler, Jan F.; Ballard, Warren B.; Wallace, Mark C.; Gilliland, Rick L.; Gipson, Philip S. 2007. Dietary overlap of swift foxes and coyotes in northwestern Texas. The American Midland Naturalist. 158: 139-146. [72416]
  • 49. Kitchen, Ann M.; Gese, Eric M.; Schauster, Edward R. 1999. Resource partitioning between coyotes and swift foxes: space, time, and diet. Canadian Journal of Zoology. 77: 1645-1656. [71981]

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Known prey organisms

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Population Biology

Number of Occurrences

Note: For many non-migratory species, occurrences are roughly equivalent to populations.

Estimated Number of Occurrences: 21 - 80

Comments: This species is represented by a fairly large number of extant occurrences (subpopulations), but the precise number is unknown.

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Global Abundance

2500 - 1,000,000 individuals

Comments: Total adult population size is unknown but likely is at least several thousand. See Allen et al. (1995) for a good review of state by state status.

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Density

More info for the term: density

Density: Reported swift fox densities range from 0.179 to 1.1 fox/km². In southeastern Colorado, swift fox density ranged from 0.179 to 0.301 fox/km² across seasons and years [95]. According to a review, poor quality habitat typically supports swift fox densities of 0.2 to 0.4 fox/km², and densities were 0.8 to 1.1 fox/km² in high quality habitat in Colorado [21].

Swift fox density may be related to coyote abundance and prey densities. Swift fox density tended to be higher on sites with low coyote abundance in northwestern Texas [40] and in southeastern Colorado (P=0.006) [95]. In northwestern Texas swift fox density ranged from 0.24 to 0.31 fox/km² on a site with high coyote abundance and from 0.68 to 0.77 fox/km² on a site with low coyote abundance [40] (also see Predators). In southeastern Colorado, swift fox density was negatively associated (P≤0.017) with the coyote's predominant prey, lagomorphs [95,112], and positively associated (P=0.069) with their own primary prey, rodents [95].

  • 95. Schauster, Edward R.; Gese, Eric M.; Kitchen, Ann M. 2002. Population ecology of swift foxes (Vulpes velox) in southeastern Colorado. Canadian Journal of Zoology. 80(2): 307-319. [71000]
  • 112. Thompson, Craig M.; Gese, Eric M. 2007. Food webs and intraguild predation: community interactions of a native mesocarnivore. Ecology. 88(2): 334-346. [72021]
  • 40. Kamler, Jan F.; Ballard, Warren B.; Gilliland, Rickey L.; Lemons, Patrick R., II; Mote, Kevin. 2003. Impacts of coyotes on swift foxes in northwestern Texas. The Journal of Wildlife Management. 67(2): 317-323. [72000]
  • 21. FaunaWest Wildlife Consultants. 1991. An ecological and taxonomic review of the swift fox (Vulpes velox) with special reference to Montana. Boulder, CO: FaunaWest Wildlife Consultants. 49 p. [+ appendices]. Report prepared for Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks, Montana State University, Bozeman, MT. [70984]

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General Ecology

Mortality factors are poorly known. Coyotes, and formerly wolves, are suspected predators (Egoscue 1979).

Olson and Lindzey (2002) estimated annual survival rates of swift foxes (Vulpes velox) in a transition zone between shortgrass prairie and sagebrush steppe plant communities in southeastern Wyoming during 1996-2000. Annual adult survival ranged from 40% to 69%, with predation by coyotes (Canis latrans) the primary cause of deaths. Two foxes died of canine distemper virus. Adult survival was similar and litter size slightly larger than observed elsewhere in the species range, suggesting that viable swift fox populations can be supported by sagebrush steppe and shortgrass prairie transition habitat.

Density of a locally abundant population in Wyoming was reported as one pair per 5-8 sq km (Clark and Stromberg 1987).

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Fire Management Considerations

More info for the terms: cover, frequency, prescribed fire, severity, shrub

More research is needed on the effects of site and fire characteristics on swift fox response to fire. Despite the uncertainty, the neutral or positive swift fox responses to a prescribed fire in shrubsteppe of southeastern Colorado [111], the need for fire to maintain shortgrass prairies [34,63,73,107,122], and the potential for improved habitat quality through reduced shrub cover [9] and/or vegetation height [75] suggest that fire is likely useful for maintaining swift fox habitat [63] and populations [111]. Specific recommendations for prescribed fires, such as frequency, size, severity, and timing, based on swift fox response to fire are not available [122]. However, recommendations for maintaining shortgrass prairie include burning every 5 to 8 years [63] during the dormant season. The use of growing season burns may be limited, especially in dry conditions and on sites where fire has been excluded for prolonged periods [9,63]. Although swift foxes are likely to survive fire that occurs around their den sites (see Direct Effects), a review recommends excluding all activity within 660 feet (220 m) of dens during the kit-rearing period (15 February- 31 July) [10].

Optimal size of burns for managing swift foxes is unknown, but the more home ranges within the fire boundary the greater the potential impacts. Planning prescribed fires so that no more than 25% of prairie habitat is burned each year, and unburned areas are at least 0.5 miles (0.8 km) wide has been recommended for areas occupied by swift fox [63]. This would provide diverse conditions and large refuge areas. Development of guidelines for establishing historic patterns of vegetation composition and structure in northern National Grasslands included prescribed burning targets that ranged from 500 acres (202 ha) per decade on the Ft. Pierre National Grassland in South Dakota to 24,000 acres (9,700 ha) per decade on the Little Missouri National Grassland in North Dakota [92]. The average prescribed burning target of about 2,400 acres (970 ha) per year on the Little Missouri National Grassland is less than 0.2% of its total area and is similar to one relatively small swift fox home range. Detailed prescriptions for maintaining mixed-grass prairie largely dominated by western wheatgrass in the Badlands of South Dakota are provided by Dingman and Paintner [17].

For a summary of patch burning, which uses fire in combination with grazing to create a characteristic prairie mosaic, see Marks [63]. Conservative use of this Habitat management technique is recommended until more data on the effects of grazing and fire on swift foxes and their habitat are available.

  • 10. Carbyn, Ludwig N. 1998. Update COSEWIC status report on the swift fox (Vulpes velox) in Canada. Report to the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada. Edmonton, AB: Canadian Wildlife Service, Western and Northern Region. 44 p. [70983]
  • 34. Harrison, Robert L.; Whitaker-Hoagland, Julianne. 2003. Literature review of swift fox habitat and den-site selection. In: Sovada, Marsha A.; Carbyn, Ludwig, eds. The swift fox: Ecology and conservation of swift foxes in a changing world; 1998 February 18-19; Regina, SK. Canadian Plains Proceedings 0317-6401 34. Regina, SK: University of Regina, Canadian Plains Research Center: 79-89. [72740]
  • 9. Brockway, Dale G.; Gatewood, Richard G.; Paris, Randi B. 2002. Restoring fire as an ecological process in shortgrass prairie ecosystems: initial effects of prescribed burning during the dormant and growing season. Journal of Environmental Management. 65: 135-152. [43825]
  • 17. Dingman, Sandra; Paintner, Kara J. 2001. Defining landscape vision to monitor and manage prescribed fire at Badlands National Park, South Dakota. In: Bernstein, Neil P.; Ostrander, Laura J., eds. Seeds for the future; roots of the past: Proceedings of the 17th North American prairie conference; 2000 July 16-20; Mason City, IA. Mason City, IA: North Iowa Area Community College: 73-78. [46496]
  • 73. Merola-Zwartjes, Michele. 2004. Biodiversity, functional processes, and the ecological consequences of fragmentation in southwestern grasslands. In: Finch, Deborah M., ed. Assessment of grassland ecosystem conditions in the southwestern United States. Gen. Tech. Rep. RMRS-GTR-135-vol. 1. Fort Collins, CO: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station: 49-85. [52288]
  • 75. Milne-Laux, Sara; Sweitzer, Richard A. 2006. Experimentally induced colony expansion by black-tailed prairie dogs (Cynomys ludovicianus) and implications for conservation. Journal of Mammalogy. 87(2): 296-303. [66725]
  • 92. Samson, Fred B.; Knopf, Fritz L.; McCarthy, Clinton W.; Noon, Barry R.; Ostlie, Wayne R.; Rinehart, Susan M.; Larson, Scott; Plumb, Glenn E.; Schenbeck, Gregory L.; Svingen, Daniel N.; Byer, Timothy W. 2003. Planning for population viability on Northern Great Plains national grasslands. Wildlife Society Bulletin. 31(4): 986-999. [67356]
  • 107. Steuter, Allen A.; McPherson, Guy R. 1995. Fire as a physical stress. In: Bedunah, D. J.; Sosebee, R. R., eds. Wildland plants: physiological ecology and developmental morphology. Denver, CO: Society for Range Management: 550-579. [70316]
  • 111. Thompson, Craig M.; Augustine, David J.; Mayers, Darren M. 2008. Swift fox response to prescribed fire in shortgrass steppe. Western North American Naturalist. 68(2): 251-256. [72719]
  • 63. Marks, Raissa. 2005. Swift fox (Vulpes velox). Fish and Wildlife Habitat management Leaflet: Number 33. Washington, DC: Natural Resources Conservation Service; Silver Spring, MD: Wildlife Habitat Council. 8 p. [71301]
  • 122. Zwartjes, Patrick W.; Cartron, Jean-Luc E.; Stoleson, Pamela L. L.; Haussamen, Walter C.; Crane, Tiffany E. 2005. Assessment of native species and ungulate grazing in the Southwest: terrestrial wildlife. Gen. Tech. Rep. RMRS-GTR-142. Fort Collins, CO: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station. 74 p. [+ CD]. [60764]

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Indirect Effects of Fire

More info for the terms: association, cover, fire regime, fire severity, forb, litter, low-severity fire, mesic, natural, prescribed fire, severity, shrub, shrubs, stand-replacement fire, wildfire

Postfire response: In a southeastern Colorado shortgrass steppe site, the only swift foxes influenced by a 643 acre (260 ha), low-severity, spring burn were those whose home ranges overlapped the burned area. These individuals appeared to spend more time in the area of the burn foraging after the fire than before the fire. The percentage of radio-locations occurring within the burned area increased by an average of 14.5% following the fire. However, this result was not significant (P=0.1). The 2 individuals with core use areas that overlapped the burn increased their use of the burn area for denning. Before the prescribed fire these 2 individuals denned within the burn area 75% and 60% of the time. After the fire both denned exclusively within the burned area. Swift foxes with core use areas outside the burn area did not change use patterns in response to the prescribed fire. It is suggested that territoriality restricted response of swift foxes. Survival rates of swift foxes in the study decreased from 88% before the fire to 60% after the fire. The investigators describe the prefire survival rates as abnormally high and imply that the difference is related more to small sample sizes and annual variation than to the effects of the prescribed fire [111].

HABITAT RELATED FIRE EFFECTS: Habitat responses to fire such as reduced shrub cover and vegetation height suggest that burning improves swift fox habitat quality [63,111]. Both dormant and growing season burns reduced cover of shrubs in shortgrass prairie of northeastern New Mexico [9]. The average height of dominant species the 1st growing season after a wildfire in a shortgrass prairie in Kansas was less than the average height of unburned vegetation [55]. Several reviews note that burning prairies within the swift fox's range can prevent conversion to shrubland [34,63,73,107,122].

Thomson and others [111] suggest that fire severity and prefire habitat structure will influence the degree to which fire improves swift fox habitat. Low-severity fire could improve visibility and habitat quality in vegetation that is generally open, while in shrubby and/or dense vegetation severe fire would be most likely to increase swift fox habitat suitability.

Vegetation recovery in the semiarid grasslands occupied by swift foxes is typically slower than in more mesic prairies [63,117]. Recovery takes up to 3 years ([55,117], reviews by [25,63]). Following a March wildfire in central Kansas, herbaceous production in burned shortgrass prairie was significantly (P≤0.01) less than production in unburned prairie in the 1st and 2nd growing seasons following the fire. In the 3rd growing season after fire, herbaceous production was similar in burned and unburned prairie [55].

Average to above-average amounts of precipitation following a fire appear to facilitate recovery of short and mixed-grass prairies [25,117,120]. Following October prescribed burns in mixed-grass prairie of South Dakota, the amount of precipitation influenced whether the biomass of blue grama increased or decreased. Western wheatgrass production increased following October prescribed burns in years with average precipitation [117]. A review of studies that compared unburned and burned shortgrass vegetation following single fires noted an association between greater precipitation and shorter recovery times [25]. Several other reviews note the influence of postfire precipitation on the response of shortgrass prairie vegetation to fire [60,63,73,107].

Vegetation in shortgrass and mixed-grass prairies may take longer to recover following growing-season burns compared to dormant-season burns. Although both growing and dormant season burns in shortgrass prairie of New Mexico resulted in reduced production compared to unburned sites (1,800 kg/ha), production on sites burned in the growing season (600 kg/ha) was lower than production on sites burned in the dormant season (1,200 kg/ha). Increases in grass cover, forb cover, species richness, and foliar concentrations of key nutrients by the fall following the dormant-season burn also suggest that these burns have fewer negative impacts than growing season burns on shortgrass prairie vegetation, at least in the short term [9]. In a mixed-grass prairie in South Dakota, production of western wheatgrass recovered faster following dormant season burns than growing season burns [117]. Reviews also note the impact of fire timing on the postfire response of shortgrass prairies [25,63,107].

Associated species: The response of the swift fox to fire likely depends on the response of its prey and its primary predator, the coyote.

Prey species: Although prey response varies due to differences in species ecology and fire characteristics, several swift fox prey species are either not substantially impacted by fire or benefit from fire. Fire can result in increases in grasshopper and beetle populations [26]. Several swift fox mammal prey species either increase or remain stable after fire including deer mice (Peromyscus maniculatus) [25,61,70,104], eastern cottontail (Sylvilagus floridanus), and thirteen-lined ground squirrel (Spermophilus tridecemlineatus). Several of the birds that occur in swift fox diets can benefit from fire, including western meadowlarks and horned larks [7,8,25]. However, fire can negatively impact swift fox prey species; for instance fires occurring during the breeding season of ground-nesting birds or the nymph stage of grasshopper development can have substantial negative impacts [25]. For information on the impacts of fire on other swift fox prey, see the FEIS reviews on Ord's kangaroo rat (Dipodomys ordii) black-tailed prairie dog, and meadow vole (Microtus pennsylvanicus).

Coyote: Available information suggests that fire has little negative impact on coyotes and may improve the quality of their foraging habitat. Coyote pack and litter size were not significantly impacted by the percentage of territory burned in the 1988 Yellowstone fires [13], and coyote abundance indices did not differ in burned and unburned areas following a 586-acre (237 ha) severe wildfire in central Arizona [14]. Coyote use of a chaparral area following a fire [56], increased coyote abundance concurrent with increases in deer mice and Columbia ground squirrels following stand-replacement fire in red cedar-western hemlock forest [20], and improvements to foraging habitat (see FEIS coyote review) suggest that fire can benefit coyotes.

FIRE REGIME:
According to a review, fires occur less frequently in short and mixed-grass prairies than in tallgrass prairies [63]. Replacement fires are most common (see table below), and fires can occur in both growing and dormant seasons [9]. Merola-Zwartjes [74] reviews information on the FIRE REGIMES of southwestern grasslands. The number and size of fires in northern National Grasslands from 1978 to 1999 is provided by Samson and others [92].

The following table provides fire regime information that may be relevant to swift fox habitats.

Fire regime information on vegetation communities that may provide habitat for swift fox. For each community, fire regime characteristics are taken from the LANDFIRE Rapid Assessment Vegetation Models [54]. These vegetation models were developed by local experts using available literature, local data, and/or expert opinion as documented in the PDF file linked from the name of each Potential Natural Vegetation Group listed below. Cells are blank where information is not available in the Rapid Assessment Vegetation Model.
Southwest Northern and Central Rockies Northern Great Plains South-central US
Southwest
Vegetation Community (Potential Natural Vegetation Group) Fire severity* Fire regime characteristics
Percent of fires Mean interval
(years)
Minimum interval
(years)
Maximum interval
(years)
Southwest Grassland
Shortgrass prairie Replacement 87% 12 2 35
Mixed 13% 80
Shortgrass prairie with shrubs Replacement 80% 15 2 35
Mixed 20% 60
Shortgrass prairie with trees Replacement 80% 15 2 35
Mixed 20% 60
Northern and Central Rockies
Vegetation Community (Potential Natural Vegetation Group) Fire severity* Fire regime characteristics
Percent of fires Mean interval
(years)
Minimum interval
(years)
Maximum interval
(years)
Northern and Central Rockies Grassland
Northern prairie grassland Replacement 55% 22 2 40
Mixed 45% 27 10 50
Northern Great Plains
Vegetation Community (Potential Natural Vegetation Group) Fire severity* Fire regime characteristics
Percent of fires Mean interval
(years)
Minimum interval
(years)
Maximum interval
(years)
Northern Plains Grassland
Nebraska Sandhills prairie Replacement 58% 11 2 20
Mixed 32% 20
Surface or low 10% 67
Northern mixed-grass prairie Replacement 67% 15 8 25
Mixed 33% 30 15 35
Southern mixed-grass prairie Replacement 100% 9 1 10
South-central US
Vegetation Community (Potential Natural Vegetation Group) Fire severity* Fire regime characteristics
Percent of fires Mean interval
(years)
Minimum interval
(years)
Maximum interval
(years)
South-central US Grassland
Southern shortgrass or mixed-grass prairie Replacement 100% 8 1 10
South-central US Shrubland
Shinnery oak-mixed grass Replacement 96% 7
Mixed 4% 150
South-central US Woodland
Mesquite savanna Replacement 5% 100
Mixed 4% 150
Surface or low 91% 6
*Fire Severities
Replacement: Any fire that causes greater than 75% top removal of a vegetation-fuel type, resulting in general replacement of existing vegetation; may or may not cause a lethal effect on the plants.
Mixed: Any fire burning more than 5% of an area that does not qualify as a replacement, surface, or low-severity fire; includes mosaic and other fires that are intermediate in effects.
Surface or low: Any fire that causes less than 25% upper layer replacement and/or removal in a vegetation-fuel class but burns 5% or more of the area [30,53].
  • 34. Harrison, Robert L.; Whitaker-Hoagland, Julianne. 2003. Literature review of swift fox habitat and den-site selection. In: Sovada, Marsha A.; Carbyn, Ludwig, eds. The swift fox: Ecology and conservation of swift foxes in a changing world; 1998 February 18-19; Regina, SK. Canadian Plains Proceedings 0317-6401 34. Regina, SK: University of Regina, Canadian Plains Research Center: 79-89. [72740]
  • 60. Lyon, L. Jack; Hooper, Robert G.; Telfer, Edmund S.; Schreiner, David Scott. 2000. Fire effects on wildlife foods. In: Smith, Jane Kapler, ed. Wildland fire in ecosystems: Effects of fire on fauna. Gen. Tech. Rep. RMRS-GTR-42-vol. 1. Ogden, UT: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station: 51-58. [44448]
  • 61. Lyon, L. Jack; Huff, Mark H.; Telfer, Edmund S.; Schreiner, David Scott; Smith, Jane Kapler. 2000. Fire effects on animal populations. In: Smith, Jane Kapler, ed. Wildland fire in ecosystems: Effects of fire on fauna. Gen. Tech. Rep. RMRS-GTR-42-vol. 1. Ogden, UT: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station: 25-34. [44436]
  • 9. Brockway, Dale G.; Gatewood, Richard G.; Paris, Randi B. 2002. Restoring fire as an ecological process in shortgrass prairie ecosystems: initial effects of prescribed burning during the dormant and growing season. Journal of Environmental Management. 65: 135-152. [43825]
  • 56. Lawrence, George E. 1966. Ecology of vertebrate animals in relation to chaparral fire in the Sierra Nevada foothills. Ecology. 47(2): 278-291. [147]
  • 73. Merola-Zwartjes, Michele. 2004. Biodiversity, functional processes, and the ecological consequences of fragmentation in southwestern grasslands. In: Finch, Deborah M., ed. Assessment of grassland ecosystem conditions in the southwestern United States. Gen. Tech. Rep. RMRS-GTR-135-vol. 1. Fort Collins, CO: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station: 49-85. [52288]
  • 92. Samson, Fred B.; Knopf, Fritz L.; McCarthy, Clinton W.; Noon, Barry R.; Ostlie, Wayne R.; Rinehart, Susan M.; Larson, Scott; Plumb, Glenn E.; Schenbeck, Gregory L.; Svingen, Daniel N.; Byer, Timothy W. 2003. Planning for population viability on Northern Great Plains national grasslands. Wildlife Society Bulletin. 31(4): 986-999. [67356]
  • 107. Steuter, Allen A.; McPherson, Guy R. 1995. Fire as a physical stress. In: Bedunah, D. J.; Sosebee, R. R., eds. Wildland plants: physiological ecology and developmental morphology. Denver, CO: Society for Range Management: 550-579. [70316]
  • 111. Thompson, Craig M.; Augustine, David J.; Mayers, Darren M. 2008. Swift fox response to prescribed fire in shortgrass steppe. Western North American Naturalist. 68(2): 251-256. [72719]
  • 7. Bock, Carl E.; Bock, Jane H. 1992. Response of birds to wildfire in native versus exotic Arizona grassland. The Southwestern Naturalist. 37(1): 73-81. [18594]
  • 8. Bock, Jane H.; Bock, Carl E.; McKnight, J. Robert. 1976. A study of the effects of grassland fires at The Research Ranch in southeastern Arizona. Arizona Academy of Science. 11(3): 49-57. [4537]
  • 13. Crabtree, Robert L.; Sheldon, Jennifer W. 1999. The ecological role of coyotes on Yellowstone's northern range. Yellowstone Science. 7(2): 15-23. [35969]
  • 14. Cunningham, Stan C.; Kirkendall, LariBeth; Ballard, Warren. 2006. Gray fox and coyote abundance and diet responses after a wildfire in central Arizona. Western North American Naturalist. 66(2): 169-180. [64517]
  • 20. Edwards, R. Y. 1954. Fire and the decline of a mountain caribou herd. The Journal of Wildlife Management. 18(4): 521-526. [8394]
  • 25. Ford, Paulette L.; McPherson, Guy R. 1996. Ecology of fire in shortgrass prairie of the southern Great Plains. In: Finch, Deborah M., ed. Ecosystem disturbance and wildlife conservation in western grasslands: A symposium proceedings; 1994 September 22-26; Albuquerque, NM. Gen. Tech. Rep. RM-GTR-285. Fort Collins, CO: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Forest and Range Experiment Station: 20-39. [27342]
  • 26. Ford, Paulette Louise. 2000. Scale ecosystem resilience and fire in shortgrass prairie. Tucson, AZ: The University of Arizona. 169 p. Dissertation. [41943]
  • 55. Launchbaugh, J. L. 1964. Effects of early spring burning on yields of native vegetation. Journal of Range Management. 17: 5-6. [1418]
  • 63. Marks, Raissa. 2005. Swift fox (Vulpes velox). Fish and Wildlife Habitat management Leaflet: Number 33. Washington, DC: Natural Resources Conservation Service; Silver Spring, MD: Wildlife Habitat Council. 8 p. [71301]
  • 70. McGee, John M. 1976. The immediate effects of prescribed burning on the vertebrate fauna in a sagebrush-grassland ecosystem on Burro Hill, Teton National Forest, Wyoming. Final report: Cooperative Agreement No. 16-376-CA. Laramie, WY: University of Wyoming. 69 p. [49258]
  • 74. Merola-Zwartjes, Michele. 2005. Birds of southwestern grasslands: status, conservation, and management. In: Finch, Deborah M., ed. Assessment of grassland ecosystem conditions in the southwestern United States: wildlife and fish--Volume 2. Gen. Tech. Rep. RMRS-GTR-135-vol. 2. Fort Collins, CO: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station: 71-139. [60923]
  • 104. Springer, Joseph Tucker. 1988. Immediate effects of a spring fire on small mammal populations in a Nebraska mixed-grass prairie. In: David, Arnold; Stanford, Geoffrey, eds. The prairie: roots of culture; foundation of our economy: Proceedings, 10th North American prairie conference; 1986 June 22-26; Denton, TX. Dallas, TX: Native Prairie Association of Texas: 20.02: 1-5. [25572]
  • 117. Whisenant, Steven G.; Uresk, Daniel W. 1989. Burning upland, mixed prairie in Badlands National Park. Prairie Naturalist. 21(4): 221-227. [11151]
  • 120. Wright, Henry A. 1974. Effect of fire on southern mixed prairie grasses. Journal of Range Management. 27(6): 417-419. [2614]
  • 30. Hann, Wendel; Havlina, Doug; Shlisky, Ayn; [and others]. 2008. Interagency fire regime condition class guidebook. Version 1.3, [Online]. In: Interagency fire regime condition class website. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service; U.S. Department of the Interior; The Nature Conservancy; Systems for Environmental Management (Producer). 119 p. Available: http://frames.nbii.gov/frcc/documents/FRCC_Guidebook_2008.07.10.pdf [2010, May 3]. [70966]
  • 53. LANDFIRE Rapid Assessment. 2005. Reference condition modeling manual (Version 2.1), [Online]. In: LANDFIRE. Cooperative Agreement 04-CA-11132543-189. Boulder, CO: The Nature Conservancy; U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service; U.S. Department of the Interior (Producers). 72 p. Available: http://www.landfire.gov/downloadfile.php?file=RA_Modeling_Manual_v2_1.pdf [2007, May 24]. [66741]
  • 54. LANDFIRE Rapid Assessment. 2007. Rapid assessment reference condition models, [Online]. In: LANDFIRE. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station, Fire Sciences Lab; U.S. Geological Survey; The Nature Conservancy (Producers). Available: http://www.landfire.gov/models_EW.php [2008, April 18] [66533]
  • 122. Zwartjes, Patrick W.; Cartron, Jean-Luc E.; Stoleson, Pamela L. L.; Haussamen, Walter C.; Crane, Tiffany E. 2005. Assessment of native species and ungulate grazing in the Southwest: terrestrial wildlife. Gen. Tech. Rep. RMRS-GTR-142. Fort Collins, CO: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station. 74 p. [+ CD]. [60764]

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Direct Effects of Fire

More info for the terms: backfire, direct effects of fire, fuel

Despite a lack of data on the direct effects of fire on the swift fox, their mobility (see Activity Patterns, Dispersal, and/or Home Range) and use of dens suggests that mortality from fire is rare. According to reviews, medium to large mammals typically have the mobility to avoid fire, although large, fast-moving fires can result in mortality [27,62,71,86].

Swift fox dens likely provide adequate protection from the heat from fire. Burrow depths of a few inches often provide adequate insulation from the heat of fire ([80,110], reviews by [6,15]). Temperatures reached in an experimental burrow during a chaparral fire in the Sierra Nevada foothills suggest that burrows at depths of 12 inches (30 cm) remain well below lethal temperatures [56]. Below about 2 inches soil temperatures rarely increase substantially during fires on sites with dry soils and without heavy fuel loads [15]. Therefore, temperatures in swift fox dens, typically about 3 feet deep (review by [21]), are unlikely to change during fire on semiarid shortgrass prairie sites.

Swift foxes in dens with more than one opening likely have less risk of asphyxiation [56,110]. Information on asphyxiation of burrow-dwelling mammals focuses on rodents. For instance, voles (Microtus spp.) in experimental burrows with 2 openings survived fire in a chaparral community in the Sierra Nevada foothills while Piñon mice (Peromyscus truei) in experimental burrows with 1 opening did not [56]. In a backfire in tallgrass prairie of Nebraska with surface temperatures ranging from 530 to 1,044 ºF (276-562 ºC), 3 meadow voles (Microtus pennsylvanicus) survived in burrows 2 to 4.7 inches (5-12 cm) deep. The deepest of these burrows only had 1 opening, while the others had 3 or more openings [28]. Young swift foxes are likely well protected in natal dens, given their depth and tendency to have more than 1 opening.

  • 62. Lyon, L. Jack; Telfer, Edmund S.; Schreiner, David Scott. 2000. Direct effects of fire and animal responses. In: Smith, Jane Kapler, ed. Wildland fire in ecosystems: Effects of fire on fauna. Gen. Tech. Rep. RMRS-GTR-42-vol. 1. Ogden, UT: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station: 17-23. [44435]
  • 6. Bendell, J. F. 1974. Effects of fire on birds and mammals. In: Kozlowski, T. T.; Ahlgren, C. E., eds. Fire and ecosystems. New York: Academic Press: 73-138. [16447]
  • 27. French, Marilynn Gibbs; French, Steven P. 1996. Large mammal mortality in the 1988 Yellowstone fires. In: Greenlee, Jason, ed. The ecological implications of fire in Greater Yellowstone: Proceedings, 2nd biennial conference on the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem; 1993 September 19-21; Yellowstone National Park, WY. Fairfield, WA: International Association of Wildland Fire: 113-115. [27835]
  • 28. Geluso, Kenneth N. 1986. Fire-avoidance behavior of meadow voles (Microtus pennsylvanicus). The American Midland Naturalist. 116(1): 202-205. [27644]
  • 56. Lawrence, George E. 1966. Ecology of vertebrate animals in relation to chaparral fire in the Sierra Nevada foothills. Ecology. 47(2): 278-291. [147]
  • 71. McMahon, Thomas E.; deCalesta, David S. 1990. Effects of fire on fish and wildlife. In: Walstad, John D.; Radosevich, Steven R.; Sandberg, David V., eds. Natural and prescribed fire in Pacific Northwest forests. Corvallis, OR: Oregon State University Press: 233-250. [47606]
  • 80. Odion, Dennis C.; Davis, Frank W. 2000. Fire, soil heating, and formation of vegetation patterns in chaparral. Ecological Monographs. 70(1): 149-169. [35515]
  • 86. Pilliod, David S.; Bull, Evelyn L.; Hayes, Jane L.; Wales, Barbara C. 2006. Wildlife and invertebrate response to fuel reduction treatments in dry coniferous forests of the western United States: a synthesis. Gen. Tech. Rep. RMRS-GTR-173. Fort Collins, CO: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station. 34 p. [65071]
  • 110. Tester, John R. 1965. Effects of a controlled burn on small mammals in a Minnesota oak-savanna. The American Midland Naturalist. 74(1): 240-244. [279]
  • 15. DeBano, Leonard F.; Neary, Daniel G.; Ffolliott, Peter F. 2005. [revised 2008]. Soil physical properties. In: Neary, Daniel G.; Ryan, Kevin C.; DeBano, Leonard F., eds. Wildland fire in ecosystems: effects of fire on soil and water. Gen. Tech. Rep. RMRS-GTR-42-vol. 4. Ogden, UT: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station: 29-52. [55886]
  • 21. FaunaWest Wildlife Consultants. 1991. An ecological and taxonomic review of the swift fox (Vulpes velox) with special reference to Montana. Boulder, CO: FaunaWest Wildlife Consultants. 49 p. [+ appendices]. Report prepared for Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks, Montana State University, Bozeman, MT. [70984]

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Cover Requirements: Associated species

More info for the terms: density, selection

Associated species: Swift foxes may den outside of coyote core use areas. In an area of high coyote density of northwestern Texas, only 3 of 36 dens were located within coyote core use areas. The swift foxes occupying those 3 dens were killed by coyotes from 4 to 9 weeks after establishing the den [41]. However, in study areas in southeastern Colorado [49] and southern Alberta and Saskatchewan, and northern Montana [76] it was common for coyote home ranges to entirely overlap swift fox home ranges. For more information on the impacts of coyotes, see Predators.

There is uncertainty regarding the importance of prairie dog towns in den site selection. In a second-growth prairie in New Mexico, den sites were significantly (P<0.01) closer to prairie dog towns than random sites [46]. In contrast, swift fox dens in northwestern Texas were located in prairie dog towns as expected based on availability [78]. For information on swift fox use of prairie dog towns, see Preferred Habitat.

  • 41. Kamler, Jan F.; Ballard, Warren B.; Gilliland, Rickey L.; Mote, Kevin. 2003. Spatial relationships between swift foxes and coyotes in northwestern Texas. Canadian Journal of Zoology. 81: 168-172. [72001]
  • 46. Kintigh, Keith M.; Andersen, Mark C. 2005. A den-centered analysis of swift fox (Vulpes velox) habitat characteristics in northeastern New Mexico. The American Midland Naturalist. 154: 229-239. [72310]
  • 49. Kitchen, Ann M.; Gese, Eric M.; Schauster, Edward R. 1999. Resource partitioning between coyotes and swift foxes: space, time, and diet. Canadian Journal of Zoology. 77: 1645-1656. [71981]
  • 76. Moehrenschlager, Axel; List, Rurik; MacDonald, David W. 2007. Escaping intraguild predation: Mexican kit foxes survive while coyotes and golden eagles kill Canadian swift foxes. Journal of Mammalogy. 88(4): 1029-1039. [71983]
  • 78. Nicholson, Kerry L.; Ballard, Warren B.; McGee, Brady K.; Surles, James; Kamler, Jan F.; Lemons, Patrick R. 2006. Swift fox use of black-tailed prairie dog towns in northwest Texas. The Journal of Wildlife Management. 70(6): 1659-1666. [72113]

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Cover Requirements: Roads

More info for the terms: association, avoidance, cover, density, selection

Roads: Swift foxes often den near roads. Swift fox dens in New Mexico occurred significantly (P=0.005) closer to roads and in areas with significantly (P<0.001) greater road density than random sites [31]. In a second-growth prairie in New Mexico, road densities within 0.6 (1 km) and 1.2 miles (2 km) of den sites were significantly (P<0.001) greater than random sites [46]. In Nebraska, 68% of swift fox dens were located within 755 feet (230 m) of a road. Sixty-six percent of swift fox radio locations were within 0.6 mile (1 km) of a road at this site [36], and radio locations of swift foxes in South Dakota were closer to roads than expected at random [90]. In the transition between shortgrass prairie and big sagebrush steppe cover types in Wyoming, the distance from dens to roads or fences was significantly (P<0.001) shorter than from random points to roads or fences [81]. In southern Alberta and Saskatchewan, both analyses found that occupied natal dens occurred closer to roads than unoccupied dens [87].

Possible explanations for the association with roads include avoidance of coyotes, food availability, and use as travel corridors. Swift fox use of areas near roads in South Dakota [90] and southern Alberta and Saskatchewan [87] was potentially due to avoidance of these areas by coyotes. The availability of carrion along roads may also explain swift fox selection of areas near roads [34,36,87]. Reviews suggest that areas near roads generally have higher vegetation cover than neighboring grazed fields and therefore may have greater abundance of small mammals [10], as was the case in a southern Canada study area in late winter (Klausz 1997, cited in [34]). Swift foxes may also use roads as travel corridors [34,87]. A synthesis of swift fox den selection notes that the influence of topography and soil on road placement may confound the relationship between swift fox dens and roads [34]. Although roads do provide advantages, substantial vehicle-caused mortality ([38,100], see survivorship) and fragmentation of habitat [10] suggest that overall impact on swift fox populations could be detrimental in at least some areas.

Although swift foxes tend to use roaded areas more than expected, limited evidence suggests they do not show a similar preference for human residences. Density of residential property within 0.6 (1 km) and 1.2 miles (2 km) of dens was significantly (P<0.05) lower than density of residential property near random sites in a second-growth prairie in New Mexico [46].

  • 10. Carbyn, Ludwig N. 1998. Update COSEWIC status report on the swift fox (Vulpes velox) in Canada. Report to the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada. Edmonton, AB: Canadian Wildlife Service, Western and Northern Region. 44 p. [70983]
  • 31. Harrison, Robert L. 2003. Swift fox demography, movements, denning, and diet in New Mexico. The Southwestern Naturalist. 48(2): 261-273. [71070]
  • 34. Harrison, Robert L.; Whitaker-Hoagland, Julianne. 2003. Literature review of swift fox habitat and den-site selection. In: Sovada, Marsha A.; Carbyn, Ludwig, eds. The swift fox: Ecology and conservation of swift foxes in a changing world; 1998 February 18-19; Regina, SK. Canadian Plains Proceedings 0317-6401 34. Regina, SK: University of Regina, Canadian Plains Research Center: 79-89. [72740]
  • 36. Hines, Terrence D.; Case, Ronald M. 1991. Diet, home range, movements, and activity periods of swift fox in Nebraska. The Prairie Naturalist. 23(3): 131-138. [70986]
  • 38. Kamler, Jan F.; Ballard, Warren B.; Fish, Ernest B.; Lemons, Patrick R.; Mote, Kevin; Perchellet, Celine C. 2003. Habitat use, home ranges, and survival of swift foxes in a fragmented landscape: conservation implications. Journal of Mammalogy. 84(3): 989-995. [71999]
  • 46. Kintigh, Keith M.; Andersen, Mark C. 2005. A den-centered analysis of swift fox (Vulpes velox) habitat characteristics in northeastern New Mexico. The American Midland Naturalist. 154: 229-239. [72310]
  • 81. Olson, Travis L. 2000. Population characteristics, habitat selection patterns, and diet of swift foxes in southeast Wyoming. Laramie, WY: University of Wyoming. 139 p. Thesis. [70997]
  • 87. Pruss, Shelley D. 1999. Selection of natal dens by the swift fox (Vulpes velox) on the Canadian prairies. Canadian Journal of Zoology. 77: 646-652. [72312]
  • 90. Russell, Todd A. 2006. Habitat selection by swift foxes in Badlands National Park and the surrounding area in South Dakota. Brookings, SD: South Dakota State University. 104 p. Thesis. [72505]
  • 100. Sovada, Marsha A.; Roy, Christiane C.; Bright, J. B.; Gillis, James R. 1998. Causes and rates of mortality of swift foxes in western Kansas. The Journal of Wildlife Management. 62(4): 1300-1306. [72020]

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Cover Requirements: Soil

More info for the term: cover

Soil: Although swift fox dens occur in a variety of soil textures, they are often found in loams. Dens in loam [31,37,81,116], sandy loam [31,36,46], and clay loam [46,116] are commonly reported. In the transition between shortgrass prairie and big sagebrush steppe in Wyoming, loamy soil was used significantly (P<0.001) more than expected for denning [81]. In Nebraska 79% of den sites occurred in sandy loam soil [36]. In second-growth prairie in New Mexico, most swift fox dens occurred in clay loam, fine sandy loam, and silty clay loam [46]. In rangelands and cropland of Kansas, soils at all dens were either loam or silt loam [37]. In grazed shortgrass and midgrass prairie in South Dakota, soil texture at den sites were loam, clay loam, and sandy clay loam [116]. In Wyoming impervious clay, sandy soils, and saline loamy soils were used for denning significantly (P≤0.003) less than expected based on availability [81]. Despite the trend of swift fox dens in loams, swift fox dens in northeastern New Mexico occurred in clay soil significantly (P<0.05) more than expected based on availability [46]. Dens in clay also occurred in South Dakota [116], and 21% of dens on a Nebraska site occurred in loamy sand [36].

In southeastern Colorado, swift foxes selected (P=0.03) areas with moderate amounts of rock cover (5-20%) more than expected based on availability, possibly due to increased structural stability of dens [48].

  • 31. Harrison, Robert L. 2003. Swift fox demography, movements, denning, and diet in New Mexico. The Southwestern Naturalist. 48(2): 261-273. [71070]
  • 36. Hines, Terrence D.; Case, Ronald M. 1991. Diet, home range, movements, and activity periods of swift fox in Nebraska. The Prairie Naturalist. 23(3): 131-138. [70986]
  • 37. Jackson, Victoria L.; Choate, Jerry R. 2000. Dens and den sites of the swift fox, Vulpes velox. The Southwestern Naturalist. 45(2): 212-220. [71513]
  • 46. Kintigh, Keith M.; Andersen, Mark C. 2005. A den-centered analysis of swift fox (Vulpes velox) habitat characteristics in northeastern New Mexico. The American Midland Naturalist. 154: 229-239. [72310]
  • 48. Kitchen, Ann M.; Gese, Eric M.; Lupis, Sarah G. 2006. Multiple scale den site selection by swift foxes, Vulpes velox, in southeastern Colorado. Canadian Field-Naturalist. 120(1): 31-38. [70989]
  • 81. Olson, Travis L. 2000. Population characteristics, habitat selection patterns, and diet of swift foxes in southeast Wyoming. Laramie, WY: University of Wyoming. 139 p. Thesis. [70997]
  • 116. Uresk, Daniel W.; Sharps, Jon C. 1986. Denning habitat and diet of the swift fox in western South Dakota. Great Basin Naturalist. 46(2): 249-253. [72311]

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Cover Requirements: Vegetation composition and height

More info for the terms: association, cover, forbs, litter

Vegetation composition and height: Dens often occur in short- and mixed-grass prairies. Dominant plant species at den sites in 2 study areas in South Dakota included buffalograss, needleleaf sedge (Carex duriuscula), blue grama, and western wheatgrass. One of these sites had a substantial component of needle-and-thread, while forbs such as curlycup gumweed (Grindelia squarrosa) and Virginia pepperweed (Lepidium virginicum) occurred frequently at den sites in the other study area [116]. On denning sites in Nebraska live vegetation had an average coverage of 17%. Average coverage of live vegetation was 41% blue grama, 29% needle-and-thread, 22% sedges, and 8% other plants. Bare soil and litter had average cover of 14% and 69%, respectively [36]. Denning and foraging sites in South Dakota were dominated by western wheatgrass, blue grama, and buffalograss, with coverage of these species ranging from 15.2% to 38.8%. Composition at denning and foraging sites differed significantly (P=0.055), with den sites having less western wheatgrass [115].

Although vegetation in areas occupied by swift foxes is generally short [31,49,64,81,90,112] (see Preferred Habitat), there is limited evidence suggesting that vegetation at den sites may be taller than generally available vegetation. In South Dakota, the average height of dense vegetation that provided complete cover (100% visual obstruction) at den sites was 4.6 inches (11.7 cm). This was significantly taller (P=0.08, α = 0.1) than the 3.8 inch (9.6 cm) average height of dense vegetation on random sites [115]. Grass from the previous growing season was significantly (P<0.05) taller on den sites than unoccupied, predominantly badger-constructed dens in southern Alberta and Saskatchewan. The association of swift foxes with taller grass may be due to greater abundance of insect prey [87]. In southeastern Colorado habitat characteristics at den sites did not differ from available habitat within home ranges, possibly due to the homogeneity of the study area [48]. A review notes that differences in vegetation height at den and random locations are likely small and the biological impact of these differences is uncertain [34].

  • 31. Harrison, Robert L. 2003. Swift fox demography, movements, denning, and diet in New Mexico. The Southwestern Naturalist. 48(2): 261-273. [71070]
  • 34. Harrison, Robert L.; Whitaker-Hoagland, Julianne. 2003. Literature review of swift fox habitat and den-site selection. In: Sovada, Marsha A.; Carbyn, Ludwig, eds. The swift fox: Ecology and conservation of swift foxes in a changing world; 1998 February 18-19; Regina, SK. Canadian Plains Proceedings 0317-6401 34. Regina, SK: University of Regina, Canadian Plains Research Center: 79-89. [72740]
  • 36. Hines, Terrence D.; Case, Ronald M. 1991. Diet, home range, movements, and activity periods of swift fox in Nebraska. The Prairie Naturalist. 23(3): 131-138. [70986]
  • 48. Kitchen, Ann M.; Gese, Eric M.; Lupis, Sarah G. 2006. Multiple scale den site selection by swift foxes, Vulpes velox, in southeastern Colorado. Canadian Field-Naturalist. 120(1): 31-38. [70989]
  • 49. Kitchen, Ann M.; Gese, Eric M.; Schauster, Edward R. 1999. Resource partitioning between coyotes and swift foxes: space, time, and diet. Canadian Journal of Zoology. 77: 1645-1656. [71981]
  • 64. Martin, Daniel J.; White, Gary C.; Pusateri, Frances M. 2007. Occupancy rates by swift foxes (Vulpes velox) in eastern Colorado. The Southwestern Naturalist. 52(4): 541-551. [70993]
  • 81. Olson, Travis L. 2000. Population characteristics, habitat selection patterns, and diet of swift foxes in southeast Wyoming. Laramie, WY: University of Wyoming. 139 p. Thesis. [70997]
  • 87. Pruss, Shelley D. 1999. Selection of natal dens by the swift fox (Vulpes velox) on the Canadian prairies. Canadian Journal of Zoology. 77: 646-652. [72312]
  • 90. Russell, Todd A. 2006. Habitat selection by swift foxes in Badlands National Park and the surrounding area in South Dakota. Brookings, SD: South Dakota State University. 104 p. Thesis. [72505]
  • 112. Thompson, Craig M.; Gese, Eric M. 2007. Food webs and intraguild predation: community interactions of a native mesocarnivore. Ecology. 88(2): 334-346. [72021]
  • 115. Uresk, Daniel W.; Severson, Kieth, E.; Javersak, Jody. 2003. Vegetative characteristics of swift fox denning and foraging sites in southwestern South Dakota. Research Paper RMRS-RP-38. Fort Collins, CO: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station. 4 p. [72313]
  • 116. Uresk, Daniel W.; Sharps, Jon C. 1986. Denning habitat and diet of the swift fox in western South Dakota. Great Basin Naturalist. 46(2): 249-253. [72311]

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Cover Requirements: Den use

More info for the term: association

Den use: Swift foxes use multiple dens and use the same dens multiple times throughout the year [1,10,21,66]. In northwestern Texas swift foxes used an average of 7.5 dens annually, and dens were reused an average of 3 times during a minimum of 8 months [66]. Pups emerge from the natal den in May or June and subsequently use nearby temporary dens [63]. In northwestern Texas swift fox dens were 7,600 feet (2,317 m) apart, on average [66].

Although dens are used for shelter and to raise young [10], dens appear especially important for escaping predators [1,49,67]. In southeastern Colorado, the average distance from locations where swift foxes were killed by coyotes to the nearest den was 0.8 mile (1.34 km). This was significantly (P<0.005) further than the 0.2 mile (0.32 km) average distance of swift fox locations to their current den [49]. In western Kansas, all predation-caused mortalities occurred over 0.6 mile (1 km) from the nearest den site [100]. According to a review, den availability may influence predation rates and consequentially impact population trends [1]. Lower exposure to predators due to greater den and food availability was suggested as an explanation for lower predation rates in a kit fox population in northwestern Chihuahua, Mexico than a swift fox population in southern Alberta and Saskatchewan and northern Montana [76]. Increased swift fox survival, abundance, and distribution following installation of artificial dens imply that den availability can have impacts on swift fox population trends. However, lack of effects on recruitment and home range size suggests that more research is necessary to determine the long-term benefits of artificial dens (see Population management) [67]. A review suggests that more research is needed on the impacts of predation pressure, food availability (see Food Habits), and den quality on den use [109].

Dens are typically shared by closely related individuals [66,95]. Dens in northwestern Texas were shared only with mates [66]. In shortgrass prairie of southeastern Colorado, den sharing occurred only within family groups [95]. Data from the same site over a longer time demonstrated occasional den sharing by neighboring swift foxes. However, the positive association between home range overlap and relatedness implies that swift foxes on adjacent territories that shared dens may be related [50].

  • 1. Allardyce, David; Sovada, Marsha A. 2003. Review of the ecology, distribution, and status of swift foxes in the United States. In: Sovada, Marsha A.; Carbyn, Ludwig, eds. The swift fox: Ecology and conservation of swift foxes in a changing world; 1998 February 18-19; Regina, SK. Canadian Plains Proceedings 0317-6401 34. Regina, SK: University of Regina, Canadian Plains Research Center: 3-18. [72737]
  • 10. Carbyn, Ludwig N. 1998. Update COSEWIC status report on the swift fox (Vulpes velox) in Canada. Report to the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada. Edmonton, AB: Canadian Wildlife Service, Western and Northern Region. 44 p. [70983]
  • 49. Kitchen, Ann M.; Gese, Eric M.; Schauster, Edward R. 1999. Resource partitioning between coyotes and swift foxes: space, time, and diet. Canadian Journal of Zoology. 77: 1645-1656. [71981]
  • 50. Kitchen, Ann M.; Gese, Eric M.; Waits, Lisette P.; Karki, Seija M.; Schauster, Edward R. 2005. Genetic and spatial structure within a swift fox population. Journal of Animal Ecology. 74: 1173-1181. [72009]
  • 66. McGee, Brady K.; Ballard, Warren B.; Nicholson, Kerry L. 2008. Swift fox, Vulpes velox, den use patterns in northwestern Texas. The Canadian Field Naturalist. 121(1): 71-75. [70994]
  • 67. McGee, Brady K.; Ballard, Warren B.; Nicholson, Kerry L.; Cypher, Brian L.; Lemons, Patrick R., II; Kamler, Jan F. 2006. Effects of artificial escape dens on swift fox populations in northwest Texas. Wildlife Society Bulletin. 34(3): 821-827. [72306]
  • 76. Moehrenschlager, Axel; List, Rurik; MacDonald, David W. 2007. Escaping intraguild predation: Mexican kit foxes survive while coyotes and golden eagles kill Canadian swift foxes. Journal of Mammalogy. 88(4): 1029-1039. [71983]
  • 95. Schauster, Edward R.; Gese, Eric M.; Kitchen, Ann M. 2002. Population ecology of swift foxes (Vulpes velox) in southeastern Colorado. Canadian Journal of Zoology. 80(2): 307-319. [71000]
  • 109. Tannerfeldt, Magnus; Moehrenschlager, Axel; Angerbjorn, Anders. 2003. Den ecology of swift, kit, and arctic foxes: a review. In: Sovada, Marsha A.; Carbyn, Ludwig, eds. The swift fox: Ecology and conservation of swift foxes in a changing world; 1998 February 18-19; Regina, SK. Canadian Plains Proceedings 0317-6401 34. Regina, SK: University of Regina, Canadian Plains Research Center: 167-181. [72743]
  • 100. Sovada, Marsha A.; Roy, Christiane C.; Bright, J. B.; Gillis, James R. 1998. Causes and rates of mortality of swift foxes in western Kansas. The Journal of Wildlife Management. 62(4): 1300-1306. [72020]
  • 63. Marks, Raissa. 2005. Swift fox (Vulpes velox). Fish and Wildlife Habitat management Leaflet: Number 33. Washington, DC: Natural Resources Conservation Service; Silver Spring, MD: Wildlife Habitat Council. 8 p. [71301]
  • 21. FaunaWest Wildlife Consultants. 1991. An ecological and taxonomic review of the swift fox (Vulpes velox) with special reference to Montana. Boulder, CO: FaunaWest Wildlife Consultants. 49 p. [+ appendices]. Report prepared for Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks, Montana State University, Bozeman, MT. [70984]

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Cover Requirements: Water

More info for the terms: association, avoidance, cover, density, forbs, litter, selection

Water: Although swift foxes can survive without freestanding water [24], several factors suggest that rainfall may influence swift fox populations and/or behavior, especially on comparatively arid sites. These factors include the importance of water for swift fox prey (review [63]) and predators (Golightly and Ohmart 1984, cited in [87]), the need for supplemental feeding in a reintroduced swift fox population during a drought in southern Alberta and Saskatchewan [10], and the association between kit fox population density and rainfall (Cypher and others 2000, cited in [34]). A review suggests that drought in combination with other limiting factors could threaten swift fox populations [10].

Potential association with prairie dogs: More research is needed to determine the geographic extent and degree of influence prairie dog towns have on swift fox habitat use [105]. In and around the Badlands of South Dakota, a location where prairie dogs were an important component of the swift fox's diet in some periods, swift foxes used areas closer to prairie dog towns than expected at random [90]. Swift foxes were included in a list of species associated with prairie dogs in western South Dakota [96]. In the panhandle of Oklahoma, swift fox detection in prairie dog towns and paired sites without prairie dogs were statistically similar, with more detections in the sites without prairie dog towns than in prairie dog towns. This may have been at least partially due to the trend for more coyote detections near prairie dog towns in this region [97]. In northwestern Texas swift foxes occurred in prairie dog towns significantly (P<0.001) less than expected based on availability in 5 of 6 comparisons made on 2 sites over 3 years [78]. A review suggests that prairie dog towns can be detrimental to swift foxes due to a likely increase in exposure to poisons in these areas [106].

COVER REQUIREMENTS:
Swift foxes are den dependent, relying on dens year-round for shelter, escape from predators, and rearing of young. Swift fox dens typically occur in flat areas of shortgrass prairies. Swift foxes occasionally den in rangelands and croplands [21,37]. A review notes the occurrence of swift fox dens in cemeteries [21]. Swift foxes build their own dens in suitable soil or modify those of species such as American badgers (Taxidea taxus) and ground squirrels (Spermophilus spp.) [10]. The relation of dens to water is uncertain. Dens are often near roads. Den location may also be influenced by the use of an area by coyotes and prairie dogs. For a thorough review of swift fox den selection see Harrison and Whitaker-Hoagland [34].

© Bruce Gill, Wild Reflections

Den use: Swift foxes use multiple dens and use the same dens multiple times throughout the year [1,10,21,66]. In northwestern Texas swift foxes used an average of 7.5 dens annually, and dens were reused an average of 3 times during a minimum of 8 months [66]. Pups emerge from the natal den in May or June and subsequently use nearby temporary dens [63]. In northwestern Texas swift fox dens were 7,600 feet (2,317 m) apart, on average [66].

Although dens are used for shelter and to raise young [10], dens appear especially important for escaping predators [1,49,67]. In southeastern Colorado, the average distance from locations where swift foxes were killed by coyotes to the nearest den was 0.8 mile (1.34 km). This was significantly (P<0.005) further than the 0.2 mile (0.32 km) average distance of swift fox locations to their current den [49]. In western Kansas, all predation-caused mortalities occurred over 0.6 mile (1 km) from the nearest den site [100]. According to a review, den availability may influence predation rates and consequentially impact population trends [1]. Lower exposure to predators due to greater den and food availability was suggested as an explanation for lower predation rates in a kit fox population in northwestern Chihuahua, Mexico than a swift fox population in southern Alberta and Saskatchewan and northern Montana [76]. Increased swift fox survival, abundance, and distribution following installation of artificial dens imply that den availability can have impacts on swift fox population trends. However, lack of effects on recruitment and home range size suggests that more research is necessary to determine the long-term benefits of artificial dens (see Population management) [67]. A review suggests that more research is needed on the impacts of predation pressure, food availability (see Food Habits), and den quality on den use [109].

Dens are typically shared by closely related individuals [66,95]. Dens in northwestern Texas were shared only with mates [66]. In shortgrass prairie of southeastern Colorado, den sharing occurred only within family groups [95]. Data from the same site over a longer time demonstrated occasional den sharing by neighboring swift foxes. However, the positive association between home range overlap and relatedness implies that swift foxes on adjacent territories that shared dens may be related [50].

Den structure: Swift foxes construct relatively shallow dens with 1 to 4 small openings. In shortgrass prairie of New Mexico the average number of entrances per swift fox den site was 1.54 [31]. A review notes that natal dens generally have more entrances than escape dens [10]. In rangelands and croplands of Kansas, dens had 1 to 4 oval or key-shaped openings from 6 to 15 inches (15-39 cm) tall and 5 to 18 inches (12-46 cm) wide. Openings were typically within 11.5 feet (3.5 m) of each other, but ranged from 3.3 to 82 feet (1.0-25.0 m) apart [37]. In South Dakota the average width of den entrances was 7.5 inches (19 cm) and the average height was 8.7 inches (22 cm) (Hillman and Sharps 1978, cited in [10]). A review notes that swift fox dens are generally about 3 feet (1 m) deep and 7 to 16 feet (2-5 m) long [21].

Topography: Swift fox dens often occur in elevated areas with gentle slopes. In shortgrass prairie of New Mexico den sites had significantly (P=0.047) lower slopes and occurred on ridge tops significantly (P=0.004) more than random sites [31]. In big sagebrush-shortgrass transition habitat in Wyoming, swift fox dens occurred in areas with 0% to 3% slopes significantly (P<0.001) more and areas with 3% to 6% slopes significantly (P<0.001) less than expected based on availability. Slopes of 6% to 9% were rare and used in accordance with availability [81]. Den sites occurred significantly (P<0.01) higher than the surrounding landscape in a second-growth prairie in New Mexico dominated by blue grama, sideoats grama, buffalo grass and sand sagebrush (Artemisia filifolia) [46]. Natal dens in grazed shortgrass and midgrass prairie in South Dakota occurred on hilltops [116]. In shortgrass prairie of southern Alberta and Saskatchewan, 1 of 2 analyses found that occupied natal dens had more gradual slopes than unoccupied dens and both analyses found that occupied dens occurred on the tops of hills more than unoccupied dens. Unoccupied dens were mostly badger dens [87] and therefore not likely to represent random distributions [34]. Swift foxes occupying homogenous prairie in southeastern Colorado did not select for hillside position [48].

The influence of aspect on den sites and den entrances is uncertain. In New Mexico the aspects of den sites did not differ from a random distribution. However, few den entrances faced southeast or northwest and many faced east and west [31]. In western Kansas den entrances faced all directions and no trend was discernable [37]. According to a review, the aspect of entrance openings could be influenced by prevailing winds [34].

Vegetation composition and height: Dens often occur in short- and mixed-grass prairies. Dominant plant species at den sites in 2 study areas in South Dakota included buffalograss, needleleaf sedge (Carex duriuscula), blue grama, and western wheatgrass. One of these sites had a substantial component of needle-and-thread, while forbs such as curlycup gumweed (Grindelia squarrosa) and Virginia pepperweed (Lepidium virginicum) occurred frequently at den sites in the other study area [116]. On denning sites in Nebraska live vegetation had an average coverage of 17%. Average coverage of live vegetation was 41% blue grama, 29% needle-and-thread, 22% sedges, and 8% other plants. Bare soil and litter had average cover of 14% and 69%, respectively [36]. Denning and foraging sites in South Dakota were dominated by western wheatgrass, blue grama, and buffalograss, with coverage of these species ranging from 15.2% to 38.8%. Composition at denning and foraging sites differed significantly (P=0.055), with den sites having less western wheatgrass [115].

Although vegetation in areas occupied by swift foxes is generally short [31,49,64,81,90,112] (see Preferred Habitat), there is limited evidence suggesting that vegetation at den sites may be taller than generally available vegetation. In South Dakota, the average height of dense vegetation that provided complete cover (100% visual obstruction) at den sites was 4.6 inches (11.7 cm). This was significantly taller (P=0.08, α = 0.1) than the 3.8 inch (9.6 cm) average height of dense vegetation on random sites [115]. Grass from the previous growing season was significantly (P<0.05) taller on den sites than unoccupied, predominantly badger-constructed dens in southern Alberta and Saskatchewan. The association of swift foxes with taller grass may be due to greater abundance of insect prey [87]. In southeastern Colorado habitat characteristics at den sites did not differ from available habitat within home ranges, possibly due to the homogeneity of the study area [48]. A review notes that differences in vegetation height at den and random locations are likely small and the biological impact of these differences is uncertain [34].

Soil: Although swift fox dens occur in a variety of soil textures, they are often found in loams. Dens in loam [31,37,81,116], sandy loam [31,36,46], and clay loam [46,116] are commonly reported. In the transition between shortgrass prairie and big sagebrush steppe in Wyoming, loamy soil was used significantly (P<0.001) more than expected for denning [81]. In Nebraska 79% of den sites occurred in sandy loam soil [36]. In second-growth prairie in New Mexico, most swift fox dens occurred in clay loam, fine sandy loam, and silty clay loam [46]. In rangelands and cropland of Kansas, soils at all dens were either loam or silt loam [37]. In grazed shortgrass and midgrass prairie in South Dakota, soil texture at den sites were loam, clay loam, and sandy clay loam [116]. In Wyoming impervious clay, sandy soils, and saline loamy soils were used for denning significantly (P≤0.003) less than expected based on availability [81]. Despite the trend of swift fox dens in loams, swift fox dens in northeastern New Mexico occurred in clay soil significantly (P<0.05) more than expected based on availability [46]. Dens in clay also occurred in South Dakota [116], and 21% of dens on a Nebraska site occurred in loamy sand [36].

In southeastern Colorado, swift foxes selected (P=0.03) areas with moderate amounts of rock cover (5-20%) more than expected based on availability, possibly due to increased structural stability of dens [48].

The importance of distance from swift fox dens to water is unclear. In the transition between shortgrass prairie and big sagebrush steppe habitat in Wyoming, swift fox locations (P≤0.041) and dens (P=0.001) were significantly closer to water sources than random sites [81]. A review notes that permanent water may improve the quality of swift fox habitat [10]. However, in southern Alberta and Saskatchewan, 1 of 2 analyses found occupied natal dens were further from water than unoccupied dens, predominantly constructed by badgers. Explanations for this trend included avoidance of coyotes, which have greater water requirements than swift foxes, short distances to several water sources [87], and the tendency for swift foxes to den on well-drained sites [10,37,87].

  • 1. Allardyce, David; Sovada, Marsha A. 2003. Review of the ecology, distribution, and status of swift foxes in the United States. In: Sovada, Marsha A.; Carbyn, Ludwig, eds. The swift fox: Ecology and conservation of swift foxes in a changing world; 1998 February 18-19; Regina, SK. Canadian Plains Proceedings 0317-6401 34. Regina, SK: University of Regina, Canadian Plains Research Center: 3-18. [72737]
  • 10. Carbyn, Ludwig N. 1998. Update COSEWIC status report on the swift fox (Vulpes velox) in Canada. Report to the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada. Edmonton, AB: Canadian Wildlife Service, Western and Northern Region. 44 p. [70983]
  • 24. Flaherty, Matthew; Plakke, Ronald. 1986. Response of the swift fox, Vulpes velox, to water stress. Colorado-Wyoming Academy of Sciences Journal. 18(1): 51. Abstract. [70985]
  • 31. Harrison, Robert L. 2003. Swift fox demography, movements, denning, and diet in New Mexico. The Southwestern Naturalist. 48(2): 261-273. [71070]
  • 34. Harrison, Robert L.; Whitaker-Hoagland, Julianne. 2003. Literature review of swift fox habitat and den-site selection. In: Sovada, Marsha A.; Carbyn, Ludwig, eds. The swift fox: Ecology and conservation of swift foxes in a changing world; 1998 February 18-19; Regina, SK. Canadian Plains Proceedings 0317-6401 34. Regina, SK: University of Regina, Canadian Plains Research Center: 79-89. [72740]
  • 36. Hines, Terrence D.; Case, Ronald M. 1991. Diet, home range, movements, and activity periods of swift fox in Nebraska. The Prairie Naturalist. 23(3): 131-138. [70986]
  • 37. Jackson, Victoria L.; Choate, Jerry R. 2000. Dens and den sites of the swift fox, Vulpes velox. The Southwestern Naturalist. 45(2): 212-220. [71513]
  • 46. Kintigh, Keith M.; Andersen, Mark C. 2005. A den-centered analysis of swift fox (Vulpes velox) habitat characteristics in northeastern New Mexico. The American Midland Naturalist. 154: 229-239. [72310]
  • 48. Kitchen, Ann M.; Gese, Eric M.; Lupis, Sarah G. 2006. Multiple scale den site selection by swift foxes, Vulpes velox, in southeastern Colorado. Canadian Field-Naturalist. 120(1): 31-38. [70989]
  • 49. Kitchen, Ann M.; Gese, Eric M.; Schauster, Edward R. 1999. Resource partitioning between coyotes and swift foxes: space, time, and diet. Canadian Journal of Zoology. 77: 1645-1656. [71981]
  • 50. Kitchen, Ann M.; Gese, Eric M.; Waits, Lisette P.; Karki, Seija M.; Schauster, Edward R. 2005. Genetic and spatial structure within a swift fox population. Journal of Animal Ecology. 74: 1173-1181. [72009]
  • 64. Martin, Daniel J.; White, Gary C.; Pusateri, Frances M. 2007. Occupancy rates by swift foxes (Vulpes velox) in eastern Colorado. The Southwestern Naturalist. 52(4): 541-551. [70993]
  • 66. McGee, Brady K.; Ballard, Warren B.; Nicholson, Kerry L. 2008. Swift fox, Vulpes velox, den use patterns in northwestern Texas. The Canadian Field Naturalist. 121(1): 71-75. [70994]
  • 67. McGee, Brady K.; Ballard, Warren B.; Nicholson, Kerry L.; Cypher, Brian L.; Lemons, Patrick R., II; Kamler, Jan F. 2006. Effects of artificial escape dens on swift fox populations in northwest Texas. Wildlife Society Bulletin. 34(3): 821-827. [72306]
  • 76. Moehrenschlager, Axel; List, Rurik; MacDonald, David W. 2007. Escaping intraguild predation: Mexican kit foxes survive while coyotes and golden eagles kill Canadian swift foxes. Journal of Mammalogy. 88(4): 1029-1039. [71983]
  • 81. Olson, Travis L. 2000. Population characteristics, habitat selection patterns, and diet of swift foxes in southeast Wyoming. Laramie, WY: University of Wyoming. 139 p. Thesis. [70997]
  • 87. Pruss, Shelley D. 1999. Selection of natal dens by the swift fox (Vulpes velox) on the Canadian prairies. Canadian Journal of Zoology. 77: 646-652. [72312]
  • 90. Russell, Todd A. 2006. Habitat selection by swift foxes in Badlands National Park and the surrounding area in South Dakota. Brookings, SD: South Dakota State University. 104 p. Thesis. [72505]
  • 95. Schauster, Edward R.; Gese, Eric M.; Kitchen, Ann M. 2002. Population ecology of swift foxes (Vulpes velox) in southeastern Colorado. Canadian Journal of Zoology. 80(2): 307-319. [71000]
  • 96. Sharps, Jon C.; Uresk, Daniel W. 1990. Ecological review of black-tailed prairie dogs and associated species in western South Dakota. The Great Basin Naturalist. 50(4): 339-344. [14895]
  • 97. Shaughnessy, Michael J., Jr.; Cifelli, Richard L. 2004. Influence of black-tailed prairie dogs on carnivore distributions in the Oklahoma Panhandle. Western North American Naturalist. 64(2): 184-192. [71004]
  • 105. Stapp, Paul. 1998. A reevaluation of the role of prairie dogs in Great Plains grasslands. Conservation Biology. 12(6): 1253-1259. [66728]
  • 109. Tannerfeldt, Magnus; Moehrenschlager, Axel; Angerbjorn, Anders. 2003. Den ecology of swift, kit, and arctic foxes: a review. In: Sovada, Marsha A.; Carbyn, Ludwig, eds. The swift fox: Ecology and conservation of swift foxes in a changing world; 1998 February 18-19; Regina, SK. Canadian Plains Proceedings 0317-6401 34. Regina, SK: University of Regina, Canadian Plains Research Center: 167-181. [72743]
  • 112. Thompson, Craig M.; Gese, Eric M. 2007. Food webs and intraguild predation: community interactions of a native mesocarnivore. Ecology. 88(2): 334-346. [72021]
  • 78. Nicholson, Kerry L.; Ballard, Warren B.; McGee, Brady K.; Surles, James; Kamler, Jan F.; Lemons, Patrick R. 2006. Swift fox use of black-tailed prairie dog towns in northwest Texas. The Journal of Wildlife Management. 70(6): 1659-1666. [72113]
  • 100. Sovada, Marsha A.; Roy, Christiane C.; Bright, J. B.; Gillis, James R. 1998. Causes and rates of mortality of swift foxes in western Kansas. The Journal of Wildlife Management. 62(4): 1300-1306. [72020]
  • 115. Uresk, Daniel W.; Severson, Kieth, E.; Javersak, Jody. 2003. Vegetative characteristics of swift fox denning and foraging sites in southwestern South Dakota. Research Paper RMRS-RP-38. Fort Collins, CO: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station. 4 p. [72313]
  • 116. Uresk, Daniel W.; Sharps, Jon C. 1986. Denning habitat and diet of the swift fox in western South Dakota. Great Basin Naturalist. 46(2): 249-253. [72311]
  • 63. Marks, Raissa. 2005. Swift fox (Vulpes velox). Fish and Wildlife Habitat management Leaflet: Number 33. Washington, DC: Natural Resources Conservation Service; Silver Spring, MD: Wildlife Habitat Council. 8 p. [71301]
  • 21. FaunaWest Wildlife Consultants. 1991. An ecological and taxonomic review of the swift fox (Vulpes velox) with special reference to Montana. Boulder, CO: FaunaWest Wildlife Consultants. 49 p. [+ appendices]. Report prepared for Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks, Montana State University, Bozeman, MT. [70984]
  • 106. Stephens, Robert M.; Anderson, Stanley H. 2005. Swift fox (Vulpes velox): A technical conservation assessment, [Online]. In: Species conservation program/Species conservation assessments. Golden, CO: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Region (Producer). Available: http://www.fs.fed.us/r2/projects/scp/assessments/swiftfox.pdf [2009, January 6]. [71505]

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Life History

More info for the term: density

Swift foxes are small, nocturnal, and generally monogamous canines. Adult swift foxes weigh from 3 to 7 pounds (1.4-3.0 kg). They are about 33 inches (84 cm) in length and about 12 inches (30 cm) tall at the shoulders [10,21,106]. Males are slightly larger than females [10,31]. Swift foxes typically disperse [3,31,39] and may breed in their 1st year [3,21,39]. They can live for 7 or more years [65,95] on home ranges that average from 1,900 to 7,900 acres (760-3200 ha) [49,76].

  • 3. Ausband, D. E.; Foresman, K. R. 2007. Dispersal, survival, and reproduction of wild-born, yearling swift foxes in a reintroduced population. Canadian Journal of Zoology. 85: 185-189. [71069]
  • 10. Carbyn, Ludwig N. 1998. Update COSEWIC status report on the swift fox (Vulpes velox) in Canada. Report to the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada. Edmonton, AB: Canadian Wildlife Service, Western and Northern Region. 44 p. [70983]
  • 31. Harrison, Robert L. 2003. Swift fox demography, movements, denning, and diet in New Mexico. The Southwestern Naturalist. 48(2): 261-273. [71070]
  • 39. Kamler, Jan F.; Ballard, Warren B.; Gese, Eric M.; Harrison, Robert L.; Karki, Seija M. 2004. Dispersal characteristics of swift foxes. Canadian Journal of Zoology. 82: 1837-1842. [71979]
  • 49. Kitchen, Ann M.; Gese, Eric M.; Schauster, Edward R. 1999. Resource partitioning between coyotes and swift foxes: space, time, and diet. Canadian Journal of Zoology. 77: 1645-1656. [71981]
  • 65. Matlack, Raymond S.; Gipson, Philip S.; Kaufman, Donald W. 2000. The swift fox in rangeland and cropland in western Kansas: relative abundance, mortality, and body size. The Southwestern Naturalist. 45(2): 221-225. [71512]
  • 76. Moehrenschlager, Axel; List, Rurik; MacDonald, David W. 2007. Escaping intraguild predation: Mexican kit foxes survive while coyotes and golden eagles kill Canadian swift foxes. Journal of Mammalogy. 88(4): 1029-1039. [71983]
  • 95. Schauster, Edward R.; Gese, Eric M.; Kitchen, Ann M. 2002. Population ecology of swift foxes (Vulpes velox) in southeastern Colorado. Canadian Journal of Zoology. 80(2): 307-319. [71000]
  • 21. FaunaWest Wildlife Consultants. 1991. An ecological and taxonomic review of the swift fox (Vulpes velox) with special reference to Montana. Boulder, CO: FaunaWest Wildlife Consultants. 49 p. [+ appendices]. Report prepared for Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks, Montana State University, Bozeman, MT. [70984]
  • 106. Stephens, Robert M.; Anderson, Stanley H. 2005. Swift fox (Vulpes velox): A technical conservation assessment, [Online]. In: Species conservation program/Species conservation assessments. Golden, CO: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Region (Producer). Available: http://www.fs.fed.us/r2/projects/scp/assessments/swiftfox.pdf [2009, January 6]. [71505]

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Cover Requirements: Topography

Topography: Swift fox dens often occur in elevated areas with gentle slopes. In shortgrass prairie of New Mexico den sites had significantly (P=0.047) lower slopes and occurred on ridge tops significantly (P=0.004) more than random sites [31]. In big sagebrush-shortgrass transition habitat in Wyoming, swift fox dens occurred in areas with 0% to 3% slopes significantly (P<0.001) more and areas with 3% to 6% slopes significantly (P<0.001) less than expected based on availability. Slopes of 6% to 9% were rare and used in accordance with availability [81]. Den sites occurred significantly (P<0.01) higher than the surrounding landscape in a second-growth prairie in New Mexico dominated by blue grama, sideoats grama, buffalo grass and sand sagebrush (Artemisia filifolia) [46]. Natal dens in grazed shortgrass and midgrass prairie in South Dakota occurred on hilltops [116]. In shortgrass prairie of southern Alberta and Saskatchewan, 1 of 2 analyses found that occupied natal dens had more gradual slopes than unoccupied dens and both analyses found that occupied dens occurred on the tops of hills more than unoccupied dens. Unoccupied dens were mostly badger dens [87] and therefore not likely to represent random distributions [34]. Swift foxes occupying homogenous prairie in southeastern Colorado did not select for hillside position [48].

The influence of aspect on den sites and den entrances is uncertain. In New Mexico the aspects of den sites did not differ from a random distribution. However, few den entrances faced southeast or northwest and many faced east and west [31]. In western Kansas den entrances faced all directions and no trend was discernable [37]. According to a review, the aspect of entrance openings could be influenced by prevailing winds [34].

  • 31. Harrison, Robert L. 2003. Swift fox demography, movements, denning, and diet in New Mexico. The Southwestern Naturalist. 48(2): 261-273. [71070]
  • 34. Harrison, Robert L.; Whitaker-Hoagland, Julianne. 2003. Literature review of swift fox habitat and den-site selection. In: Sovada, Marsha A.; Carbyn, Ludwig, eds. The swift fox: Ecology and conservation of swift foxes in a changing world; 1998 February 18-19; Regina, SK. Canadian Plains Proceedings 0317-6401 34. Regina, SK: University of Regina, Canadian Plains Research Center: 79-89. [72740]
  • 37. Jackson, Victoria L.; Choate, Jerry R. 2000. Dens and den sites of the swift fox, Vulpes velox. The Southwestern Naturalist. 45(2): 212-220. [71513]
  • 46. Kintigh, Keith M.; Andersen, Mark C. 2005. A den-centered analysis of swift fox (Vulpes velox) habitat characteristics in northeastern New Mexico. The American Midland Naturalist. 154: 229-239. [72310]
  • 48. Kitchen, Ann M.; Gese, Eric M.; Lupis, Sarah G. 2006. Multiple scale den site selection by swift foxes, Vulpes velox, in southeastern Colorado. Canadian Field-Naturalist. 120(1): 31-38. [70989]
  • 81. Olson, Travis L. 2000. Population characteristics, habitat selection patterns, and diet of swift foxes in southeast Wyoming. Laramie, WY: University of Wyoming. 139 p. Thesis. [70997]
  • 87. Pruss, Shelley D. 1999. Selection of natal dens by the swift fox (Vulpes velox) on the Canadian prairies. Canadian Journal of Zoology. 77: 646-652. [72312]
  • 116. Uresk, Daniel W.; Sharps, Jon C. 1986. Denning habitat and diet of the swift fox in western South Dakota. Great Basin Naturalist. 46(2): 249-253. [72311]

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Home Range

Home range: Swift fox home range size varies with site, year, season, and gender. Calculation methods also influence home range estimates. Home range overlap between neighboring foxes is uncommon compared to overlap of mates' home ranges. Coyotes may influence swift fox home range placement.

Descriptions of swift fox home range size vary from 1,900 acres (760 ha) to about 7,900 acres (3,200 ha); the variability is likely due to yearly variation, differences in estimation methods, and variable site characteristics. The average home range size of swift foxes on a site in Colorado was 1,900 acres (760 ha) based on data from January 1997 to August 1998 [49] and 2,320 acres (940 ha) based on data from January 1997 to December 1998 [95]. In 1986 and 1987 the average home range size of 5 swift foxes in the same Colorado study area was 5,630 acres (2,278 ha) [2]. From 1998 to 1999 the average home range in big sagebrush-shortgrass prairie transition habitat of Wyoming was 4,600 acres (1,860 ha) [82]. In 1996 and 1997 the average swift fox home range in this area was estimated as 860 acres (350 ha) using one method and 2,890 acres (1,170 ha) using another [84]. In New Mexico, 2 methods of estimating annual swift fox home range size resulted in average home range estimates of 5,420 acres (2,192 ha) and 3,700 acres (1,495 ha) [31]. In northwestern Texas, swift fox home range was estimated as 2,890 acres (1170 ha) [38]. The estimated home range size of adult swift foxes in Kansas during the pup-rearing period was 3,930 acres (1,590 ha) [102]. In southeastern Alberta and southwestern Saskatchewan, average swift fox home range size was 7,880 acres (3,190 ha) [76].

Season and gender can influence home range size. In shortgrass prairie of southeastern Colorado [95] and big sagebrush-shortgrass prairie transition habitat of Wyoming, male and female home ranges were significantly (P≤0.04) smaller during the pup-rearing period than other times of year. Females in the Wyoming study area had significantly smaller home ranges than male swift foxes during the pup-rearing (P≤0.04) and breeding (P=0.05) seasons [82].

Home ranges of pair members overlap more extensively than the home ranges of neighboring pairs. In big sagebrush-shortgrass prairie transition habitat of Wyoming, the home ranges of mates overlapped an average of 70.8%, while the average home range overlap of adjacent pairs was 11.9%. Core areas of adjacent pairs rarely overlapped [82]. In a previous study on the same site, the home ranges of mates overlapped significantly (P=0.0001) more than home ranges of swift foxes that were not paired. Core use areas of unpaired swift foxes did not overlap [84]. In southeastern Colorado [2] and western Kansas [102] the home ranges of neighboring pairs overlapped to some extent, but core use areas of neighboring pairs rarely overlapped. In another study in southeastern Colorado, concurrent sharing of dens by neighboring swift foxes occurred occasionally. The degree of overlap of neighboring pairs and occurrence of swift foxes inheriting neighboring home ranges was influenced by the relatedness of neighboring swift foxes [50].

There is conflicting evidence regarding the influence of coyotes on swift fox distribution and home range placement. In northwest Texas, swift fox home ranges were outside or on the margins of coyote home ranges and rarely overlapped coyote core use areas [41]. In the Oklahoma panhandle, swift fox occurred at comparatively low abundance in areas where rates of coyote detection were high [58]. In southeastern Colorado, the opposite relationships of swift foxes and coyotes with habitat characteristics suggests that swift foxes would avoid sites often used by coyotes [112]. However, coyote home ranges completely overlapped most, if not all, swift fox home ranges in southeastern Colorado [49] and "a large proportion" of swift fox home ranges in Canada [76].

  • 2. Andersen, David E.; Laurion, Thomas. R.; Cary, John R.; Sikes, Robert S.; McLeod, Mary A.; Gese, Eric M. 2003. Aspects of swift fox ecology in southeastern Colorado. In: Sovada, Marsha A.; Carbyn, Ludwig, eds. The swift fox: Ecology and conservation of swift foxes in a changing world; 1998 February 18-19; Regina, SK. Canadian Plains Proceedings 0317-6401 34. Regina, SK: University of Regina, Canadian Plains Research Center: 139-147. [72741]
  • 31. Harrison, Robert L. 2003. Swift fox demography, movements, denning, and diet in New Mexico. The Southwestern Naturalist. 48(2): 261-273. [71070]
  • 38. Kamler, Jan F.; Ballard, Warren B.; Fish, Ernest B.; Lemons, Patrick R.; Mote, Kevin; Perchellet, Celine C. 2003. Habitat use, home ranges, and survival of swift foxes in a fragmented landscape: conservation implications. Journal of Mammalogy. 84(3): 989-995. [71999]
  • 41. Kamler, Jan F.; Ballard, Warren B.; Gilliland, Rickey L.; Mote, Kevin. 2003. Spatial relationships between swift foxes and coyotes in northwestern Texas. Canadian Journal of Zoology. 81: 168-172. [72001]
  • 49. Kitchen, Ann M.; Gese, Eric M.; Schauster, Edward R. 1999. Resource partitioning between coyotes and swift foxes: space, time, and diet. Canadian Journal of Zoology. 77: 1645-1656. [71981]
  • 50. Kitchen, Ann M.; Gese, Eric M.; Waits, Lisette P.; Karki, Seija M.; Schauster, Edward R. 2005. Genetic and spatial structure within a swift fox population. Journal of Animal Ecology. 74: 1173-1181. [72009]
  • 76. Moehrenschlager, Axel; List, Rurik; MacDonald, David W. 2007. Escaping intraguild predation: Mexican kit foxes survive while coyotes and golden eagles kill Canadian swift foxes. Journal of Mammalogy. 88(4): 1029-1039. [71983]
  • 95. Schauster, Edward R.; Gese, Eric M.; Kitchen, Ann M. 2002. Population ecology of swift foxes (Vulpes velox) in southeastern Colorado. Canadian Journal of Zoology. 80(2): 307-319. [71000]
  • 102. Sovada, Marsha A.; Slivinski, Christiane C.; Woodward, Robert O.; Phillips, Michael L. 2003. Home range, habitat use, litter size, and pup dispersal of swift foxes in two distinct landscapes in western Kansas. In: Sovada, Marsha A.; Carbyn, Ludwig, eds. The swift fox: Ecology and conservation of swift foxes in a changing world; 1998 February 18-19; Regina, SK. Canadian Plains Proceedings 0317-6401 34. Regina, SK: University of Regina, Canadian Plains Research Center: 149-160. [72742]
  • 112. Thompson, Craig M.; Gese, Eric M. 2007. Food webs and intraguild predation: community interactions of a native mesocarnivore. Ecology. 88(2): 334-346. [72021]
  • 58. Lomolino, Mark V.; Shaughnessy, Michael J. 1997. Distribution and ecology of the swift fox (Vulpes velox). Final Report. Project Number: OK E-035-3. Period 26 September 1994 - 29 September 1997. Oklahoma City, OK: Oklahoma Department of Conservation. 30 p. [70992]
  • 82. Olson, Travis L.; Lindzey, Frederick G. 2002. Swift fox (Vulpes velox) home-range dispersion patterns in southeastern Wyoming. Canadian Journal of Zoology. 80: 2024-2029. [72018]
  • 84. Pechacek, P.; Lindzey, F. G.; Anderson, S. H. 2000. Home range size and spatial organization of swift fox Vulpes velox (Say, 1823) in southeastern Wyoming. International Journal of Mammalian Biology [Zeitschrift fur Saeugetierkunde]. 65(4): 209-215. [70998]

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Cover Requirements: Den structure

Den structure: Swift foxes construct relatively shallow dens with 1 to 4 small openings. In shortgrass prairie of New Mexico the average number of entrances per swift fox den site was 1.54 [31]. A review notes that natal dens generally have more entrances than escape dens [10]. In rangelands and croplands of Kansas, dens had 1 to 4 oval or key-shaped openings from 6 to 15 inches (15-39 cm) tall and 5 to 18 inches (12-46 cm) wide. Openings were typically within 11.5 feet (3.5 m) of each other, but ranged from 3.3 to 82 feet (1.0-25.0 m) apart [37]. In South Dakota the average width of den entrances was 7.5 inches (19 cm) and the average height was 8.7 inches (22 cm) (Hillman and Sharps 1978, cited in [10]). A review notes that swift fox dens are generally about 3 feet (1 m) deep and 7 to 16 feet (2-5 m) long [21].
  • 10. Carbyn, Ludwig N. 1998. Update COSEWIC status report on the swift fox (Vulpes velox) in Canada. Report to the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada. Edmonton, AB: Canadian Wildlife Service, Western and Northern Region. 44 p. [70983]
  • 31. Harrison, Robert L. 2003. Swift fox demography, movements, denning, and diet in New Mexico. The Southwestern Naturalist. 48(2): 261-273. [71070]
  • 37. Jackson, Victoria L.; Choate, Jerry R. 2000. Dens and den sites of the swift fox, Vulpes velox. The Southwestern Naturalist. 45(2): 212-220. [71513]
  • 21. FaunaWest Wildlife Consultants. 1991. An ecological and taxonomic review of the swift fox (Vulpes velox) with special reference to Montana. Boulder, CO: FaunaWest Wildlife Consultants. 49 p. [+ appendices]. Report prepared for Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks, Montana State University, Bozeman, MT. [70984]

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Life History and Behavior

Cyclicity

Comments: Primarily nocturnal, may rest in sun outside burrow during day.

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Activity patterns

Activity patterns: Swift foxes are most active in the evenings and at night. On a southeastern Colorado study site comprised of shortgrass prairie and Colorado pinyon-oneseed juniper (Pinus edulis-Juniperus monosperma) communities, swift foxes moved less than or about 0.25 km/hour from 6:00 AM to 4:00 PM [49]. In prairie dominated by sedges (Carex spp.), needle-and-thread, and blue grama in Nebraska, activity began from 6:00 to 8:00 PM and continued until 3:00 to 6:00 AM. The only individuals in this study that moved during the day were females with pups [36]. In northwestern Texas, females and males generally spent days at their dens and traveled during the evening, night, and early morning hours [57]. A similar pattern of movement at night and lower activity levels focused around dens during the day was observed in southeastern Colorado [49]. In Nebraska swift foxes moved an average of 0.7 mile (1.2 km) per hour and 8.1 miles (13.1 km) per night [36]. Swift foxes have been reported to run at speeds of 25 to 30 mph [103]. More detail on movements and activity periods is provided by Hines and Case [36]. Energy requirements of swift fox movements are addressed by Covell and others [12]

Swift fox activity levels and social interactions vary seasonally. In southeastern Colorado, daytime activity near dens occurred more often in summer, nocturnal movement periods were longer in winter, and estimates of distance moved per hour were lower in summer than winter. Slower movement in summer may be due to greater food availability [12]. A review suggests that greater movement during the winter could be due to breeding and may increase predation risk during this period [1]. In restored and moderately-grazed shortgrass prairie in northwestern Texas, movement away from dens increased slightly for males and substantially for females following the emergence of pups from dens [57]. On a southeastern Colorado study site comprised of shortgrass prairie and Colorado pinyon-oneseed juniper communities, swift fox pairs spent more time together during the breeding season than at other times of year [47].

  • 1. Allardyce, David; Sovada, Marsha A. 2003. Review of the ecology, distribution, and status of swift foxes in the United States. In: Sovada, Marsha A.; Carbyn, Ludwig, eds. The swift fox: Ecology and conservation of swift foxes in a changing world; 1998 February 18-19; Regina, SK. Canadian Plains Proceedings 0317-6401 34. Regina, SK: University of Regina, Canadian Plains Research Center: 3-18. [72737]
  • 12. Covell, Darrel F.; Miller, David S.; Karasov, William H. 1996. Cost of locomotion and daily energy expenditure by free-living swift foxes (Vulpes velox): a seasonal comparison. Canadian Journal of Zoology. 74(2): 283-290. [70977]
  • 36. Hines, Terrence D.; Case, Ronald M. 1991. Diet, home range, movements, and activity periods of swift fox in Nebraska. The Prairie Naturalist. 23(3): 131-138. [70986]
  • 49. Kitchen, Ann M.; Gese, Eric M.; Schauster, Edward R. 1999. Resource partitioning between coyotes and swift foxes: space, time, and diet. Canadian Journal of Zoology. 77: 1645-1656. [71981]
  • 47. Kitchen, Ann M.; Gese, Eric M.; Karki, Seija M.; Schauster, Edward R. 2005. Spatial ecology of swift fox social groups: from group formation to mate loss. Journal of Mammalogy. 86(3): 547-554. [72006]
  • 57. Lemons, Patrick R.; Ballard, Warren B.; Sullivan, Robert M.; Sovada, Marsha A. 2003. Den site activity patterns of adult male and female swift foxes, Vulpes velox, in northwestern Texas. Canadian Field Naturalist. 117(3): 424-429. [70991]
  • 103. Sovada, Marsha. 2008. Slow journey home. North Dakota Outdoors Magazine. Bismark, ND: North Dakota Game and Fish Department. May: 9-11. Available online at http://gf.nd.gov/multimedia/ndoutdoors/issues/2008/may/docs/slow-journey.pdf [2008, December 31]. [72703]

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Life Expectancy

Survivorship

Survivorship: Annual swift fox survival rates generally vary from 40% to 75% for adults and substantially less, 5% to 33%, for juveniles [106]. The following Table illustrates the spatial and temporal variability in swift fox survival rates.

Swift fox adult and juvenile annual (unless otherwise noted) survival throughout their range. Blank cells indicate that data was not available.
Location Adult survival Juvenile survival
Texas 44% [42]
69% [40]
 
New Mexico 53% [31]  
Kansas 45% [100] 33% (August to January of first year) [100]
Colorado 45% [2]
75% [95]
12.6% [2]
Wyoming 58% (40-69% over 3 years) [83]  
Montana   36%-38% [3]

Swift fox populations are generally dominated by young individuals, but individuals over 3 years old can comprise more than a quarter of a population. Juveniles were the most abundant age class in swift fox populations in shortgrass prairie of northeastern New Mexico [31]. The average age of 8 live-trapped swift foxes in Nebraska prairie dominated by sedges, needle-and-thread, and blue grama was 1.25 years [36]. Of 22 swift fox carcasses from western Kansas that were aged, 54.5% were 1 year old or less [65]. A review also notes the high proportion of young individuals in swift fox populations [21]. However, swift foxes from 3 to 7 years of age can comprise a substantial portion of populations. Of 22 swift fox carcasses from western Kansas that were aged, 6 (27.3%) were from 3 to 7 years old [65]. Of 30 swift foxes aged after death in southeastern Colorado, 26.6% were from 5 to 7 years old [95].

Causes of mortality include predation, vehicle collisions, disease, and incidental trapping and poisoning. Predation is the most common source of mortality (see Predators). Vehicles were responsible for 42% of mortality in northwest Texas [38] and 29% of juvenile mortality in western Kansas [100]. Diseases, such as canine distemper, occasionally result in swift fox deaths [39,83]. Incidental trapping and poisoning cause mortalities [31,39,100], although these were more common in the late 1800s and early 1900s [22]. For more information on factors that may negatively impact swift fox populations, see threats.

  • 2. Andersen, David E.; Laurion, Thomas. R.; Cary, John R.; Sikes, Robert S.; McLeod, Mary A.; Gese, Eric M. 2003. Aspects of swift fox ecology in southeastern Colorado. In: Sovada, Marsha A.; Carbyn, Ludwig, eds. The swift fox: Ecology and conservation of swift foxes in a changing world; 1998 February 18-19; Regina, SK. Canadian Plains Proceedings 0317-6401 34. Regina, SK: University of Regina, Canadian Plains Research Center: 139-147. [72741]
  • 3. Ausband, D. E.; Foresman, K. R. 2007. Dispersal, survival, and reproduction of wild-born, yearling swift foxes in a reintroduced population. Canadian Journal of Zoology. 85: 185-189. [71069]
  • 31. Harrison, Robert L. 2003. Swift fox demography, movements, denning, and diet in New Mexico. The Southwestern Naturalist. 48(2): 261-273. [71070]
  • 36. Hines, Terrence D.; Case, Ronald M. 1991. Diet, home range, movements, and activity periods of swift fox in Nebraska. The Prairie Naturalist. 23(3): 131-138. [70986]
  • 38. Kamler, Jan F.; Ballard, Warren B.; Fish, Ernest B.; Lemons, Patrick R.; Mote, Kevin; Perchellet, Celine C. 2003. Habitat use, home ranges, and survival of swift foxes in a fragmented landscape: conservation implications. Journal of Mammalogy. 84(3): 989-995. [71999]
  • 39. Kamler, Jan F.; Ballard, Warren B.; Gese, Eric M.; Harrison, Robert L.; Karki, Seija M. 2004. Dispersal characteristics of swift foxes. Canadian Journal of Zoology. 82: 1837-1842. [71979]
  • 42. Kamler, Jan F.; Ballard, Warren B.; Lemons, Patrick R.; Mote, Kevin. 2004. Variation in mating system and group structure in two populations of swift foxes, Vulpes velox. Animal Behaviour. 68: 83-88. [72003]
  • 65. Matlack, Raymond S.; Gipson, Philip S.; Kaufman, Donald W. 2000. The swift fox in rangeland and cropland in western Kansas: relative abundance, mortality, and body size. The Southwestern Naturalist. 45(2): 221-225. [71512]
  • 95. Schauster, Edward R.; Gese, Eric M.; Kitchen, Ann M. 2002. Population ecology of swift foxes (Vulpes velox) in southeastern Colorado. Canadian Journal of Zoology. 80(2): 307-319. [71000]
  • 22. Finch, Deborah M. 1992. Threatened, endangered, and vulnerable species of terrestrial vertebrates in the Rocky Mountain Region. Gen. Tech. Rep. RM-215. Fort Collins, CO: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Forest and Range Experiment Station. 38 p. [25647]
  • 40. Kamler, Jan F.; Ballard, Warren B.; Gilliland, Rickey L.; Lemons, Patrick R., II; Mote, Kevin. 2003. Impacts of coyotes on swift foxes in northwestern Texas. The Journal of Wildlife Management. 67(2): 317-323. [72000]
  • 83. Olson, Travis L.; Lindzey, Frederick G. 2002. Swift fox survival and production in southeastern Wyoming. The Journal of Wildlife Management. 83(1): 199-206. [71509]
  • 100. Sovada, Marsha A.; Roy, Christiane C.; Bright, J. B.; Gillis, James R. 1998. Causes and rates of mortality of swift foxes in western Kansas. The Journal of Wildlife Management. 62(4): 1300-1306. [72020]
  • 21. FaunaWest Wildlife Consultants. 1991. An ecological and taxonomic review of the swift fox (Vulpes velox) with special reference to Montana. Boulder, CO: FaunaWest Wildlife Consultants. 49 p. [+ appendices]. Report prepared for Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks, Montana State University, Bozeman, MT. [70984]
  • 106. Stephens, Robert M.; Anderson, Stanley H. 2005. Swift fox (Vulpes velox): A technical conservation assessment, [Online]. In: Species conservation program/Species conservation assessments. Golden, CO: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Region (Producer). Available: http://www.fs.fed.us/r2/projects/scp/assessments/swiftfox.pdf [2009, January 6]. [71505]

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Lifespan/Longevity

Swift foxes usually live between 3 and 6 years in the wild, but may live up to 14 years in captivity.

Range lifespan

Status: wild:
3 to 6 years.

Range lifespan

Status: captivity:
14 (high) years.

Average lifespan

Status: captivity:
12.0 years.

Average lifespan

Status: captivity:
12.8 years.

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Lifespan, longevity, and ageing

Maximum longevity: 15.9 years (captivity) Observations: Anecdotal reports suggest these animals may live up to 20 years (Ernest 2003). Record longevity in captivity, however, belongs to a wild born male that was around 15.9 years when he died in captivity (Richard Weigl 2005).
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Reproduction

Breeds in late winter. Gestation lasts probably 7-8 weeks. In Oklahoma, most litters are born in March or early April. Litter size usually is 3-6, mean 4-5 (Egoscue 1979, Olson and Lindzey 2002). Produces one litter per year. Pups first emerge from den at about 1 month (by 1 June in Wyoming). Young are tended by both sexes, disperse in late summer-early fall. Pair-bond may be life-long.

In southeastern Wyoming, 19 of 24 (79%) swift fox pairs were observed with young over 3 years (Olson and Lindzey 2002).

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More info for the terms: breeding system, litter, polygyny

Reproduction: The swift fox's breeding system varies, with monogamy being most common. The spatial arrangement of swift foxes in southeastern Wyoming implied a monogamous mating system [84], and a low-density population in northwestern Texas exhibited monogamous behavior [42]. In addition, several reviews note the predominance of monogamy in swift fox populations [1,10,21]. However, the occurrence of trios including 2 males or 2 females has been noted [10,21], and social units with nonbreeding adults have been observed in Colorado, New Mexico, and northwestern Texas [39,95]. In shortgrass prairie habitat in Colorado, trios were observed as well as extrapair mating and mate switching [51,95]. In northwestern Texas, a dense swift fox population that included nonbreeding females exhibited polygyny and communal denning. It is speculated that differences in mating system between this site and an adjacent, low-density swift fox population that exhibited monogamy were due to the densities of swift foxes, which were likely influenced by different levels of coyote (Canis latrans) predation [42].

Following the winter breeding period and a 49 to 55 day pregnancy, litters of up to 8 pups are born in spring. Breeding occurs from late December to March, with populations in northern regions breeding later [1,21,63,106]. Gestation periods of 49 to 55 days have been reported for kit and swift foxes (Thacker and Flinders 1999, cited in [122]). Pregnancies of 51 days [63,106] or 52 to 53 days [21] may be most common for swift fox. Litter sizes are often from 3 to 6 pups ([3,83,102], reviews by [1,21,106,122]). However, average litter size upon emergence from dens in southeastern Colorado was 2.4 pups [95]. A review notes litter sizes as small as 1 pup and as large as 8 [106] pups. Swift fox pups in the southern portion of their range are typically born in March or early April [21,122], while in northern regions pups are born in April and early May [21].

Data from southeastern Colorado suggest that swift foxes do not breed every year. At the Pinyon Canyon Manuever Site, not all females reproduced during an 18-month study in 1986 and 1987 [2], and 28% of social units on the site did not produce pups during a late 1990s study [95].

Sex ratios of swift fox populations in Colorado [95] and New Mexico [31] were similar to 1:1. A review also notes that sex ratio is typically 1:1 [21].

  • 1. Allardyce, David; Sovada, Marsha A. 2003. Review of the ecology, distribution, and status of swift foxes in the United States. In: Sovada, Marsha A.; Carbyn, Ludwig, eds. The swift fox: Ecology and conservation of swift foxes in a changing world; 1998 February 18-19; Regina, SK. Canadian Plains Proceedings 0317-6401 34. Regina, SK: University of Regina, Canadian Plains Research Center: 3-18. [72737]
  • 2. Andersen, David E.; Laurion, Thomas. R.; Cary, John R.; Sikes, Robert S.; McLeod, Mary A.; Gese, Eric M. 2003. Aspects of swift fox ecology in southeastern Colorado. In: Sovada, Marsha A.; Carbyn, Ludwig, eds. The swift fox: Ecology and conservation of swift foxes in a changing world; 1998 February 18-19; Regina, SK. Canadian Plains Proceedings 0317-6401 34. Regina, SK: University of Regina, Canadian Plains Research Center: 139-147. [72741]
  • 3. Ausband, D. E.; Foresman, K. R. 2007. Dispersal, survival, and reproduction of wild-born, yearling swift foxes in a reintroduced population. Canadian Journal of Zoology. 85: 185-189. [71069]
  • 10. Carbyn, Ludwig N. 1998. Update COSEWIC status report on the swift fox (Vulpes velox) in Canada. Report to the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada. Edmonton, AB: Canadian Wildlife Service, Western and Northern Region. 44 p. [70983]
  • 31. Harrison, Robert L. 2003. Swift fox demography, movements, denning, and diet in New Mexico. The Southwestern Naturalist. 48(2): 261-273. [71070]
  • 39. Kamler, Jan F.; Ballard, Warren B.; Gese, Eric M.; Harrison, Robert L.; Karki, Seija M. 2004. Dispersal characteristics of swift foxes. Canadian Journal of Zoology. 82: 1837-1842. [71979]
  • 42. Kamler, Jan F.; Ballard, Warren B.; Lemons, Patrick R.; Mote, Kevin. 2004. Variation in mating system and group structure in two populations of swift foxes, Vulpes velox. Animal Behaviour. 68: 83-88. [72003]
  • 95. Schauster, Edward R.; Gese, Eric M.; Kitchen, Ann M. 2002. Population ecology of swift foxes (Vulpes velox) in southeastern Colorado. Canadian Journal of Zoology. 80(2): 307-319. [71000]
  • 102. Sovada, Marsha A.; Slivinski, Christiane C.; Woodward, Robert O.; Phillips, Michael L. 2003. Home range, habitat use, litter size, and pup dispersal of swift foxes in two distinct landscapes in western Kansas. In: Sovada, Marsha A.; Carbyn, Ludwig, eds. The swift fox: Ecology and conservation of swift foxes in a changing world; 1998 February 18-19; Regina, SK. Canadian Plains Proceedings 0317-6401 34. Regina, SK: University of Regina, Canadian Plains Research Center: 149-160. [72742]
  • 51. Kitchen, Ann M.; Gese, Eric M.; Waits, Lisette P.; Karki, Seija M.; Schauster, Edward R. 2006. Multiple breeding strategies in the swift fox, Vulpes velox. Animal Behaviour. 71: 1029-1038. [72023]
  • 83. Olson, Travis L.; Lindzey, Frederick G. 2002. Swift fox survival and production in southeastern Wyoming. The Journal of Wildlife Management. 83(1): 199-206. [71509]
  • 63. Marks, Raissa. 2005. Swift fox (Vulpes velox). Fish and Wildlife Habitat management Leaflet: Number 33. Washington, DC: Natural Resources Conservation Service; Silver Spring, MD: Wildlife Habitat Council. 8 p. [71301]
  • 21. FaunaWest Wildlife Consultants. 1991. An ecological and taxonomic review of the swift fox (Vulpes velox) with special reference to Montana. Boulder, CO: FaunaWest Wildlife Consultants. 49 p. [+ appendices]. Report prepared for Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks, Montana State University, Bozeman, MT. [70984]
  • 84. Pechacek, P.; Lindzey, F. G.; Anderson, S. H. 2000. Home range size and spatial organization of swift fox Vulpes velox (Say, 1823) in southeastern Wyoming. International Journal of Mammalian Biology [Zeitschrift fur Saeugetierkunde]. 65(4): 209-215. [70998]
  • 106. Stephens, Robert M.; Anderson, Stanley H. 2005. Swift fox (Vulpes velox): A technical conservation assessment, [Online]. In: Species conservation program/Species conservation assessments. Golden, CO: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Region (Producer). Available: http://www.fs.fed.us/r2/projects/scp/assessments/swiftfox.pdf [2009, January 6]. [71505]
  • 122. Zwartjes, Patrick W.; Cartron, Jean-Luc E.; Stoleson, Pamela L. L.; Haussamen, Walter C.; Crane, Tiffany E. 2005. Assessment of native species and ungulate grazing in the Southwest: terrestrial wildlife. Gen. Tech. Rep. RMRS-GTR-142. Fort Collins, CO: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station. 74 p. [+ CD]. [60764]

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Individuals sometimes pair for life, but may not necessarily mate with the same partner each year.

Mating System: monogamous

Male swift foxes mature and mate at one year, while females may wait until their second year before breeding. The breeding season for individuals in Canada begins in March. The gestation period is 50-60 days and pups are born in mid-May. The breeding season for individuals farther south in the United States begins in late December, early January, with pups born in March and early April.  Swift foxes have only one litter annually, with a litter size ranging anywhere from 2 to 6.

Breeding interval: Breeding occurs yearly.

Breeding season: The breeding season begins from December through March.

Range number of offspring: 2 to 6.

Average number of offspring: 4.25.

Range gestation period: 50 to 60 days.

Range weaning age: 42 to 49 days.

Average time to independence: 6 months.

Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female): 2 years.

Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male): 1 years.

Key Reproductive Features: iteroparous ; seasonal breeding ; gonochoric/gonochoristic/dioecious (sexes separate); viviparous

Average birth mass: 39.65 g.

Average number of offspring: 4.5.

Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male)

Sex: male:
365 days.

Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)

Sex: female:
365 days.

Pups are born in the underground den and typically remain there for about one month. After birth, the eyes and ears of the pups remain closed for 10 to 15 days, thus leaving them dependent on the mother for food and protection. Pups are weaned when 6 to 7 weeks old but usually remain with the mother and father until the fall.

Parental Investment: altricial ; pre-fertilization (Provisioning, Protecting: Female); pre-hatching/birth (Provisioning: Female, Protecting: Female); pre-weaning/fledging (Provisioning: Male, Female, Protecting: Male, Female); pre-independence (Provisioning: Male, Female, Protecting: Male, Female); extended period of juvenile learning

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Molecular Biology and Genetics

Molecular Biology

Statistics of barcoding coverage: Vulpes velox

Barcode of Life Data Systems (BOLDS) Stats
Public Records: 0
Specimens with Barcodes: 4
Species With Barcodes: 1
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Conservation

Conservation Status

National NatureServe Conservation Status

Canada

Rounded National Status Rank: N1 - Critically Imperiled

United States

Rounded National Status Rank: N3 - Vulnerable

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NatureServe Conservation Status

Rounded Global Status Rank: G3 - Vulnerable

Reasons: The swift fox has disappeared from about 60% of its former range. It is still widespread in the central United States and relatively common in some areas, but declining/scarce in other areas. Some reintroduction efforts have been successful, and increases have been noted in states such as Montana. Threats include habitat loss and degradation, interspecific competiton with red fox and coyote, vehicle collisions, and others; more information on population trends and threats is needed.

Environmental Specificity: Narrow. Specialist or community with key requirements common.

Comments: Swift foxes are more specialized than other North American canids (Kamler et al. 2003).

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IUCN Red List Assessment


Red List Category
LC
Least Concern

Red List Criteria

Version
3.1

Year Assessed
2008

Assessor/s
Moehrenschlager, A., Sovada, M. & Members of the IUCN SSC Canid Specialist Group - North America Regional Section

Reviewer/s
Sillero-Zubiri, C. & Hoffmann, M. (Canid Red List Authority)

Contributor/s

Justification
The Swift Fox was extirpated from Canada by 1938; however, reintroduction releases since 1983 have established a small population in Alberta and Montana. The southern periphery of the range is still central New Mexico and north-western Texas. Current estimates for the United States suggest that Swift Foxes are located in 39–42% of their historic range. But in much of the distribution populations are fragmented.

Historically, the Swift Fox was considered an abundant predator of the prairies, but numbers were severely depleted by the late 1880s and early 1900s. Swift Fox populations began to recover over portions of their former range beginning in the 1950s. The current population does not meet any of the thresholds for the threatened categories, therefore the species is presently assessed as Least Concern.

History
  • 2004
    Least Concern
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U.S. Federal Legal Status

Vulpes velox hebes is listed as Endangered [113].
  • 113. U.S. Department of the Interior, Fish and Wildlife Service. 2013. Endangered Species Program, [Online]. Available: http://www.fws.gov/endangered/. [86564]

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The swift fox is a severely endangered species. It has faced habitat losses due to agricultural, industrial and urban development. Hundreds of swift foxes were killed accidentally during the early 1930s from predator control programs aimed at removing wolves, coyotes, and ground squirrels from prairies. In 1978, the species was declared extirpated in Canada. There are currently populations of swift foxes in the U.S. ranging from South Dakota to Texas. However, the population is stable only in the central part of the range. Reintroduction programs in Western Canada have established small populations in southeast Alberta and southwest Saskatchewan, totaling 350 foxes. The current goal of reintroduction programs in Canada is to establish a viable, self-sustaining population distributed across the prairies and to remove the species from the endangered category by the year 2000.

Several things can be done to try to prevent further loss of and to encourage repopulation of swift foxes. Preserving the habitats of the foxes is crucial. Also, captive breeding could help increase the number of swift foxes. Reintroduction programs, like the ones in western Canada, may also be successful in restoring the swift fox to its natural habitat. However, a large number of reintroduced individuals do not survive their first year in the wild for one reason or another. Therefore, populations must be monitored and protected from human harm. Even though it is illegal to kill swift foxes, they are sometimes mistaken as coyotes and killed.

US Federal List: endangered

CITES: no special status

IUCN Red List of Threatened Species: least concern

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Global Short Term Trend: Relatively stable to increase of 25%

Comments: There is evidence that some reoccupation of former range is occurring in Montana, Oklahoma, Kansas, Colorado, and Wyoming (J. Carlson, pers. comm., USFWS, Federal Register, 16 June 1995). In general, population trend is poorly known in most areas.

Global Long Term Trend: Decline of 50-70%

Comments: Declines occurred in the late 1800s and early 1900s. The species made a limited comeback in portions of the historical range in the mid-1950s. It now occupies about 40% of the historical range (USFWS 2001).

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Population

Population
Following Swift Fox extirpation from Canada by 1938 (Soper 1964), reintroduction releases since 1983 have established a small Swift Fox population in Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Montana which now constitutes the northern extent of the species' range (Moehrenschlager and Moehrenschlager 2001). The southern periphery of the range is still central New Mexico and north-western Texas, and, in terms of historic distribution, Swift Foxes are currently not found in Manitoba or North Dakota. Current estimates for the United States suggest that Swift Foxes are located in 39–42% of their historic range depending on conservative versus liberal estimates of historic range and the time span of records that are considered (Sovada and Scheick 1999). As such, the conservative estimate, based on the relative presence or absence of swift foxes in counties throughout individual states, is that Swift Foxes are distributed across 505,149 km² while the liberal estimate is 607,767 km² (Sovada and Scheick 1999). But in much of the distribution populations are fragmented.

Historically, the Swift Fox was considered an abundant predator of the prairies, but numbers were severely depleted by the late 1880s and early 1900s. In Canada, the last recorded specimen was collected in 1928 (Carbyn 1998) and a single sighting was made in 1938 (Soper 1964). Zumbaugh and Choate (1985) provided evidence that, in Kansas, Swift Foxes were extremely abundant in the mid-1800s, but became less abundant by the turn of the 20th century. The species was probably extirpated from Kansas by the 1940s (Black 1937; Cockrum 1952; Hall 1955; Sovada and Scheick 1999). There are similar reports of population declines from other states (see Sovada and Scheick 1999).

Swift Fox populations began to recover over portions of their former range beginning in the 1950s (Martin and Sternberg 1955; Glass 1956; Anderson and Nelson 1958; Andersen and Fleharty 1964; Kilgore 1969; Sharps 1977; Egoscue 1979; Hines 1980). In the core of their distribution, in Kansas, Colorado and the Oklahoma panhandle, and New Mexico, populations are considered stable whereas populations in Texas and Wyoming are fragmented and more vulnerable to decline. Swift Foxes are rare in Nebraska, South Dakota, and Montana, and extirpated from North Dakota (Allardyce and Sovada 2003).

Following approximately 50 years of extirpation, a Swift Fox reintroduction programme was initiated in Canada in 1983. By 1997, 942 foxes had been released, primarily utilizing captive breeding but also through the use of translocations (Moehrenschlager and Macdonald 2003). Using live trapping, a 1996/1997 census estimated the Canadian population to consist of 289 individuals in two isolated subpopulations. A second census that re-sampled these sites during the same season in 2000/2001 also expanded the survey area into Montana (Moehrenschlager and Moehrenschlager 2001, Moehrenschlager et al. 2004). The results showed that Swift Fox population size in Canada had increased three-fold since 1996/1997, the total known distribution including Montana spanned at least 17,500 km², the combined population size was approximately 877 individuals, and that 98.6% of the population is now wild-born. This population is considerably isolated from the contiguous Swift Fox range in the United States and needs to be considered separately in terms of population viability.

In the United States, Swift Fox populations are believed to be stable in Texas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Colorado, and Kansas. The population in Wyoming is relatively stable but fragmented. Less is known about the population in Nebraska, but there appear to be four disjunct populations of unknown status. In South Dakota, populations are small and fragmented; some are considered stable. Swift Foxes are extinct in North Dakota. Reintroductions of Swift Foxes are being implemented at two sites in South Dakota. The Turner Endangered Species Fund began reintroducing foxes in 2002 in the Bad River Ranch south-west of Pierre. There are also plans for a reintroduction to The Badlands National Park in 2003. The Defenders of Wildlife are currently supporting (1998–present) a reintroduction in northern Montana's Blackfeet Reservation.

Population Trend
Stable
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Threats

Degree of Threat: B : Moderately threatened throughout its range, communities provide natural resources that when exploited alter the composition and structure of the community over the long-term, but are apparently recoverable

Comments: Reasons for decline include loss of habitat to agriculture and mineral extraction, habitat fragmentation, habitat degradation due to control of colonial rodents, predation and interspecific competiton (with coyote and red fox), and collisions with automobiles (e.g., when feeding on carrion). This species is easily shot, trapped, and poisoned, hence susceptible to mortality from predator and rodent control (Uresk and Sharps 1986). Overall trapping pressure has been reduced over the past few decades; no longer a limiting factor (USFWS 2001). Interspecific competition may be an especially important limiting factor but more research is needed. In Texas, vehicle collisions (42 percent of deaths) and coyote predation (33 percent) were the primary causes of death (Kamler et al. 2003).

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Major Threats
Since Swift Foxes are primarily prairie specialists, ongoing conversion of grassland to cropland threatens to reduce population sizes and further fragment populations. The conversion of native grassland prairies has been implicated as one of the most important factors for the contraction of the swift fox range (Hillman and Sharps 1978). We believe that alteration of the landscape likely influences local and seasonal prey availability, increases risk of predation on Swift Foxes, and leads to interspecific competition with other predators such as the Coyote and Red Fox. Moreover, an increasing trend towards irrigation of crops from the dry-land farming practices of fallow cropland every other year could exclude Swift Foxes that have adapted to den and forage successfully under the dryland farming rotational practices. The planting of tall, dense vegetation as a part of the United States Conservation Reserve Program, may also negatively impact swift foxes because they avoid these densely vegetated habitats. In Canada, the oil and gas industry is expanding dramatically and previously isolated prairie areas are now targeted for exploration. Associated road developments will potentially decrease the habitat carrying capacity and increase vehicle-caused Swift Fox mortalities. Greater urbanization coupled with coyote control may facilitate Red Fox expansion, which could lead to the competitive exclusion of Swift Foxes in established prairie areas. In the United States, the 1972 presidential ban on predator toxicant use (e.g., strychnine, compound 1080) on Federal lands may have contributed to Swift Fox recovery, but 1080 is currently being legalized in prairie areas of Saskatchewan, Canada, which will likely limit reintroduced populations. Moreover, landowners that are attempting to protect their livestock from Coyote depredation use poisons illegally and swift foxes readily consume such baits (Moehrenschlager 2000).
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Management Considerations: Threats

More info for the terms: cover, shrub

Threats: Swift foxes face many threats including trapping, poisoning, vehicle collisions, red fox range expansion, coyotes, and habitat loss and degradation.

Although trapping and poisoning are not as common now as they were from the late 1800s to the mid-1900s [22], swift foxes are vulnerable to unintentional trapping and poisoning, including predator, rodent, and rabies control efforts [10,93,100,106]. Recommendations to minimize these impacts include monitoring, coordination with agencies responsible for trapping and baiting [10], and carefully targeting control programs ([1], see Predator control). Intentional trapping in areas where swift foxes are abundant can apparently occur at light intensities without negative impacts [10].

In some areas the losses due to vehicle collisions can be substantial [38,100] (see Survivorship). See Roads for more information on the potential positive and negative impacts of roads on swift foxes.

There is limited evidence of exclusion of swift foxes by red foxes [34], which suggests that the range expansion of red fox could pose a threat to swift foxes [1,10,106,122]. See Predators for information on the impacts of coyotes and Predator control for potential benefits and consequences of controlling predators.

The loss and degradation of shortgrass prairie habitat by grazing, urbanization, or conversion to agriculture are also major threats to swift foxes [10,93,106,122]. Conversion of habitat to irrigated agricultural land was probably the major cause of the extirpation of a swift fox population near Denver, Colorado [59]. Grazing can have both positive and negative impacts on swift foxes (see Habitat management, below). However, reviews note that overgrazing degrades habitat and results in increased shrub cover [34,122]. In addition to habitat-related impacts, agriculture [100] and grazing [11] can result in accidental swift fox deaths.

  • 1. Allardyce, David; Sovada, Marsha A. 2003. Review of the ecology, distribution, and status of swift foxes in the United States. In: Sovada, Marsha A.; Carbyn, Ludwig, eds. The swift fox: Ecology and conservation of swift foxes in a changing world; 1998 February 18-19; Regina, SK. Canadian Plains Proceedings 0317-6401 34. Regina, SK: University of Regina, Canadian Plains Research Center: 3-18. [72737]
  • 10. Carbyn, Ludwig N. 1998. Update COSEWIC status report on the swift fox (Vulpes velox) in Canada. Report to the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada. Edmonton, AB: Canadian Wildlife Service, Western and Northern Region. 44 p. [70983]
  • 34. Harrison, Robert L.; Whitaker-Hoagland, Julianne. 2003. Literature review of swift fox habitat and den-site selection. In: Sovada, Marsha A.; Carbyn, Ludwig, eds. The swift fox: Ecology and conservation of swift foxes in a changing world; 1998 February 18-19; Regina, SK. Canadian Plains Proceedings 0317-6401 34. Regina, SK: University of Regina, Canadian Plains Research Center: 79-89. [72740]
  • 38. Kamler, Jan F.; Ballard, Warren B.; Fish, Ernest B.; Lemons, Patrick R.; Mote, Kevin; Perchellet, Celine C. 2003. Habitat use, home ranges, and survival of swift foxes in a fragmented landscape: conservation implications. Journal of Mammalogy. 84(3): 989-995. [71999]
  • 11. Carrier, W. Dean; Czech, Brian. 1996. Threatened and endangered wildlife and livestock interactions. In: Krausman, Paul R., ed. Rangeland wildlife. Denver, CO: The Society for Range Management: 39-47. [27319]
  • 22. Finch, Deborah M. 1992. Threatened, endangered, and vulnerable species of terrestrial vertebrates in the Rocky Mountain Region. Gen. Tech. Rep. RM-215. Fort Collins, CO: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Forest and Range Experiment Station. 38 p. [25647]
  • 59. Lovell, David C.; Choate, Jerry R.; Bissell, Steven J. 1985. Succession of mammals in a disturbed area of the Great Plains. The Southwestern Naturalist. 30(3): 335-342. [72699]
  • 93. Samuel, David E.; Nelson, Brad B. 1982. Foxes: Vulpes vulpes and allies. In: Chapman, Joseph A.; Feldhamer, George A., eds. Wild mammals of North America: Biology, management, and economics. Baltimore, MD: The Johns Hopkins University Press: 475-490. [25235]
  • 100. Sovada, Marsha A.; Roy, Christiane C.; Bright, J. B.; Gillis, James R. 1998. Causes and rates of mortality of swift foxes in western Kansas. The Journal of Wildlife Management. 62(4): 1300-1306. [72020]
  • 106. Stephens, Robert M.; Anderson, Stanley H. 2005. Swift fox (Vulpes velox): A technical conservation assessment, [Online]. In: Species conservation program/Species conservation assessments. Golden, CO: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Region (Producer). Available: http://www.fs.fed.us/r2/projects/scp/assessments/swiftfox.pdf [2009, January 6]. [71505]
  • 122. Zwartjes, Patrick W.; Cartron, Jean-Luc E.; Stoleson, Pamela L. L.; Haussamen, Walter C.; Crane, Tiffany E. 2005. Assessment of native species and ungulate grazing in the Southwest: terrestrial wildlife. Gen. Tech. Rep. RMRS-GTR-142. Fort Collins, CO: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station. 74 p. [+ CD]. [60764]

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Management

Management Requirements: See Kahn et al. (1996).

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Global Protection: Unknown whether any occurrences are appropriately protected and managed

Comments: Seventy to seventy-five percent of remaining populations are on private lands; the remainder are on federal lands managed by various agencies.

Needs: Large areas not subject to rodent/rabbit/insect/predator control should be protected.

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Conservation Actions

Conservation Actions
Not listed on CITES Appendices. The Swift Fox has been down-listed from 'extirpated' to 'endangered' in Canada as a result of the Swift Fox reintroduction programme. In the United States, the Swift Fox was petitioned for listing under the Endangered Species Act. In 2001 the US Fish and Wildlife Service determined listing to be unwarranted.

In Canada, Swift Foxes are found mainly on unprotected lands, but approximately one-sixth of the population falls within the boundaries of Grasslands National Park. In the United States, there are 24 National Park Service Units (Parks, Monuments, Historic Sites) located in the historic range of Swift Foxes; however, there are no records of Swift Foxes in any of these units, yet 14 have potential for Swift Fox presence. One unit, Badlands National Park in South Dakota, is tentatively planning a reintroduction of Swift Foxes in 2003.

In Canada, the National Swift Fox Recovery Team is currently revising its national Swift Fox recovery strategy, which will be implemented through national and provincial action plans as of 2003. The Canadian federal government has just passed the country's first 'Species at Risk Act', which will provide greater legal protection of Swift Foxes and promote landowner stewardship programmes facilitating local conservation efforts. In the United States, the Swift Fox Conservation Team operates under a Swift Fox Conservation Strategy Plan with identified goals up to the year 2005. The team continues to monitor populations, assess critical habitat conditions, review the potential for reintroductions, and provide research support for ongoing projects.

In Canada, Swift Foxes are present in the Calgary Zoo, Cochrane Ecological Institute, Kamloops Wildlife Park, and Saskatoon Zoo. In the United States, Swift Foxes are represented in the Bismarck Zoo, Bramble Park Zoo, Houston Zoo, Lee Richardson Zoo, Living Desert, Minnesota Zoo, Philadelphia Zoo, Pueblo Zoo, Sunset Zoo, Tulsa Zoo, and Wild Canid Center. The Fort Worth Zoo has put forward a petition to manage a swift fox Species Survival Plan on behalf of the American Zoo Association. On behalf of the Canid Taxon Advisory Group, the St. Louis Zoo is currently devising recommendations for Swift Fox space allocations in the North American programme.

Gaps in knowledge
In Canada and the United States assessments of historical distribution and the identification of critical Swift Fox habitats for legal protection are hampered by the fact that Swift Fox habitat use is not well understood. Future studies should assess to what degree swift foxes can utilize differing types of habitats, including habitats considered atypical, such as those dominated by cropland. Information is needed to identify why Swift Foxes are unable to move into areas of apparently suitable habitat. Identification of barriers, both physical and ecological (e.g., competitive exclusion with other canids), to dispersal would improve the ability to manage and ultimately conserve this species. Future investigations should focus on parameters that might affect the range-wide, long-term viability of the populations.

The primary stochastic factor influencing small canid populations around the world is disease (Woodroffe et al. 1997; Laurenson et al. 1998; Woodroffe and Ginsberg 1999), and such risks are enhanced when animals are transferred between populations (Woodford and Rossiter 1994). Although the Canadian population was partly established through translocation, Swift Fox exposure to canid diseases has not been assessed in Canada. The prevalence of disease exposure in different age classes and regions should be assessed in both countries and the likelihood of disease transfer between Swift Foxes and sympatric Coyotes, Red Foxes, and domestic dogs should be evaluated. In addition, genetic analyses should be conducted to examine bottlenecks, genetic variability, connectivity, and dispersal distances in Canada and within isolated population fragments of the United States. Finally, data on Swift Fox demography, disease prevalence, genetics, habitat use, and population trends should be incorporated into Population Viability Models to guide conservation planning on a provincial/state or federal basis.
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Management Considerations: Habitat management

More info for the terms: avoidance, cover, fire management, prescribed fire, restoration, shrub, shrubs

Habitat management: Grazing [11,122] and agriculture [38] may reduce the quality of swift fox habitat. Maintenance of shortgrass prairie requires regular disturbances, such as grazing, mechanical thinning of shrubs, or fire [63,75].

Grazing likely has both positive and negative impacts on swift fox populations. Potential reduction in shrub cover and vegetation height following grazing would likely improve swift fox habitat quality [34,122]. Because of this, grazing has been recommended as a way to maintain disturbance regimes [63]. Predator control associated with ranching could be beneficial or detrimental depending on the methods used and associated collateral damage. Other potentially harmful aspects of grazing are reduction in prey abundance [11,122] and accidental mortality [11].

More information is needed to determine habitat suitability of croplands. Swift fox avoidance of agricultural lands is summarized in Preferred habitat. Swift foxes in rangeland weighed significantly (P=0.01) more than those in cropland in western Kansas [65]. However, mortality rates in rangeland and cropland were similar in western Kansas studies [65,102]. Denning sites were apparently not limiting in agricultural land in Kansas, although investigators cautioned that demography of swift foxes in cropland had not been sufficiently studied to make conclusions regarding cropland habitat quality [37]. The effects of various agricultural practices such as irrigation [37], herbicide application, and plowing [34,37] also likely impact the suitability of agricultural lands as swift fox habitat.

Given the avoidance of many croplands by swift fox and the impacts of tall vegetation on predation-caused mortalities (see Preferred Habitat), conservation of shortgrass prairie is likely important for swift foxes [38].

Grazing, mowing, mechanical thinning of shrubs, and prescribed burning have been recommended for maintaining shortgrass prairie. A Fish and Wildlife Habitat Management Leaflet recommends rotational and deferred grazing at varying intensities in individual pastures at least 125 acres (51 ha) in size. Mowing is recommended on a rotational schedule of 3 to 5 years in areas where burning is impractical. Details of site preparation for restoration of grasslands, such as clearing vegetation from open, elevated sites before planting seed are described by Marks [63]. Grazing [63] and mechanical thinning treatments [75] in combination with prescribed burning have been recommended in shortgrass prairie habitat. For more details on shortgrass prairie management using prescribed fire, see Fire Management Considerations. In nonnative grasslands, light disking to 2 to 4 inches is recommended no more than every 3 to 5 years with no more than 33% disked annually to maintain an early successional state or form a fire break [63].

A review recommends that activity should be excluded within 660 feet (200 m) of occupied swift fox dens in the kit rearing period of 15 February to 31 July, and industrial and resource development activities should not occur within 1,640 feet (500 m) of natal dens [10].

  • 10. Carbyn, Ludwig N. 1998. Update COSEWIC status report on the swift fox (Vulpes velox) in Canada. Report to the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada. Edmonton, AB: Canadian Wildlife Service, Western and Northern Region. 44 p. [70983]
  • 34. Harrison, Robert L.; Whitaker-Hoagland, Julianne. 2003. Literature review of swift fox habitat and den-site selection. In: Sovada, Marsha A.; Carbyn, Ludwig, eds. The swift fox: Ecology and conservation of swift foxes in a changing world; 1998 February 18-19; Regina, SK. Canadian Plains Proceedings 0317-6401 34. Regina, SK: University of Regina, Canadian Plains Research Center: 79-89. [72740]
  • 37. Jackson, Victoria L.; Choate, Jerry R. 2000. Dens and den sites of the swift fox, Vulpes velox. The Southwestern Naturalist. 45(2): 212-220. [71513]
  • 38. Kamler, Jan F.; Ballard, Warren B.; Fish, Ernest B.; Lemons, Patrick R.; Mote, Kevin; Perchellet, Celine C. 2003. Habitat use, home ranges, and survival of swift foxes in a fragmented landscape: conservation implications. Journal of Mammalogy. 84(3): 989-995. [71999]
  • 65. Matlack, Raymond S.; Gipson, Philip S.; Kaufman, Donald W. 2000. The swift fox in rangeland and cropland in western Kansas: relative abundance, mortality, and body size. The Southwestern Naturalist. 45(2): 221-225. [71512]
  • 102. Sovada, Marsha A.; Slivinski, Christiane C.; Woodward, Robert O.; Phillips, Michael L. 2003. Home range, habitat use, litter size, and pup dispersal of swift foxes in two distinct landscapes in western Kansas. In: Sovada, Marsha A.; Carbyn, Ludwig, eds. The swift fox: Ecology and conservation of swift foxes in a changing world; 1998 February 18-19; Regina, SK. Canadian Plains Proceedings 0317-6401 34. Regina, SK: University of Regina, Canadian Plains Research Center: 149-160. [72742]
  • 11. Carrier, W. Dean; Czech, Brian. 1996. Threatened and endangered wildlife and livestock interactions. In: Krausman, Paul R., ed. Rangeland wildlife. Denver, CO: The Society for Range Management: 39-47. [27319]
  • 75. Milne-Laux, Sara; Sweitzer, Richard A. 2006. Experimentally induced colony expansion by black-tailed prairie dogs (Cynomys ludovicianus) and implications for conservation. Journal of Mammalogy. 87(2): 296-303. [66725]
  • 63. Marks, Raissa. 2005. Swift fox (Vulpes velox). Fish and Wildlife Habitat management Leaflet: Number 33. Washington, DC: Natural Resources Conservation Service; Silver Spring, MD: Wildlife Habitat Council. 8 p. [71301]
  • 122. Zwartjes, Patrick W.; Cartron, Jean-Luc E.; Stoleson, Pamela L. L.; Haussamen, Walter C.; Crane, Tiffany E. 2005. Assessment of native species and ungulate grazing in the Southwest: terrestrial wildlife. Gen. Tech. Rep. RMRS-GTR-142. Fort Collins, CO: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station. 74 p. [+ CD]. [60764]

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Management Considerations

The following sections briefly summarize threats faced by swift foxes as well as habitat and population management strategies useful for addressing them.

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Relevance to Humans and Ecosystems

Benefits

Economic Uses

Comments: Legally harvested in Colorado, New Mexico, Kansas, and Texas.

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Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

The cost of captive breeding programs and monitoring after reintroduction can often be high.

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Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

In the past, the fur of the swift fox was a valued commodity.

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Wikipedia

Swift fox

This article is about the animal. For information about the web browser, see Swiftfox.

The swift fox (Vulpes velox) is a small light orange-tan fox around the size of a domestic cat found in the western grasslands of North America, such as Montana, Colorado, New Mexico, Oklahoma[3] and Texas.[1] It also lives in Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta in Canada, where it was previously extirpated.[2] It is closely related to the kit fox and the two species are sometimes known as subspecies of Vulpes velox because hybrids of the two species occur naturally where their ranges overlap.

The swift fox lives primarily in short-grass prairies and deserts. It became nearly extinct in the 1930s as a result of predator control programs, but was successfully reintroduced later (citation needed). Currently, the conservation status of the species is considered by the IUCN as Least Concern owing to stable populations elsewhere.[2]

Like most canids, the swift fox is an omnivore, and its diet includes grasses and fruits as well as small mammals, carrion, and insects. In the wild, its lifespan is three to six years, and it breeds once annually, from late December to March, depending on the geographic region. Pups are born anywhere from March to mid-May, and are weaned at six to seven weeks old.

The swift fox is closely related genetically to the kit fox (Vulpes macrotis), but occupies a different geographical range. The two have historically been regarded as the same species for reasons basically related to size: the kit fox is slightly smaller than the swift fox, and the former has a narrower snout. However, hybrids between the two occur naturally where their ranges overlap, and some mammalogists classify the two as subspecies of a single species, usually treated as Vulpes velox (with the swift fox being described as V. velox velox and the kit fox as V. velox macrotis).[4] The molecular genetics evidence is not conclusive however, and some of those who have used it continue to treat the swift fox and kit fox as separate species.[5]

Description[edit]

The swift fox has a dark, grayish, tan coloration that extends to a yellowish tan color across its sides and legs. The throat, chest, and belly range from pale yellow to white in color. Its tail is black-tipped, and it has black patches on its muzzle. Its ears are noticeably large. It is about 12 inches (30 cm) in height, and 31 inches (79 cm) long, measuring from the head to the tip of the tail, or about the size of a domestic cat. Its weight ranges from around five to seven pounds.[6] Males and females are similar in appearance, although males are slightly larger.[7]

Habitat and distribution[edit]

The swift fox resides primarily in deserts and short-grass prairies. They form their dens in sandy soil on open prairies, in plowed fields, or along fences.[7] It is native to the Great Plains region of North America, and its range extends north to the central part of Alberta, Canada, and south to Texas. It reaches from western Iowa to Colorado, Kansas, Wyoming, Nebraska, and Montana.[6]

Conservation status[edit]

The swift fox was once a severely endangered species, due to predator control programs in the 1930s that were aimed mostly at the gray wolf and the coyote.[7] The species was extirpated from Canada by 1938,[2] but a reintroduction program started in 1983 has been successful in establishing small populations in southeast Alberta and southwest Saskatchewan, despite the fact that many reintroduced individuals do not survive their first year.[7] In May 1999, the Species at Risk Act listed the swift fox as an endangered species in Canada.[8]

Exact population numbers of the swift fox are unknown, but it is known that they currently inhabit only 40% of their historic range.[6] In addition to its populations in Canada, there are also swift fox populations in the United States, ranging from South Dakota to Texas. In 1995, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service determined that the fox warranted an endangered listing, but other higher priority species precluded its listing.[9] This prompted state wildlife agencies within the fox's range to create the Swift Fox Conservation Team, which worked to implement better swift fox management and monitoring programs.[9] Populations in the United States are stable in the central part of its range,[7] and it is not considered endangered in the United States. The IUCN Red List characterizes it as of Least Concern.[2]

Behavior[edit]

A swift fox napping during the day in a zoo.

In the wild, the swift fox usually lives 3–6 years, but may live up to 14 years in captivity. It is primarily nocturnal, spending only evenings and nighttime above ground in the summer. Daytime activities are usually confined to the den, but it has been known to spend the warm midday period above ground during the winter.[7] The swift fox is more heavily dependent on its den than most North American canids, using them as shelter from predators. These dens are usually underground burrows that are two to four meters in length.[7] It has been known to run very fast, at speeds of over 50 km/h (30 mph).[7] or up to 60 km/h (40 mph) [10] The coyote is the swift fox's main predator, but often chooses not to consume the swift fox.[11] Other predators include the badger, golden eagle, and bobcat.[11] It is also vulnerable to trapping and poisoning, as well as death on highways.[12]

Reproduction[edit]

The adult swift fox's breeding season varies with region. In the southern United States, it mates between December and February with pups born in March and early April, while in Canada, the breeding season begins in March, and pups are born in mid-May. The male swift fox matures and may mate at one year, while the female usually waits until her second year before breeding. Adults live in pairs, and although some individuals mate for life, others choose different partners each year. Gestation takes around 51 days, and four to five kits are born.[6][7]

The swift fox only has one litter annually, but may occupy up to thirteen dens in one year, moving because prey is scarce or because skin parasites build up inside the den. Sometimes it makes other burrows from other bigger animals, even though it is completely capable of digging one on its own. Pups are born in the den and typically remain there for approximately one month. A newborn pup's eyes and ears remain closed for ten to fifteen days, leaving it dependent on the mother for food and protection during this time. It is usually weaned around six or seven weeks old and remains with its parents until fall.[7] Recent research has shown that social organization in the swift fox is unusual among canids, since it is based on the females.[13] Females maintain territories at all times, but males emigrate if the resident female is killed or removed.[13]

Diet[edit]

Like most canids, the swift fox is an omnivore. Rabbits, mice, ground squirrels, birds, insects and lizards are staples.[6] Grasses and fruits round out its diet. However, like any efficient forager, the swift fox takes advantage of seasonal foods.[7] During the summer, adults eat large amounts of insects, including beetles and grasshoppers, and feed their young with larger prey items. Deer and other carrion killed by other animals may also be important food sources.

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b Wozencraft, W. C. (2005). "Order Carnivora". In Wilson, D. E.; Reeder, D. M. Mammal Species of the World (3rd ed.). Johns Hopkins University Press. pp. 532–628. ISBN 978-0-8018-8221-0. OCLC 62265494. 
  2. ^ a b c d e Moehrenschlager, A., Sovada, M. & Members of the IUCN SSC Canid Specialist Group – North America Regional Section (2008). Vulpes velox. In: IUCN 2008. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Retrieved 22 March 2009. Database entry includes justification for why this species is of least concern
  3. ^ Clair, William (1989). The Mammals of Oklahoma. The University of Oklahoma Press. p. 30. 
  4. ^ Dragoo, J. W., Choate, J. R., Yates, T. L., & O'Farrell, T. P. (1990). "Evolutionary and taxonomic relationships among North American arid-land foxes". Journal of Mammalogy (American Society of Mammalogists) 71 (3): 318–332. doi:10.2307/1381942. JSTOR 1381942. 
  5. ^ Mercure, A., Ralls, K., Koepflik, P., & Wayne, R. K. (1993). "Genetic subdivisions among small canids – mitochondrial-DNA differentiation of swift, kit, and arctic foxes". Evolution (Society for the Study of Evolution) 47 (5): 1313–1328. doi:10.2307/2410150. JSTOR 2410150. 
  6. ^ a b c d e Defenders of Wildlife. "Swift fox – Defenders of Wildlife". Retrieved 2008-04-21. 
  7. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Resmer, Karen. "Vulpes velox". Retrieved 2008-04-17. 
  8. ^ "Species at risk – Swift fox". Species at Risk Public Registry. 2008-04-25. Retrieved March 16, 2009. 
  9. ^ a b U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. "Swift fox – Main Page". Retrieved 18 June 2008. 
  10. ^ Sillero-Zubiri, Claudio; Hoffman, Michael; and MacDonald David W. Canids: Foxes, Wolves, Jackals, and Dogs: Status Survey and Conservation Action Plan. Gland, Switzerland and Cambridge, UK: IUCN; 2004. p112.
  11. ^ a b Alberta Sustainable Resource Development. "Swift fox". Retrieved 22 June 2008. 
  12. ^ "Siwft Fox (Vulpes velox)" (PDF). Retrieved 22 June 2008. 
  13. ^ a b Kamler, Jan F; Ballard, Warren B.; Gese, Eric M.; Harrison, Robert L.; Karki, Seija; Mote, Kevin (2004). "Adult male emigration and a female-based social organization in swift foxes, Vulpes velox". Animal Behaviour 67 (4): 699–702. doi:10.1016/j.anbehav.2003.08.012. 

General references[edit]

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Names and Taxonomy

Taxonomy

Comments: Vulpes macrotis is here treated as a species separate from V. velox.

Vulpes macrotis (kit fox) was regarded as conspecific with V. velox (swift fox) by Dragoo et al. (1990) (conclusion based mainly on protein-electrophoretic study) and some previous authors. Jones et al. (1992) and Wozencraft (in Wilson and Reeder 1993) concurred in treating velox and macrotis as conspecific. Dragoo et al. (1990) included macrotis as a subspecies of V. velox; other nominal subspecies were regarded as unworthy of recognition.

Mercure et al. (1993) examined mtDNA variability in 10 areas throughout most of the range of the kit and swift foxes; they concluded that kit and swift foxes hybridize over a limited geographic area and should be recognized as separate species; they suggested that the San Joaquin Valley population, though not very distinctive, be recognized as a subspecies because, relative to variation within kit foxes, it appeared as the most distinct single phylogeographic unit and is an isolated population; mtDNA data did not support any of the other 10 subspecific designations of kit and swift fox (Hall 1981). The mammal lists by Baker et al. (2003) and Wozencraft (in Wilson and Reeder 2005) followed Mercure et al. (1993) in recognizing V. macrotis and V. velox as distinct species.

See Dragoo and Wayne (2003) for a review of the systematics of these foxes.

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Vulpes velox is the scientific name of the swift fox, a member of the Canidae
family [5,119].

There is disagreement regarding the taxonomic status of the swift fox.
As of 2008, most literature considers the swift fox and kit fox (Vulpes macrotis)
separate species. Research based on mitochondrial DNA led to the conclusion
that species differentiation of swift and kit fox is appropriate [72]. Samuel
and Nelson [93] cite Snow (1973) for specific status of swift and kit fox being
justified. However, some evidence suggests that swift fox and kit fox should
be considered subspecies, Vulpes velox velox and Vulpes velox macrotis,
respectively. The evidence includes interbreeding in a portion of the area of western
Texas and eastern New Mexico where kit and swift fox ranges overlap [19] and morphometric
and protein electrophoresis data [18]. Halls' Mammals of North America [29] also considers
kit and swift foxes the same species but lists 10 subspecies. According to a FaunaWest
review [21], swift fox was split into 2 subspecies, Vulpes velox velox and
Vulpes velox hebes, by Merriam (1902). However, this distinction is not generally
recognized and occurs rarely in the literature. Reviews of these issues are provided by
Allardyce and Sovada [1] and Dragoo and others [19].
  • 1. Allardyce, David; Sovada, Marsha A. 2003. Review of the ecology, distribution, and status of swift foxes in the United States. In: Sovada, Marsha A.; Carbyn, Ludwig, eds. The swift fox: Ecology and conservation of swift foxes in a changing world; 1998 February 18-19; Regina, SK. Canadian Plains Proceedings 0317-6401 34. Regina, SK: University of Regina, Canadian Plains Research Center: 3-18. [72737]
  • 5. Baker, Robert J.; Bradley, Lisa C.; Bradley, Robert D.; Dragoo, Jerry W.; Engstrom, Mark D.; Hoffmann, Robert S.; Jones, Cheri A.; Reid, Fiona; Rice, Dale W.; Jones, Clyde. 2003. Revised checklist of North American mammals north of Mexico, 2003. Occasional Papers No. 229. Lubbock, TX: Museum of Texas Tech University. 23 p. [50946]
  • 18. Dragoo, Jerry W.; Choate, Jerry R.; Yates, Terry L.; O'farrell, Thomas P. 1990. Evolutionary and taxonomic relationships among North American arid-land foxes. Journal of Mammalogy. 71(3): 318-332. [71902]
  • 19. Dragoo, Jerry W.; Wayne, Robert K. 2003. Systematics and population genetics of swift and kit foxes. In: Sovada, Marsha A.; Carbyn, Ludwig, eds. The swift fox: Ecology and conservation of swift foxes in a changing world; 1998 February 18-19; Regina, SK. Canadian Plains Proceedings 0317-6401 34. Regina, SK: University of Regina, Canadian Plains Research Center: 207-221. [72746]
  • 29. Hall, E. Raymond. 1981. Vulpes velox: Kit fox. In: The mammals of North America. 2nd ed. Vol. 2. New York: John Wiley & Sons: 939-941. [54711]
  • 72. Mercure, Alan; Ralls, Katherine; Koepfli, Klaus P.; Wayne, Robert K. 1993. Genetic subdivisions among small canids: mitochondrial DNA differentiation of swift, kit, and arctic foxes. Evolution. 47(5): 1313-1328. [71903]
  • 93. Samuel, David E.; Nelson, Brad B. 1982. Foxes: Vulpes vulpes and allies. In: Chapman, Joseph A.; Feldhamer, George A., eds. Wild mammals of North America: Biology, management, and economics. Baltimore, MD: The Johns Hopkins University Press: 475-490. [25235]
  • 21. FaunaWest Wildlife Consultants. 1991. An ecological and taxonomic review of the swift fox (Vulpes velox) with special reference to Montana. Boulder, CO: FaunaWest Wildlife Consultants. 49 p. [+ appendices]. Report prepared for Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks, Montana State University, Bozeman, MT. [70984]
  • 119. Wilson, Don E.; Reeder, DeeAnn M., eds. 2005. Mammal species of the world: A taxonomic and geographic reference, [Online]. 3rd ed. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press. 2,142 p. Washington, DC: Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, Department of Vertebrate Zoology, Division of Mammals; American Society of Mammalogists (Producers). Available: http://www.vertebrates.si.edu/msw/mswcfapp/msw/index.cfm [69038]

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Common Names

swift fox

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